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February 8. 2008

2008 Chicago Auto Show  

A Green and Orange Affair


by john miller

images by john miller and Lee Lichtenstein

The 2008 edition of the Chicago Auto Show opened Friday with a two color theme: Green and Orange. The Green was found in the environmentally friendly message that nearly every manufacturer was hyping ---even the GM Hummer division had suggested it's Green initiatives ...whatever that might be. Orange was more 'In-your-Face!'. Nearly every manufacturer had some flavor of orange painted vehicles---as the images tell.

The show opened yielding few surprises, and fewer debuts. The big draw on day one was unquestionably the new Dodge Challenger. Dodge brought 3 copies to the show, including the feature car in classic Hemi orange (Photos 1-5, at right). Most aspects of the car surpass anything you can see in photographs. The car is no doubt destined to be a success, but it seems as though the designer got tired just as the back end was being drawn up. The car has terrific lines from every angle, except for the back end. It reminds me a lot of the original Acura NSX: a fabulous car right up to the last 12 inches, when the design took a wrong turn.

Another debut of sorts was the U.S. introduction of the YES! roadster. This car deserves a serious look by anyone in the sportscar market, and perhaps some of those in the sportscar manufacturing segment. It's a low volume 'boutique' manufacturer. They expect to bring as many as 50 cars into the US in 2008 and target (and limit) for 2009 and beyond is 100 cars. The drive train of this 1900 pound blast of fresh air is Audi derived. The power options range from a 3.2 liter 255hp engine to a tweaked 3.2 turbo motor putting out 411 HP. The car even offers a moderate amount of storage space in the front' trunk area---no enough for a set of golf clubs, but certainly enough for soft duffle bag or a couple of grocery bags. The build quality of the two hand crafted production cars on display was quite good. Materials, fit, and finish all were up to par for a car in this category. Retail pricing ranged from $78,000 for the standard coupe to $105,000 for the massaged turbo. [The YES! display is placed behind/around the corner from the Porsche display. It wasn't labeled on the show map and could (unfortunately) easily be overlooked.]

Another 'interesting' show placement was at Chevrolet. Chevy went and BURIED it's Bumblebee Yellow Camaro all the way at the back of it's display. What Bonehead arranged for that? The Camaro (like the Challenger) is set to go up against the Ford Mustang, which has had the musclecar market to itself for the past 5 years. Why Chevy wouldn't try to steal attention from the Challenger debut is beyond reasoning.

The Porsche stand, for a manufacturer of exciting cars (and THAT truck), had nothing terribly exciting. There were far too many Cayennes for my tastes, and not enough of what Porsche is known for: cutting edge sportscars that are suitable for track and street, without sacrificing comfort or quality. Most of the cars, except for the new 911glass roofed Targa (pictured at right) were open --- a nice change from previous years...but that may change for the weekend crowd (notoriously ill behaved children of ALL ages). Oddly absent was any reference to the forthcoming (2009?) Porsche Panamera 4-door sportscoupe.

BMW took up a strategic position right across from Porsche and right between VW and Audi (which are poised to become part of Porsche). BMW doesn't seem terribly concerned about challenges to the sports sedan market. Audi (and soon Porsche ) may have excellent and coupes, but BMW owns this segment. And rightly so. Just about everything from the 3 series to the 6 series is a solid winner. The new X6 crossover is a bit quirky and may not succeed as well as the X3/5 series, but make sure you look at BMW's new 1 series. The 1 series (pictured at right), if it comes in at those prices--or less as the spec sheet listed amount is Retail--and lives up to it's performance claims, will be a frightening combo to others selling in or aspiring to the sports coupe and convertible market.

There were plenty of interesting Concept cars to look at as well. Saab brought their Aero X (pictured at right) that was oddly reminiscent of the old Saab Sonnet. And Honda brought out it's catchy little Green entry, the CR-Z -- an interesting combination of odd, but appealing styling, with a hybrid drivetrain. Jeep, Buick and GMC also brought out concepts to tease audiences (pictures at top). Little notices or hyped was the Suzuki entry into the pickup truck market. The Suzuki Equator (pictured below) was offered in various std and extra cab configurations. US sales are expected at the end of 2008. Retail pricing had not yet been set, but given Suzuki's exceptionally competitive pricing in the car segments, other compact pickup manufactures ought to be scared.

A "Don't Miss" at show is the 100th anniversary historical display (pictured below). The exceptionally well done display shows the evolution of the show and has loads of smile-inducing historical photographs. Don't skip the Accessory/Aftermarket area just beyond the Historical display and past the Army/military display (rocket launchers and helicopters at an Auto Show?). Ordinarily you 'ld miss nothing (unless you're looking for food --that's where the show is hiding the real food), but in addition to all the kooky/schlock booths are set up back there (and never should the Fudge booth be set across from the 1-step wash/polish/wax resellers), the Volo Auto museum and SCCA have some excellent vehicles on display.

The Chicago Autoshow has a website loaded with info at www.chicagoautoshow.com. Parking info (always a challenge in Chicago) can be found at www.mccormickplace.com/maps_direct/maps_dir.html. Lot rates vary, and there's always a chance to find a street spot, but Lot A ($16) is ideal. Drive up to Level 4--it has a direct, enclosed skybridge to the main show building. And if GREEN weren't evident enough inside the show, the last photo (below) was taken in the show parking structure. GREEN is here to stay. I prefer Orange.


[john-M1 @ ML1media.com] WWW.ML1Media.com - Copyright 2008


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