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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Innovation on Display at Detroit Auto Show

Unveilings, prototypes, and concept cars that have people talking.

  • January 15, 2013

This week and next, the hub of American innovation appears to be a city that all too often hogs headlines as a poster child for urban blight: Detroit. For the duration of the Detroit Auto Show, at least, which kicked off yesterday and stretches till the 27th, that city is presenting innovations to rival many products coming out of the Bay Area. Here are a few of the most eye-catching stories so far:

Cadillac unveiled an ELR plug-in hybrid, modeled after the Chevy Volt, reports the LA Times. The VP of Global Cadillac said that the brand has struggled a little bit in California, but that “this car will refresh consideration among Californians.” How will the ELR fare on the road? Though it has the same basic drivetrain as a Volt, the electric motor is stronger, 207-horsepower versus the Volt’s 149. The ELR is front-wheel drive and has a single-speed transmission. It will take 4.5 hours to charge via a 240V outlet, 12 hours via a 120V outlet. Pricing is likely to be around 60 to 70 grand.

Tesla Motors presented a nifty, Back-to-the-Future-esque, Model X design prototype. First deliveries of that electric crossover car are planned for 2014. Engadget is on the scene with some cool photos and video, as well as a look at the 17-inch multi-function touch panel inside (a number of bloggers seem more excited by the interior than anything else–“shockingly nice,” says one). A Times reporter was mostly frustrated by Tesla’s unwillingness to say how many cars it has built or delivered. The young company’s cash flow is an issue.

Meanwhile, Ford teased a pickup concept, called Atlas, likely to be available in 2015. The WSJ’s Joe White has a thoughtful take on which futuristic concepts are viable, and which aren’t. Many manufacturers appear to be trying to rebrand or diversify; consider Hyundai’s HCD-14, a luxury Hyundai, or Lincoln’s MKC, a small utility vehicle.

HuffPo, meanwhile, has reams of pictures, together with its takes on Kia’s assault on the North American premium sedan market (the 2014 Cadenza, which will tout a powerful V-6 engine), Jeep’s move to diesel (with the Grand Cherokee, whose 3-liter EcoDiesel engine can tow almost four tons), and Volkswagen’s eye for the midsize SUV market (with the “CrossBlue,” still a concept, a plug-in hybrid SUV with twin electric motors and a diesel engine).

If you’re especially excited about a concept car, take to the blogosphere or call up the company in question; reaction to the auto show can be make-or-break for a lot of these ideas floating around.

Underscoring the overall idea that Detroit is a city both celebrating its past and looking to the future was a presentation yesterday by VIA Motors. Thomas Edison himself (OK, an actor portraying him) was projected as a holographic image, and presented advice on a topic in which he’d have a stake: electric vehicles.

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