Four of us hop in a 2000 Saturn LS2 in the Metro Times parking lot early in the morning. It’s more difficult than it should be — the passenger side handle broke off during the Polar Vortex. This chariot rides on four wheels like other cars, but one of them happens to be a donut. There’s no heat, no horn, and the radio turns itself off whenever we hit a bump. To put it mildly, we’re riding in style.
We’re off to the land of milk and honey: the 25th Annual North American International Auto Show, which might as well be Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to us. Gleaming new cars with price tags that would shake the cold right from our frozen bones await our childlike wonder.
We spent the day ooing and ahhing at the wonders, trying to look like we knew what we were doing. After it was all said and done, we managed to not only avoid damaging anything priceless, but also putting together the only auto show review you need to read. Enjoy. (And by the way, does anyone have a set of jumper cables we could borrow? Asking for a friend.)
9:30 a.m. — We arrive at Cobo Hall and try to negotiate the line to pick up our press credentials. After about 15 minutes, we realize that we’re standing in the line for paid admission (rookie error), and that there is no line at all for the press pass pickup, plus we have no money if we actually had to pay. D’oh! What’s more, half of the credentials have our names spelled incorrectly. They’ve cleary been eagerly awaiting our expertise here.
9:57 a.m. — The coat check line is dozens deep. We’re bundled up, and there’s a slog of stale, humid air awaiting us, but we soldier on. “That line looks dumb,” we say to a Cobo worker while confidently walking away.
10 a.m. — We enter the main Auto Show event room, fashioned into one huge showroom. Memories of being dragged to look at cars by parents and being hassled by slick sales staff begin to surface. But, ooh, look, cars. We take a minute to figure out where the fuck everything is.
10:01 a.m. — For instance: Where are the bagels? We’re hungry.
10:11 a.m. — Overall, a pretty good showing. The foreign automakers really seem to bring their A-game (even when showing concepts or products that were unveiled at previous shows). Nissan is especially impressive, with the new direction the automaker has taken in mid-size sedans, embodied in their Nissan Sport Sedan Concept. Their IDx concepts (IDx Nismo and IDx Freeflow) have already been revealed long before the NAIAS, but seeing them in person makes us like them even more. And the fact that the IDx just got approved for production is exciting. It’s been a long, long time since there’s been a fun, small, boxy little rear-wheel drive shitbox on the road, and they’re sure to be zooming around the streets soon like pissed-off hornets.
10:15 a.m. — We look at some price tags and quickly direct our phones to freecreditreport.com.
10:17 a.m. — Damn. That’s a low score. Do they accept trade in Metro Times advertising?
10:30 a.m. — We sprint over to the Minis, which got a real boost in that The Italian Job movie. Mind you, the “concept” Mini on display kind looks like someone put a Porsche in a vice, or maybe melted it a little. We meet Angel Rodriguez, whose job appears to be to dust the Minis all day at regular intervals. We ask him why, and he says, “It keeps the dust off the Minis.” Fair enough.
10:43 a.m. — Overheard: Two guys approaching a booth. Guy One says in an excited tone, “Oh, I fuckin’ hate this car!”
10:50 a.m. — Fuck you, Porsche. Stop making glorified VW Beetles. They’re just one-and-a-half ton latte-holders for jaggoffs with too much money and absolutely no goddamn taste. If you want to drop that kind of coin on a status car so your asshole neighbors know how much money you make, there are so many better options.
10:55 a.m. — Two Asian men are in a small Smart car measuring the display thingy (car talk, there) on the dashboard. “What are you doing?” we ask. “We are the manufacturers. We’re just checking to make sure it’s right.” This seems like something that should have been done ahead of time.
11:05 a.m. — Another young gentleman with a fake diamond earring and a feather duster in hand is polishing the cars not far from the Minis. He eyes us from a few steps away with warning beams coming out of his pupils. “We won’t touch it and make more work for you. We promise.”
11:20 a.m. — We look at the Kia display, mainly because people hate Kias, so they need some love. There’s a drive simulator set up, allowing you to sit down and get the Kia experience, which is really something, let us tell you. It’s not much of a game, though — there are no drive-bys and no hookers. Boring. At least there are no cops.
11:35 a.m. — The Kia Soul is amazing. This little purple beauty has been set up so that DJs can just pull into a parking lot, stand up through the sunroof, and spin using the rooftop decks. The speakers, sound equipment and all that gear are set up in the back, so you just have to pop the trunk and you’re away. Ridiculous, outlandish, excessive and impractical? Obviously. But it’s also fucking awesome — a car you can turn up to 11.
11:47 a.m. — There’s also a Kia sponsored by The Voice, which looks like a regular car with “The Voice” plastered across the side. Not very exciting, although right next to it there’s a Voice judge chair, and if you feel so inclined, you can make believe that you’re a prick.
12:01 p.m. — There’s a Smart bike now, and it can be yours for the very reasonable price of $2,950. The upside for this bicycle and that price tag: It has a battery that you can either plug in or recharge via pedaling. “And the harder you make the settings,” Jennifer from Smart USA explains, “the more energy you create.” No, no thank you. We’re here to look at things that require no energy from us! We do have one question: Could we let Jennifer use the bike for a week and then reap the benefits of all that stored energy? “I don’t know.” We’re willing to spend $2,950 to find out.
12:12 p.m. — Of all the American manufacturers, Cadillac really strikes our fancy at this show. Their previously unveiled Elmiraj Concept is simply awe-inspiring in person. And if that dictates the direction Caddy is taking, then sign us up for a big-ass sedan. Just as soon as Free Credit Report gives us better news.
12:27 p.m. — Annnd there’s a Jersey Shore-lookin’ dude hitting on the model in front of the Elmiraj setup at Cadillac. She uses the display’s circling feature to escape him, much like Ron Swanson swiveling in his circle desk.
12:53 p.m. — Other than Caddy, the U.S. nameplates don’t really move our needle. We’re suckers for good design (and pay close attention to good styling), and the local boys, while doing much better compared to the past two decades, pale in comparison to their Asian and European counterparts. Sure, the new Corvette is pretty boss, but when it sits next to a beautifully designed Aston Martin, Jaguar or even a Nissan GT-R, it looks downright silly. Unrefined. Brutish. And, well, it’s American, so it’s exactly that.
1:02 p.m. — There are approximately 37 senior citizens accidentally taking photos of their faces instead of the cars at any given moment.
1:20 p.m. — The product specialists (aka another era’s car show models, aka an even earlier era’s booth babes) are cute, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about the cars, but they freak out a little when we pop up in front of them waving a recorder and asking questions about what goes on behind the scenes. (It’s a bad habit of ours.) “We’re not allowed to be recorded or quoted by the press,” says Nick, one of two Ford product specialists. While never breaking his smile or friendly tone, he and his female counterpart make eye contact in a way that suggests they are expecting to have to deflect some crazy shit and at least two dozen requests for their phone numbers or Snapchat user names.
Deciding we need to disarm them, we ditch the recorder and instead compliment their cool leather jackets. While the other booths’ specialists go for a business or formal look, Ford’s specialists are decked out in jeans, T-shirts and leather jackets. A little more than a couple decades ago, the typical car model attire was sparkly and skimpy, and males were unheard of, so it’s interesting to consider the performance.
Dalia, his partner, explains that Ford typically goes with a more rugged feel for company branding, and it shows in the booth’s garage-like neon signs and working assembly line robot display. That said, we’re not fooled: These two look a little too pretty to be greasers.
1:25 p.m. — It’s fucking hot. Holy hell, do we wish we did that coat check thing.
1:27 p.m. — We start thinking — what the heck are the auto show product specialists, anyway? Are they models? Are they actors? Are they car salesmen? Some sort of combination of all of the above? Dalia explains that they go through months of training starting in September, learning everything about the new models before embarking on an auto show circuit on which Detroit is just another stop — and the most scenic, for sure. It’s a busy season, but they get to travel around the world. Nick and Dalia have been doing it for years.
“Ford actually has the most extensive training out of all the companies,” Dalia adds, explaining how it’s necessary, since the specialists will spend the show standing next to the cars on rotating platforms, showing off their features and fielding questions from the nerdiest of car nerds, that proper balance is learned.
Now that we have successfully brought them at ease with our disarming charm and wit, the two start talking more freely. “We actually get asked about it all the time,” Nick admits. “I think a lot of kids want to know about other ways of being involved in the auto industry without being, say, an engineer.” Yes, that is what kids dream of: standing on rotating platforms in high heels.
1:35 p.m. — Clowns would be impressed by how many auto engineers are crammed into this Taurus right now.
1:39 p.m. — Whoa! We honestly think for a minute that the 1962 Ford Mustang 1 concept on display is the new Mustang. A little sheepish, we mumble something about how the ’60s were such a futuristic decade.
1:42 p.m. — Porsches: They’re still fucking ugly. You can buy a bunch of Porsche shit (sunglasses, key chains) from a dude who admits that people buy it to dupe people into believing they own a Porsche. Rachel, a Porsche rep, says that, no, she won’t exchange one for a ’91 Toyota Corolla. (Didn’t want the fucking thing anyway.)
1:51 p.m. — Ford has two benches surrounded by phone chargers. The benches are emblazoned with this Henry Ford quote: “The only true test of values is our ability to make the world a better place.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the actual real quote. From the Henry Ford museum’s website: “The only true test of values, either of men or of things, is that of their ability to make the world a better place in which to live.” Close enough, though, which is all you can ask for from a carmaker.
2 p.m. — The show’s continued focus on big-ass trucks is lost on us. Sure, fuel prices are lower than they’ve been in recent memory, but our Detroit companies insist on shoving these beasts down our throats. I have many friends who would love a new truck to haul around equipment, but don’t require the size and horsepower these mammoths offer. Where are the smaller trucks for fuel economy and light duty? (Yes, we said “duty.”)
2:03 p.m. — Only douche bag surfers would drive the awful truck at the Mopar display. Also, why are they selling fucking gumballs?
2:11 p.m. — We’re following a single man taking photos of everything, hoping upon hope to find a car honk detailing everything he sees for a personal blog or the most boring Instagram page of all time. Nope. “I’m an engineer for Toyota.”
2:16 p.m. — Toyota has … Toyotas. Moving on.
2:21 p.m. — Nothing spectacular at Fiat, although they are selling leather sports bags that look like the type you’d get in ’80s with “Sport” printed on the side.
2:30 p.m. — The best thing about Scion is the cell phone charge bar, so we jump on that and attempt to build the paper kit car that they give us. We make a mess of it. So, we basically met Scion’s high standards impeccably.
2:39 p.m. — Lincoln has created what feels like the most clichéd nightclub atmosphere on its second deck, like something Topeka would imagine Miami feels like. Stagnant ambient music plays while lights beam random phrases on a beige wall. “What’s grace?” Huh? “Why be spontaneous?” OK, Aristotle. “Why is art essential?” Why are we here again?
2:44 p.m. — A commercial for Anchorman 2 is blaring on a colossal TV in the Dodge section. COMING CHRISTMAS DAY, YOU GUYS. Holy fuck, we can’t escape Anchorman 2.
2:51 p.m. — The European and Japanese cars outclass the Americans’. The U.S. automakers’ brand-spanking-new offerings are slab-sided boxes on big chrome rims. While that probably appeals to the many little-dicked chumps who require oversized behemoths, on the global stage, it seems America is clinging to its ’Murica status. We need to balance it out. Or at least go all out and just start wrapping every car in the American flag. Come to think of it ...
3:01 p.m. — Scion has a swag machine. All you have to do is post something on Instagram and hashtag it and let all your friends know they’re seeing this pic from you because you want some free cheap piece of shit. Two girls and a guy are standing in front surveying their scores when we walk up. “We got two key chains and a little car,” the girl says. “It looks like you could get a hat, though.” The last bit is uttered with a wistful tinge. Yes, young lady. Some lucky person will get a hat, just not you.
3:09 p.m. — Nobody makes solid, large sedans or wagons anymore. Sure, they’re “of a bygone era,” but we call bullshit. See all those SUVs and crossovers on the road? They’re station wagons, only pumped full of too much testosterone. Which is a shame, since cars (as opposed to trucks) inherently get better mileage due to aerodynamics. And with the CAFE standards getting tighter and tighter, and automakers needing to make their average fuel mileage more efficient, we think it’s high time to bring back the wagon. The Dodge Magnum was nice, as it channeled the Mopars of old, and felt like a muscle car that can accept a load of groceries with dignity. But as far as usability … no. Just no.
3:12 p.m. — There are feather dusters all around, aimlessly wiping already pristine, shiny cars, but the guy with a tennis ball on the end of a stick wiping off scuff marks off the white floor in the BMW section is a new one to us.
3:21 p.m. — Lexus? Oh, fuck off.
3:22 p.m. — Ford’s new Mustang is all right; not nearly as interesting as we had hoped. Middle-of-the-road fare. But then again, this is like a remix of a remix of a cover song. It gets diluted through the versions and upgrades. I’m sure it’s a wonderful car to drive. But it just looks … barely upgraded. Doesn’t have the attitude that America’s original pony-car should have. And Chevy’s Camaro or new Corvette have a bit too much “aggro” grafted on.
3:25 p.m. — The Hyundai driving game is switched off. Nothing else to see here.
3:32 p.m. — The Dodge Ram is the Truck of the Year for 2013 and 2014, the first time a truck has won for two years back-to-back. To celebrate, they’re selling fishing hats, knives and shirts that say, “Keep plowing.”
3:41 p.m. — When an engine is removed from a car, it looks like a big hunk of metal. When it is cleverly set up to look like it’s working, it looks like … a moving hunk of metal.
3:45 p.m. — The Mercedes Benz S-Class coupe is a dream. Yes, it’s high-end. No, most people can’t afford it. But good-goddamn is it a gorgeous piece of kit. We’re Nissan fans, but we imagine most ’Muricans will hate these little buzz-bombers. Jaguar’s F-Type R coupe is like a refined muscle car, with perfect proportions and strong yet subtle design. Its exhaust note is musical (you can hear it at Jag’s booth). What to say about Toyota’s FT-1? It began its life as an unlockable car from the video game Gran Turismo, and Toyota decided to build a concept. The world saw it, and is now begging for it to be born as the new incarnation of the Supra. I won’t say no to that. The nose could use a little slice-and-dice, but man, that thing’s lines are silky smooth, just like our waistline.
3:51 p.m. — The SRT Viper on display looks like a cartoon sports car. Inspector Gadget could easily drive this thing.
3:54 p.m. — Lincoln’s presentation is amazing, like stepping into the late 1960s, but with a modern take on it. Shame their current crop of cars is nice but uninspired. Bring back the Continental, guys. And don’t fuck it up. Put it on the Mustang platform, give it a modern take on suicide doors with no B-pillar, and offer it black. Only black. OK, flat black too. So … two blacks. Got it? You’re welcome.
3:59 p.m. — What’s with all the people acting like King Shit just because they get to sit in a nice car for 20 seconds? We all know you’re heading back to the parking lot to hop in your Civic.
4:01 p.m. — The Corvette simulator is also down. Shame — we wanted to pretend to be Face from The A-Team. The nice Corvette lady said that we would have certainly finished top of the leader board had it been working, but that’s scant consolation.
4:09 p.m. — Going from booth to booth can be an exhausting barrage of numbers and figures that, frankly, stops making sense after a while, so we’re relieved that Ford transformed its second floor from the typical lounge they usually have to a sort of miniature museum dedicated to the legacy the Mustang has left on pop culture. All the car worship can get a bit soulless, so we happily gravitate to something with more of a human element to it. We love pop culture.
One sign says that the word “Mustang” is one of the top 10 passwords for email accounts. (We have to wonder, though: How do they know that? Go ahead and try it with all your Detroit friends’ email accounts. We’ll wait.) A glass case houses many decades’ worth of Mustang Hot Wheels cars, and another has a Barbie doll driving her 1993 toy Mustang. A tiny television plays the video for Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run,” filmed at the Rouge Plant and showing Mustangs rolling down the assembly line.
We’re geeked to find a jukebox that boasts a slew of songs that reference the Mustang from the likes of artists as diverse as Dick Dale, Wilson Pickett, T-Rex, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Serge Gainsbourg, Vanilla Ice, Tom Waits, Keith Urban, Elton John, Tori Amos, David Bowie and many more! But we’re disappointed to find that it doesn’t actually work.
4:10 p.m. — We make a weird video with Chevrolet, in which we record our reactions to various banal events (we’re driving, drinking coffee, etc). Truth be told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense but, hey, everybody else keeps saying no to the nice Chevy rep.
4:12 p.m. — There are sniffer dogs all over the place. Are there drugs here that we don’t know about? If so, can one of you meet us in the bathroom in 10 minutes?
4:14 p.m. — Toyota’s futuristic concept vehicle, FV2, looks like something Batman would drive if he were going to the club. The sales pitch here is more than the automobile; it’s about the emotional connection. Here’s what they say: “Emotional Connection: Toyota envisions an ever-developing driver-vehicle relationship. Both the driver and the Toyota FV2 can grow together. The vehicle uses voice and image recognition to determine the driver’s mood, accumulated driving history to suggest destinations, and driving skill information to assist the user. In addition to an augmented reality display on the windshield, the body color and exterior display can be changed at will, creating a more intimate relationship between the vehicle and driver. The vehicle and driver become partners in mobility.”
And there, friends, is the script for Her 2: I Left My Phone for My Car.
4:20 p.m. — We build our ideal Jaguar using a touch-screen monitor. Apparently, it will cost $92,855. We heave a deep sigh and head over to the Smart Car stand.
4:22 p.m. — Smart Cars are silly.
4:27 p.m. — We stand at Bentley’s booth for a minute, feeling the icy gaze of judgment goosing our flesh. Even though those working the booth can’t afford the cars they’re helping promote, they still stare us down, insinuating how much we don’t deserve to lay our unhealthy eyes upon their glorious, hand-formed sheet metal. Curse them, they’re right!
4:30 p.m. — Wow, Volvo is here. I ask the two nice Swedish guys if they can say anything to dispel the notion that Volvos are about safety and nothing else. They say that, no, they can’t say anything for fear of getting into trouble with their bosses. The very definition of safety then …
4:32 p.m. — Virtually every racing game is broken, for chrissakes. We hop over to the Honda version only to find an upside-down, MS DOS-looking screen. If not for all the police and dogs around here, we’d just ditch our coat here for a bit, but then they’d probably bring in a bomb crew to discreetly blow it to shreds.
4:40 p.m. — Ford has a life-sized Hot Wheels car. It’s purple, and it has fins. We want one. Ford also had a pre-dirtied truck on display, which is a very hipster move — kind of like pre-torn blue jeans. We’re guessing you don’t actually buy the truck pre-dirtied, though. Unless, that is, you want people to think you’ve been “out muddin’.”
4:51 p.m. — We’re getting hungry. Aisin has doughnuts and coffee — not bad. Denso has croissants and deli sandwiches, plus little chocolates and fruit — better. ZF throws us out of their amenities area because, they say, it’s for staff only. Maybe a sign would help? We’re just hungry journalists!
4:55 p.m. — The Michelin man is nowhere to be found. A young Spartan tells us all about the Michigan State Formula Racing team, and a lady from CCS shows us some cool local work. Also, CCS gives us a free thumb drive. Sweet!
4:49 p.m. — Enough with cars. Time to go home. Oh, yeah … in our car …