NEWS

2008 Detroit Auto Show Winners and Losers: Concept Cars

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This year’s Detroit auto show was awash in concept cars; they outnumbered new production cars almost two to one. Cars.com’s David Thomas, Mike Hanley and Joe Wiesenfelder take the automotive visions and boil down what wowed and what fizzled.

Cadillac CTS Coupe

David Thomas: Winner
This was the only true “surprise” of the show, and it looked pretty darn good in person. The back end needs some work, but besides that this could and should be rolling through your cul-de-sac in short order.

Mike Hanley: Winner
I agree with Dave that the rear-quarter of the coupe could be better shaped, and it wouldn’t hurt to make that part of the car a little smaller, too. On the whole, however, the car is a looker and it gets my nod.

Joe Wiesenfelder: Winner
I like it overall, though the tail definitely goes too far. I’m confident they’ll build the thing. The CTS sedan is so strong, GM would be foolish not to spread it around.

Cadillac Provoq

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DT: Winner
This concept wasn’t really given much attention in Detroit because it was unveiled officially a week earlier at the Consumer Electronics Show. Still, it shows what a small-to-midsize crossover from Cadillac would look like. And boy does it look good.

MH: Loser
This one didn’t really elicit much reaction when I saw it on the show floor, which isn’t the kind of response you want from a vehicle named Provoq. A small SUV makes a lot of sense for Cadillac, but as a concept this fell flat.

JW: Winner
I like the way louvers close off the grille for aerodynamics and open when cooling air is needed. I think it would be a good-looking replacement for the underwhelming SRX. All the talk of fuel cells is wearing on me, but this one shows the flexibility of E-Flex, which previously has combined the battery-electric aspect with gasoline and diesel generators instead.

 Dodge Zeo/Jeep Renegade/Chrysler ecoVoyager

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DT: Loser, Loser, Loser
Not only did none of the designs thrill me, but the underlying concept that Chrysler is aiming to go green when it hasn’t shown quite the same commitment or success of other automakers is a tad…annoying. Plus, I had the nagging feeling that I had seen these three concepts before.

MH: Winner, Loser, Loser
The ecoVoyager’s bubble-like design and the Renegade’s chopped-Wrangler look were unimpressive, but the Zeo is another story. Its ground-hugging styling makes it look fast at rest despite the fact it’s a hatchback.

JW: Losers, all
I’ve been thinking the same thing as Dave for a long time; these cars again look like the annual Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep concepts. If I’ve seen that Jeep once, I’ve seen it 10 times. Saying a concept is powered by something it isn’t is a long-standing tradition, but the green claims do seem disingenuous.

Ford Explorer America

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DT: Winner
This is what concepts should be: The Explorer America has wild looks and wild features, but it’s going to be the basis for a future product. I liked the front end and one-sliding-door layout. Most of all, I liked to learn that Ford is going to make the next Explorer a crossover like the concept and not a traditional SUV.

MH: Loser
I’m not sure if it’s the unexciting gray paint scheme or the traditional two-box shape, but the Explorer America seemed rather bland. I’m in agreement with Dave that moving the Explorer to a unibody design is the right way to go, but couldn’t we have gotten a little more pizzazz on the outside, Ford?

JW: Loser
The idea of turning the Explorer into a lighter vehicle is a good one — and a no-brainer, to be frank. Everything else about this leaves me flat.

Ford Verve

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DT: Winner
Ford again shows off a good-looking small sedan that is probably going to go on sale in North America in the next few years. This looks so production-ready, my only complaint is, why do we have to wait for it? Ford could really use a small-car success story.

MH: Winner
This was one of my favorite concepts at the show, and if it proves to be what Ford looks to when developing its new small cars, as the automaker says it will, then I can’t wait to see what’s in store; the Verve looks pretty cool for a compact sedan.

JW: Winner
I don’t think we can judge the interior quality because it’s a concept, but if this is the future shape, they’re moving in the right direction. Building a highly aerodynamic vehicle — as automakers increasingly will be forced to do — that isn’t plain-looking isn’t easy, and Ford has pulled it off. I’d welcome a new model name that doesn’t begin with an F for a change, but Ford ought to drop this one, which sounds like it gives extra body and hold while repairing split ends.

Honda Pilot Prototype

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DT: Loser
I was really expecting Honda to do something more radical with the Pilot. Love or hate the new Accord, at least it has some intriguing angles. I don’t think I can find one angle on the Pilot prototype. Also impacting my opinion is the fact that I know the real thing will hit dealerships soon.

MH: Loser
This one was a letdown because it just doesn’t look all that different from the current Pilot, if you take away the futuristic front end. The prototype serves its purpose as a means of foreshadowing what the next Pilot will look like, but it’s almost too close to production-ready to be a concept car.

JW: Loser
Yawn. I don’t know exactly what I’d like the next Pilot to look like, but an overgrown Ford Escape with a Dodge Grand Caravan rear end wouldn’t be high on my list.

Hummer HX

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DT: Winner
I wasn’t impressed with the HX concept in press photos. A two-door Hummer with an open bed? Big deal. But in person everything changes because you see how small the vehicle is. I’d say it was shy of an FJ Cruiser, and worlds cooler-looking. The metallic exterior and interior were also show-stunners.

MH: Winner
The dune-buggy nature of the HX is pretty cool, as is the ability to modify the way it looks by removing various windows and panels, like you can in a Jeep Wrangler. The HX was definitely the brute among a bunch of sleek-looking concept cars, and I suspect Hummer is OK with that.

JW: Winner
It’s just very well-designed. I always thought the fastback military Humvees looked dorky, but it definitely works here. The external door hinges, high-riding body and jacked-up rear end all suggest ruggedness and performance.

Land Rover LRX

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DT: Winner
This was probably my favorite concept of the show. There was a futuristic take on the traditional Land Rover look, especially the front end, but again it was the size of the thing that blew me away. It was tiny — half a foot shorter than an LR2. People are looking for AWD vehicles and cool urban transports, and this looks like it would fit the bill perfectly.

MH: Winner
I agree with Dave: This is a must-see concept if you’re heading to the Detroit auto show. With the LRX, Land Rover has translated its instantly recognizable design into a small, sporty SUV that’s quite striking in appearance. Put a four-door version of this into production, Land Rover, and you’ll have a hit on your hands.

JW: Winner
Love it. I haven’t been this impressed by a concept in a long time. These things rotate on turntables, and I typically note: “I like that … like that .. not crazy about that … strange proportions from this angle…” I watched the LRX spin a few times and found nothing wrong with it. The icing on this well-baked cake is the sloped white roof floating magically atop 360 degrees of blacked-out windows and pillars.

Lexus LF-A Roadster

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DT: Loser
Sure, it’s a sexy red roadster with a monstrous engine. For some reason that wasn’t enough to keep me from yawning. Maybe I’m getting jaded after so many auto shows, but this super-Lexus won’t be remembered come next year.

MH: Winner
Au contraire, Dave. This open-top version of Lexus’ super-car coupe concept from a few auto shows ago is a real stunner. I think it looks better than the coupe version Lexus first showed, and it easily rivals the extravagance of a Lamborghini or Ferrari convertible.

JW: Winner
I like it a lot. There’s definitely some Lexus IS in there, with a healthy dose of wickedness. Lexus’ designs would benefit from some wickedification, in my opinion. Bonus points for using the V-10 and not bowing to green pressure and putting a hybrid or other alt-propulsion system in there.

Lincoln MKT

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DT: Loser
The press photos of the MKT were gorgeous; they made the luxury crossover look catlike and aggressive. In person, the bulbous proportions were much more evident and gave the MKT a bloated look. Even the grille looked lopsided in person.

MH: Loser
Lincoln took a gamble in debuting the hatchback-like MKT concept at the show, but it’s one I don’t think will pay off, as the car’s massive rear quarter and unusual proportions don’t work all that well when you see it in person.

JW: Loser
The photos didn’t light my fire. Seeing it in person extinguished the fire set by the Land Rover LRX.

Mitsubishi Concept-RA

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DT: Loser
I think the scissor doors turned me off initially, but nothing else about this concept could win me over either. Perhaps it’s a look at the next Eclipse, but I hope not. If you thought that coupe had weird lines, this one takes the cake.

MH: Loser
The Concept-RA is sporty in a wedge-like way, but I agree with Dave that the articulating doors are overkill. The shape of this concept isn’t as intriguing as a number of other ones at the show.

JW: Loser
I like the fact that it’s a diesel. It might not actually have a diesel in there — or a drivetrain at all — but it sends a useful message. I don’t hate the car, and though I think the doors are unnecessary, I’m not insulted by them. I tend to like forward-leaning grilles, and the headlights lurking beneath a furrowed brow also intrigue, but the domed hood and fenders take away from it.

Nissan Forum

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DT: Loser
I can’t remember a minivan concept I ever loved. Same goes for the Forum. The exterior did nothing to impress me, although the interior was really well done, with plenty of gadgets that could make family life on the go more entertaining.

MH: Loser
While the Forum does have some interesting features, like a set of cameras to watch the second- and third-row seats and a built-in megaphone of sorts for the driver, it is still a minivan, and minivans don’t make the best concept cars.

JW: Loser
Nissan, you will be the last brand to learn this lesson, if you ever do: You can’t make a minivan look cool. Stop wasting resources. Move on.

Saab 9-4X BioPower

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DT: Winner
The simple lines of the Saab 9-4X really speak to Saab’s brand identity. Like the Cadillac Provoq, this was both overlooked and showed great promise for a future small crossover for Saab — something the company could really use in its portfolio.

MH: Winner
The 9-4X sure wasn’t the wildest concept at the show, but it gets the nod because it’s one that could definitely mean a lot to the Saab brand if it sees the light of day. It also looks pretty good.

JW: Winner
It looks like a feasible vehicle, and it’s one Saab needs in its lineup to make up for the 9-7X, which was never a good idea. Also, the use of a turbo makes this more than a flex-fuel car; it’s one that makes better use of ethanol’s high octane than any regular car on our market. A technological hook like this would be good for the Saab brand.

Toyota A-BAT

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DT: Winner
This was another one of my favorite concepts of the show. The small size, hybrid powertrain and the fact that it was radically styled won me over. I’m not even a truck guy, but an air of youthful fun oozed from the A-Bat. Clever concept ideas like solar panels on the dashboard put the truck over the top for me.

MH: Loser
Toyota lost me with this design. Elements of it are futuristic, for sure, but when conformed to a pickup truck body style, they don’t work so well.

JW: Loser
They had me at compact hybrid pickup truck. Everything after that lost me, too.

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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