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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Automakers inspired by designs from years past

BY JENNY MOUNT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss takes the honor of most expensive car at the auto show with a price of $1.2 million. It s only available to past McLaren owners and must be delivered in Europe The Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss takes the honor of most expensive car at the auto show with a price of $1.2 million. It s only available to past McLaren owners and must be delivered in Europe
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DETROIT - Coming tomorrow to Cobo Center for a nine-day run: a glimpse into cars' future shape - channeled from 60 years ago - a handful of ultra-luxury cars, a course on which to ride in electric and gas-electric hybrid vehicles, and an opportunity to meet a celebrity.

However, few of the previously popular pickup trucks are on prominent display among the 700 autos at the North American International Auto Show. The show is open to the public until Jan. 25.

Because of their financial problems, automakers have stripped much of the glam from their displays and have drastically reduced the number of pure concept cars. But that doesn't mean the show in Detroit isn't worth seeing.

the Maybach 62S linousine on display has a sales price of $526,000, curtained windows, and features a partition with a speaker system connecting the rear passenger area to the driver. the Maybach 62S linousine on display has a sales price of $526,000, curtained windows, and features a partition with a speaker system connecting the rear passenger area to the driver.
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In styling, designers continue to whittle away at cars' trunk decks, sculpting them down to a look that at the end of the 1940s was called a fastback.

Examples are the 2010 Buick LaCrosse, the Volvo S60 concept, which likely will go into production, and the Saab 9-X air and Audi Sportback concepts.

An extreme example of the fastback is Revenge Designs' GTM-R Super Car.

Also playing the nostalgia card, although from the more recent past, Kia is showing the Soulster, reminiscent of the Subaru Brat from the early '80s. And harking back to the past is Ford's 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500, an unrepentant muscle car of 540 horsepower.

Fans of European sports cars will welcome the return of England's Lotus as well as the addition of Italy's Bugatti.

The classic Volkswagen Beetle featured in the automaker s commercials and print ads welcomes visitors to the VW section of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The classic Volkswagen Beetle featured in the automaker s commercials and print ads welcomes visitors to the VW section of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
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In the ultra-luxury category is the Maybach 62S limousine. At just a little more than 20 feet long, it features a back seat with a foot rest that extends like a recliner's, curtained windows, and a partition with built-in microphone and speaker system that separates the rear passenger area from the driver.

It sells for $526,000, although it's not the most expensive car on the show floor.

That honor goes to the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss, at $1.2 million. However, the price is a moot point. The entire production run of 75, which is to begin in June, is sold out, and the buyers were required to be both previous McLaren SLR owners and to take delivery in Europe.

This year's show is one of the most consumer-friendly in recent memory, partly because more displays have wider corridors between the cars. As automakers worldwide struggle to boost sales, the main theme in Cobo is fuel efficiency.

The driving course for showgoers is a brief education in the differences - most noticeably the absence of engine noise - between a gasoline engine and electric propulsion.

It is in a 70,000-square-foot space in the basement where students will be chauffeured on an eighth-mile course that winds through a forest of evergreens, flowers, fountains, and ponds. They won't be allowed to drive any of the 20 vehicles.

The Michigan Economic Development Department seized on the opportunity to import the bucolic setting into a room freed up when main-floor exhibitors including Nissan Motor Co., Ferrari SpA, and India's Tata Motors Ltd.'s Land Rover brand pulled out of the show.

It was a strategic move, because it supports the Detroit Three's focus on electricity as the fuel-economy booster of the future.

Chrysler LLC, having declared its intent to offer extended-range electric drivetrains in every segment of its product lineup starting in 2010, is exhibiting concept hybrid versions of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a Jeep Patriot, and a Chrysler Town & Country minivan, as well as a Dodge-badged sports car it calls the Circuit EV and an electric-drive four-door sedan concept called the 200-C EV.

General Motors Corp., which produces hybrid versions of models from Saturn and Chevrolet, is exhibiting its Cadillac Converj concept. It uses the same plug-in technology as the Chevrolet Volt (also on display) scheduled for launch in 2010.

And Ford Motor Co., exhibiting a 2010 version of its Fusion hybrid, announced this week that it plans to release two electric-vehicle projects and its next generation of hybrid vehicles, including a plug-in, within three years.

Also firmly in the hybrid camp are Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., which chose Detroit for the launch of two hybrids, the revamped 2010 Toyota Prius and the new Honda Insight. Toyota predicts 50 miles per gallon for its new Prius, and Honda says the Insight will offer 40 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway.

Although prices have not been set, Honda says the Insight will have a lower price than the Honda Civic Hybrid, which has a base price of $23,650, or about $3,000 more than a gasoline version. A 2009 Prius starts at about $22,000.

But hybrids aren't the only game in town. Although they either produce or are planning to build hybrids, German automakers Mercedes AG, Volkswagen AG, and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG are exhibiting clean-burning diesels.

Unlike hybrids, which are designed to be most efficient in stop-and-go conditions, diesels are meant for long-haul driving.

BMW says its 335d, the diesel version of the popular 3-Series sedan, averages 36 mpg city. It has a base price of $44,725. The fuel efficiency compares with a rating of 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway for the gasoline model, which costs about $3,500 less.

Mercedes' BlueTec diesel model of the ML SUV lists a $48,600 base price and 30 mpg in combined highway/city driving.

Drivers will have to factor into their cost equations the price of diesel fuel, currently averaging about $2.30 a gallon nationwide, compared with about $1.80 a gallon for regular gasoline.

As for the celebrity, it's Max, Volkswagen's 1964 Beetle spokescar of TV commercial and print-ad fame. It will welcome showgoers to the VW exhibit.

Contact Jenny Mount at:

jmount@theblade.com

or 419-724-6083.



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