Michael Lotz, left, and Seth Myers inspect the Jeep Rubicon at the Detroit auto show, which opened to the public yesterday.
DETROIT - Matt Feher looks at automobiles with the intensity of an art student studying Vincent van Gogh.
And, he admits, it's a problem.
"It's hard for me to find someone that has the patience to stay for as long as I like to when I come up here," the 28-year-old Toledo Point Place resident said Saturday on the first day of the 2009 North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. "I'll be here 8 or 9 hours today."
Each line, each nuanced styling curve, the subtlety of features as seemingly insignificant as a cup-holder or a solid tire rim - Mr. Feher drinks it all in and revels in his passion.
"A lot of people look at vehicles in passing; they don't see it as anything more [than a car]," he said. "But everyone has something in their life that they're interested in and that they're willing to devote time to. For a lot of people it's sports, but for me, it's cars."
The automotive industry needs many millions more people like Mr. Feher. Having just emerged from the worst sales year in a generation and bracing for what promises to be an extended period of difficult times, automakers are desperate to excite consumers about their products - even if those consumers are too scared financially to buy anything right now.
Doug Pelmear s modifi ed Ford Mustang gets attention; its V8 gets the equivalent of 110 miles per gallon on ethanol.
VIEW: 2009 Detroit Auto Show photo gallery
It's the reason automakers and auto dealers put together events such as the Detroit auto show each year, and even though the economy in this part of the nation is extremely tough, tens of thousands of people still packed the floor of the Cobo Center Saturday to see what's new.
"It's really nice to see a little bit of everything," explained Seth Myers, 19, who drove up to Detroit with fellow University of Toledo student Michael Lotz, 19, to check out their first auto show. "I think the concept cars are pretty neat."
Mr. Lotz said he was taken aback by Ford Motor Corp.'s "Mustang Alley," a display of several permutations of its redesigned muscle car that features a number of interactive displays allowing show-goers to hear the growl of its exhaust or play with its on-board electronics.
"I love the styling," Mr. Lotz explained.
While last week's media preview of the show was spartan compared to previous years, many automakers spruced up their displays when the paying customers arrived. Ford features an elevated display of its redesigned 2010 Taurus in which the sedan's body splits in two down the centerline, exposing the engine and passenger compartment, and then slides back together after show-goers are comfortably seated in the vehicle.
"It's a good show," said Steve Wesolowski, an automotive engineer with Toledo-based Dana Holding Corp. who's been coming to the Detroit show each year since he was a child.
Toledoan Matt Feher, at the wheel, and Craig Wickesser of Baltimore get the feel of a 2009 Saturn Astra three-door XR.
"There are a lot of hybrid-type vehicles around, but there are a lot of muscle cars too, and I think muscle cars are going to be part of this industry going forward."
While certain southern U.S. senators may loudly complain that domestic automakers are far behind when it comes to increased mileage and alternative drivetrains, the auto show floor - and its basement as well - is stocked with examples of auto companies trying out various technologies in hopes of saving gas and reducing greenhouse gases.
Chrysler LLC, for example, has five electric-drive concepts on display, as well as another half-dozen of its GEM golf cartlike electric neighborhood vehicles. General Motors Corp. prominently features both its Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac Converj concepts in its mammoth display area, and Ford shows off its advances with dual-mode hybrids, such as its 2010 Fusion sedan.
Foreign vehicle makers display some of their own electric-drive and alternative fuel vehicles, such as the third-generation Toyota Prius and the new Honda Insight, both of which are dual-mode hybrids.
While a number of foreign automakers don't have a presence at this year's North American International Auto Show, there is one large new feature in the basement: an indoor track where show-goers can ride in one of more than a dozen electric-drive or hybrid cars and trucks.
In the basement of Cobo Center at the show is a display from one northwest Ohio company - Napoleon-based Horse Power Sales.net Inc. - that is trying to leapfrog existing gas-saving technology and is drawing a lot of industry attention in the process.
Company President Doug Pelmear has gotten personal visits to his booth in the basement from a number of foreign and domestic auto executives, as well as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen. Robert Corker (R., Tenn.), all of them interested in his 1987 Ford Mustang and its custom-built engine that gets the equivalent of 110 mpg.
"I've become very popular," Mr. Pelmear quipped yesterday as a number of public show-goers looked over his outwardly unassuming car. His 110-mpg engine won a "Green" award last fall at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association expo in Las Vegas.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: