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Published: Monday, 1/18/2010

Car enthusiasts gawk, dream as Detroit auto show opens

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DETROIT - Mike Pevets doesn't just look at cars when he makes his annual trek to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

He tries them on.

"There's plenty of room for me in this, which is surprising," the 6-foot, 7-inch Oak Harbor, Ohio, resident said as he climbed out of the driver's seat of a new apple-green Chevrolet Camaro sportscar. "I thought for sure that I would hit my head getting in. It was very comfortable."

Mr. Pevets and fellow auto enthusiast John Klaehn of Marblehead, Ohio, were among tens of thousands of attendees on the opening day yesterday of this year's annual auto show in Detroit's Cobo Center. Displaying approximately 700 cars, trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles, and modes of transportation that

otherwise would defy description, the annual show in Detroit is Nirvana to those who embrace the car culture.

"Car guys live for this show," said Mr. Klaehn, adding that he and Mr. Pevets have made the journey to Detroit each winter "for the last 15 or 20 years. It's something to do in mid-January, when our own [classic] cars are put away for the winter."

Across the massive show floor yesterday, men and women from all around the region stared at and studied and sat in vehicles that ranged in price from just under $8,000 to more than $1 million. Some dreamed of better economic times, when job-security issues didn't put the thought of a new vehicle out of reach, while others marveled at the pace of technological and design advances, such as hybrid engines, that are becoming commonplace.

Then there was 4-year-old Jackson Berter of suburban Dayton. He likes the horns.

"He seems to find all the cars where they haven't disabled the horns," his stepfather, Karee Brown, said.

The precocious toddler climbed into the driver's seat of a Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as if it were made for him, clutching the steering wheel and checking the rearview mirror as though he was racing onto a highway, while his stepfather explained his effort to make the annual auto show in Detroit "a new tradition that we've started for the last couple years."

That same tradition is a little more established with Findlay resident Ken Schroeder and his 16-year-old son, Alex.

Yesterday, the Schroeders and 20-year-old Justin Conrad strolled the aisles, checking out German-made sports cars and luxury sedans before wandering over to the Italian Ferraris, Maserati, and Fiats displayed alongside their new American cousins from Chrysler Group LLC.

"We've been coming here for a long time," Mr. Schroeder said. "Last year was pretty sparse, but there seems to be a lot more here to look at this year."

In years past, several automakers kept their display vehicles locked, not allowing showgoers to experience the interiors. But with new-vehicles sales in North America in 2009 at their lowest in nearly four decades, this year's displays seem to be all about revving up enthusiasm.

More than 650,000 people are expected to attend the North American International Auto Show between yesterday's opening and its final day on Jan. 24.

Ford Motor Co.'s massive display is a veritable amusement park of interactive exhibits, including games, hands-on demonstrations, and dancing industrial robots. It includes an indoor display where showgoers line up to ride in one of two luxury SUVs that parallel-park themselves.

Meanwhile, downstairs in Cobo Center's Michigan Hall, showgoers can ride in one of more than a dozen electric or hybrid vehicles along a quarter-mile indoor track to experience electrified motoring.

The more than 40 concept cars and all the other displays were a bit overwhelming for first-timers Neil Smith and Jeff Wheelden, both of Toledo.

"It's all pretty impressive," said Mr. Smith, who said he drives a Dodge Grand Caravan that has 227,000 miles on the odometer. "It's the best vehicle I've ever owned, but it's amazing what kind of style they're getting into [vehicles] now."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette:

at 419-724-6091, or

lvellequette@theblade.com



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