2009 Ford F-150
2009 Ford F-150. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo galleries:
2008 Detroit auto show

Ford F-150: Redesigning a truck is a tricky business, but Ford has done a great job on the F-150. It’s bolder and boxier, from its three-bar grille to its sculpted tailgate, and it rides on a frame that’s lighter yet stronger than its predecessor. What really impresses are the details: a console that’ll hold two laptops, more than 30 storage areas, a capless fuel-filler system, cargo management system, the brilliant tailgate step previously available only on the Super Duty trucks, and an ingenious side step that flips out from the frame ahead of the rear wheels, for assistance when reaching into the box. While you’re at Ford’s booth, be sure to check out the stylish Verve duo of sedan and hatchback: they’re just concept cars, but the four-door will be the basis of a new compact the company plans to sell in North America in 2010.

Dodge Ram: It was a battle of the trucks this year, as Dodge also unveiled a new version of its full-size pickup by driving it up Washington Avenue behind a herd of longhorn cattle.

2009 Dodge Ram
Hummer HX concept
2009 Dodge Ram (top) and Hummer HX concept. Click image to enlarge

(My thanks go to a Chrysler employee who pulled me back just in time to avoid a horn in the head – the drawbacks of wanting to get the perfect photo – although there might have been quite a story in being gored by a steer in downtown Detroit.) Features include Dodge’s first crew cab, storage bins in the wheel wells and cab floor, and a number of new options at the high end, including ventilated seats and heated steering wheel. A light-duty diesel and hybrid are coming, too.

Hummer HX: Although they’re too young to remember the Volkswagen Thing, a trio of youthful designers has created a Hummer that can be pared down similarly, with removable roof, doors and fender flares. It’s only a concept, but the company says it might lead to a compact, entry-level model. The HX uses a 3.6-litre flexible-fuel engine and includes aircraft-inspired seats, tool kit, and hideaway shifter. There are speakers, but no stereo, with passengers plugging in an iPod or other music player. It may be the wave of the future – if you only ever listen to digital tunes, why pay for a stereo? We might be returning to the days of optional radios once again. While you’re in GM’s booth, salivate over the Corvette ZR1, and then remember environmental responsibility with the Cadillac Provoq, Saturn Vue Green Line 2 Mode and Saturn Flextreme.

Toyota A-BAT concept
Mercedes-Benz GLK Bluetec concept
Toyota A-BAT concept (top) and Mercedes-Benz GLK Bluetec concept. Click image to enlarge

Toyota A-BAT: Looking almost like a Honda Ridgeline at first glance, the Toyota A-BAT concept vehicle is smaller than the Tacoma and contains the company’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Designed in California, it has a four-foot bed that can be expanded by opening a midgate, and further still by loading cargo on the open tailgate. This could possibly jump-start a segment of small, extremely fuel-efficient pickups for people who want only light-duty cargo capability and don’t need to tow. That compact footprint is also the heart of the new 2009 Venza, also on display, a midsize crossover based on the Camry platform and destined to be built and sold exclusively in North America.

Mercedes-Benz GLK: While technically a concept, the compact GLK should be available in the fall of 2008, and company officials say it will probably be very close to the Vision GLK Freeside that made its world debut in Detroit. The name combines G for its cross-country ability, L for luxury and K for Kompaktheit – its compact footprint. Power comes from a Bluetec four-cylinder diesel, with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Also new in the booth is the 2009 SLK roadster, shown for the first time worldwide.

Toyota A-BAT concept
Mercedes-Benz GLK Bluetec concept
2008 BMW 128i cabriolet (top) and 2009 Hyundai Genesis. Click image to enlarge

BMW 1 Series convertible: Following the introduction of the 1 Series coupe at Geneva and Los Angeles, the 1 Series convertible is making its world debut at the Detroit show. It’s smaller than the 3 Series, but shares the naturally-aspirated and twin-turbo inline six-cylinders from the 3 and 5 Series. Also on display are the all-new X6, and the 335d and X5 xDrive 35d diesel models.

Hyundai Genesis: Hyundai says that while it expects to draw customers away from the Chrysler 300 and Pontiac G8, it aimed for BMW and Mercedes with the Genesis, its first premium sports sedan. Already available in Korea, the rear-wheel drive Genesis comes with two V6 engines or a 4.6-litre V8 that will produce an estimated 368 horsepower on regular-grade fuel. You’ll spot some stolen design cues in the richly-appointed interior, but it’ll give you a whole new respect for how far Hyundai has come.

Volkswagen Passat CC
Audi R8 V12 TDI concept
Volkswagen Passat CC (top) and Audi R8 V12 TDI concept. Click image to enlarge

Volkwagen Passat CC: Stunning from every angle, the 2009 Passat CC will be available in Canada later in 2008. Styled similarly to the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, the CC has just the right amount of chrome, sumptuous interior and panoramic roof. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but if it’s kept to intelligent levels, the CC should be able to draw in the throngs that the Phaeton couldn’t capture.

Audi: Where to begin? At the larger, more spacious A4? At the new TTS? Or will you be like most enthusiasts, and spend most of the day drooling over the diesel-powered V12 R8?

The Chinese automakers: The wave isn’t quite a tsunami yet, but it’s building speed. Geely was the first Chinese company to display a car, in 2006, and last year Changfeng was the first to hold a press conference.

Bei Jing Li Shi Guang Ming A Piece of Cloud
Bei Jing Li Shi Guang Ming A Piece of Cloud. Click image to enlarge

This time around, Geely, Changfeng and BYD held conferences, and American importer Chamco Auto and electric microcar company Bei Jing Li Shi Guang Ming have displays. (No doubt translating phonetically, Bei Jing’s bright yellow models include Detroit Fish, The Book of Songs and A Piece of Cloud.) You can make a day out of looking at the Chinese vehicles and picking out the styling cues shamelessly copied from American, Japanese and European manufacturers. The quality is still very low, but we said that about the Japanese and Korean cars at first, too. And no matter how wide the panel gaps or how puckered the upholstery, there’s a huge market for a car with payments cheaper than a monthly bus pass.

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