By Craig Fitzgerald
It’s been a long time since I went to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
In fact, the last time I went, I drove 15 hours in a van with Ray Magliozzi, John "Bugsy" Lawlor, and John R. White from the Boston Globe. Three miles into the trip I had to take over driving and never stopped until we hit Ontario. I still wake up in a cold sweat reliving that nightmare.
Everything has changed since that last adventure in Bugsy’s van (Ed. Note: Except Craig’s wardrobe, and the fact that Bugs still has the van.) Detroit looks even more like a set from The Road Warrior, and cars have gotten a lot more sophisticated and a lot more expensive.
Here’s what I took away from the Detroit show this year:
Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept
Since the 1950s, carmakers have tried to marry the comfort of a regular car with the utility of a pickup truck. El Camino-type car/trucks have been ignored by anyone who had an indoor toilet and more than seven of their own teeth, but I’ve always been a sucker for the idea.
The latest take on the car/pickup hybrid is this concept car from Hyundai called the Santa Cruz. Usually, concepts are some pie-in-the-sky concoction from some nerd designer, featuring a fuel cell powered by unicorn farts, but the Santa Cruz is a pretty conventional vehicle with a good shot of getting built. It’s smaller than the pictures look, and it’s got a slide-out bed extender that allows you to fit a motorcycle in the back. Neat idea.
Hyundai says that the Santa Cruz is aimed at “young adults” who are “urban adventurers.” Since 93 percent of Millennials still live in their mom’s house and can barely afford their Xbox payment, I figure the people who actually buy it will be AARP members in assisted living communities.
All The Old Things
No matter how cool and flashy the new cars are, eventually you start glazing over when you look at hundreds and hundreds of them laid out across the show floor. It’s new car new car new car new car then suddenly BAM, there’s something really cool from the 1960s that looks better than any modern automobile ever produced.
A couple of things really grabbed my attention: Ben Abatti Jr. and his son Ben III (not a lot of naming creativity there at the old Abatti homestead) are desert racers, and most of the time, they’re competing in a newer Ford truck, but their 1965 Ford F-150 desert racer is cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Circa 2015, Honda is known for building safe, reliable cars that have all the excitement of a coin-op clothes dryer, but in the 1960s, Honda had it going on. In 1964, Honda busted its way into Formula 1 with this RA271 driven by Richie Ginther. The scale of this thing is just crazy. It’s no bigger than a go-kart. A modern Formula 1 car is twice the size.
Volkswagen Cross Coupe GTE
It’s not that I don’t like this car--I just hate the name.
If you can call your seven-passenger SUV a coupe, why not just call it “spaceship” or “fire engine” or “Frank”?
Coupes aren’t these things. They’re other things, with two doors. Attention Harvard MBAs in the Marketing Department: If you don’t know what your car is, maybe you shouldn’t be selling it.
GAC WITSTAR Concept
GAC (Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd.) is apparently “China’s leading auto manufacturer.”
In the 1960s and 1970s Japanese manufacturers filled a niche with inexpensive, high-quality, reliable, fuel-efficient automobiles.
GAC fills a niche for people who want to drive a car with a fish in the back seat.