2014 Detroit Auto Show: The Kitman Files

Jamie Lincoln Kitman

Jamie Lincoln Kitman | Jan 16, 2014

Editor’s note: What’s going down at the 2014 North American International Auto Show… when the latest models weren’t busy showing off, well, the latest models? Car Talk blogger Jamie Kitman looked past the glare of the overwaxed surfaces at every turn, and gave us his take.

Mary Barra
The auto industry's first female CEO was a popular show interview and much present at Cobo Hall, but the carping classes were out in force. Former CEO Ed Dan Akerson -- who named Barra, a GM lifer, to replace him -- was, to listen to some wags, guided in his choice entirely by self-interest. Her elevation, these critics chorused, would make him look good as the man who shattered the glass ceiling for women executives, while her limitations as an executive (her experience was not broad enough, it was said) would in a few years make people long for the era of prosperity that coincided with Akerson’s short tenure. All seemed a little paranoid and mean-spirited to me, but a) there's a reason I'm not an automotive executive and b) only time will tell.

New GM CEO Mary Barra was on the receiving end of a whole lot of behind the scenes snark in Detroit. (Bill Pugliano,Getty)

Ford F-150
Brother Motavalli has given you the ins and outs of Ford's new mainstay, the pick up with the all-aluminum body that saves a commendable 700 lbs in weight. The alloy panels will help Ford meet its CAFE goals, but many folks on the floor wondered whether future fender benders were going to seem extra expensive to truck folk used to the price of replacing steel panels. No one on hand seemed to know or want to talk about it; another question, if aluminum panels are significantly more expensive how will insurance rates fare? On an unrelated note, we've all seen fifty-year-old steel-bodied Ford pickups in states of fully retired repose, quietly rusting out back of a farmer's house and in other rural settings. Will we find the aluminum-bodied F-150s, immune to rust, sinking into the weeds, say, 200 years from now?

Questions of maintenance and insurance costs aside, what will aluminum panels do to our future rusty-n-rural Americana landscapes? (Scott Olson, Getty)

Cadillac Elmiraj
I somehow missed this huge (as in very large) Cadillac concept coupe when I attended Pebble Beach last summer, but I caught up with it here. (Incidentally that's pronounced El Mirage, not Elmira J as my sleep-deprived brain first supposed.) Yes it's big and no it won't win the fuel economy bake-offs, but -- if you ask me -- this is just the sort of Big Pimping ride Cadillac still needs to re-establish its luxury car credentials. Credible BMW 3- and 5-Series competitors, the ATS and CTS, are great and much-needed, as is the intriguing (but too-expensive) ELR hybrid coupe, but something with this much swagger would help return Cadillac to its rightful (at least in the eyes of this traditionalist) place as a proud symbol of vulgar, yet tasteful American excess. Cadillac hasn't said they'll build it, but they haven't said they won't, so here's hoping.

Kitman objects to foreign car companies carrying the Big Pimpin' torch that should rightfully belong to the home of tasteless luxury: the USA! (L. Willms, Wikimedia)

Nissan ID-x Freeflow Concept
Here's another concept with previous car show experience (Tokyo) under its belt that had eluded my notice: this rear-drive coupe wowed in person, in a way that production ready concepts for Nissan (the new Maxima) and Acura (the TLX) did not. Press days at the Detroit show may not have been the ideal venue for determining whether this upright, two-door model - specifically aimed at luring the gaming, ADHD tech generation back to the automotive fold -- hit its target, but it captured this analog codger's heart at first glance. That's probably because it harkens back to the Datsun 510 of my youth, though some also saw touches of the 75 Corolla and 68 Camaro, other winners from the day when all cars didn't look quite so much the same.

Time will tell whether Nissan's ID-x Freeflow concept car could possilbly have the chops to catch the eye of an upcoming buried-in-the-latest-device-who-cares-about-cars generation. In the meantime, it sure is purdy. (Keith Tsuji, Getty)

Chevrolet Colorado Pickup
Remember when you could buy small-size pickups from the makers of full-size pickups? They once roamed the land in force. But don't mistake the Colorado for one of those -- it's small only in comparison to the most hulking modern truck. Credit the arcane and not all-good Obama-era revisions to CAFE regulation. Crafted largely by the automobile industry, the new rules fully preserved the rights of carmakers to sell big trucks and crossovers, and in fact encourage bigger is better thinking. Maybe one day someone will wake up and again give consumers who need hauling capability a more wieldy and efficient choice.

If this hulk of a "compact pickup truck" is a car manufacturer's answer to recent fuel ecomony regulatory changes, it might be time to take regulation crafting out of the hands of the auto industry and give it back to the government. (Frederic J. Brown, Getty)

VW Seven Seat SUV Crossover
Just what America needs, another tank with seating for seven. VW, hellbent on meeting a self-imposed target of one million U.S. sales for itself and Audi by 2018, seem to think this big boy (think Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder) is the way. Ironically, during a morning roundtable with Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Member of the Board of Management Volkswagen Brand and Head of Group Powertrain Development Volkswagen AG and U.S. CEO Jonathan Horn, Neusser had said that VW was surprised that despite low gasoline prices today their most fuel-efficient cars are selling best. Said Neusser: "From the rational side, if you look at fuel prices, I wouldn't expect this demand (for fuel efficiency,) but they are absolutely focused on it." Yet when I pressed him on why VW's U.S. offerings were getting bigger and bigger, and why VW was no longer able to field a subcompact (a segment in which Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda and Nissan all compete) he said they needed to see more proof of demand. But one might wonder, how can they see demand until they offer a smaller car? And speaking of which, was there really demand for an evil-handling, super-slow, rear-engined, air-cooled oddity called the Beetle when they first imported it to America? Of course not. Yet it would go on to sell in the millions here. Once again, I would submit, the Germans are being hurt by their monolithic view of Americans. Some people like small cars -- VW would be very wise to offer here its sub-Golf model, the Polo (still bigger than the original Rabbit, which sold quite well in the U.S.) -- at earliest light. Build it and they will come.

Who needs another 7 seater crossover SUV? "Not us," says the North American car market, if sales numbers and customer feedback are any indication. But try telling that to Volkswagen. (Scott Olson, Getty) 

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One