Thousands of people braved frigid temperatures and snow to crowd into Cobo Center in downtown Detroit on Saturday for the public opening of the North American International Auto Show whose glamour has dimmed in the shadow of a deepening national recession and the struggles of the auto industry.
The doors opened after almost a week of special access for the media, industry insiders and others during which US and foreign automakers spotlighted their new models of eco-friendly hybrids and electric vehicles.
But low emissions and high mileage are not why Lee Pierce drove the roughly 800km from his Knoxville, Tennessee, home to Detroit.
“This was worth the trip right here. It’s drop-dead gorgeous,” Pierce, 38, said while admiring a sleek silver open-top limited-production Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Stirling Moss. “I’m interested in the whole green thing, but that kind of takes a back burner in comparison to something like this.”
Show spokesman Sam Locricchio said organizers expect nearly 700,000 members of the public to visit Cobo for the show, which runs through next Sunday. Tickets are US$12 for adults.
Two of the Detroit Three automakers, General Motors Corp and Chrysler LLC, have survived largely thanks to billions of dollars in federal loans. Some big names, including Nissan Motor Co, decided not to show up in Detroit at all.
But while some features are missing, elaborate electronic exhibits and cutting-edge vehicles still made for an impressive display on Saturday as members of the public marveled at the sights.
“What an incredible show, what an incredible spectacle,” Pierce said. “It’s like Times Square.”
Nearly 50 vehicles unveiled at the Detroit show are among about 700 on display, and many of the new models represent what some say is the future of the auto industry: Hybrids, extended-range electrics and other advanced high-mileage cars. Among others, Toyota Motor Corp unveiled its third-generation Prius hybrid, Chrysler made public the 200C sedan and Jeep Patriot electric-vehicle concepts and GM revealed the two-door Cadillac Converj electric car.
Tom Biddlecombe, 22, traveled from Huron, Ohio, to check out the latest models as he gets ready to buy a new car. He admired the sleek Converj concept but said he will likely go for a sporty Chevrolet Camaro instead.
“It’s promising technology, though. I think if it does well and the price comes down a bit, I’d buy one,” Biddlecombe said.
But many auto buffs, potential buyers and excited children at the show on Saturday were more interested in style and power than fuel efficiency.
“Gas mileage is good and everything, but you’ve got to have fun,” said Michael Jackson, 36, of Louisville, Kentucky, admiring luxury models from British automaker Aston Martin. “I like the hybrids and everything, too, but I like my sports cars and I like horsepower.”
Tony Attanasio, 35, of the Detroit suburb of Northville admired the 2010 Lincoln MKX sedan as “pretty smooth” while his sons Chase, 8, and Trey, 6, played in the front seat.
“I like the sunroof,” Chase said with a wide, toothy grin.
Debbie and Larry Wheeler, also of Northville, are looking to buy a new car this year. Sitting in a silver Chevy Malibu hybrid — the same model GM chief executive Rick Wagoner drove last month to Washington while lobbying Congress for emergency loans — they said the model’s efficient hybrid gas-electric drive won’t be a major factor in their decision.