2009 Detroit Auto Show Preview

Opening to the public on January 17, the North American International Auto Show promises close to 50 debuts ... but evidence of shrinking auto industry already is evident

by James M. Flammang

Updated: January 5, 2009

2009 BMW Z4 retractable hardtop is scheduled
to debut at Detroit's auto show

(December 17, 2008) - For the past two decades, Detroit's auto show - held in January at Cobo Hall - has been called the North American International Auto Show. In 1989, the show gained international recognition. Prior to that year, the show had served mainly as a local event - far less notable than the Chicago and New York auto shows, despite the critical importance of Detroit to the auto industry. For the past two decades, Detroit's extravaganza has been the premier event in the U.S. auto-show season.

As for 2009, contraction of the automobile business already is evident, based upon the number of news conferences scheduled for the show's Press Days (held prior to the official opening). Ordinarily, in recent years, the press period has occupied two full days and part of a third. In January 2009, barring last-minute additions to the schedule, all the announcements by major automakers will have been made by early afternoon on the second day.

As a rule, too, close to 7,000 journalists squeeze into Detroit's Cobo Hall, a venue that can barely contain the auto show and its many activities. Not every attendee with a media badge is a fully active journalist in the field, but most of the world's top auto-industry reporters turn up each year. No telling just yet whether that total will shrink as well, but many companies are cutting back on travel as a result of the current financial crisis.

In mid-January 2009, in any case, show promoters promise nearly 50 world and North American debuts of production and concept vehicles. More than 20 manufacturers will be participating.

Traditionally, Detroit has hosted the first major auto show of the forthcoming season. Nowadays, Los Angeles holds that distinction. At the Los Angeles show in November, Nissan unveiled the redesigned 370Z and new Cube. Mini showcased a battery-powered Mini E model. Ford showed the redesigned Mustang, Fusion, and Mercury Milan, as well as the facelifted Lincoln MKZ. Mazda revealed its redesigned Mazda3 compact sport sedan. Kia brought its production-ready Soul, Porsche unveiled the redesigned Boxster and Cayman sports cars, and Bentley launched a performance-packed, ultra-posh Azure T convertible.

At Detroit in January 2009 ...

Toyota will host the world premiere of its "all-new" next-generation 2010 Prius, promising greater fuel economy and performance with its "substantially revised" Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Also from Toyota: a battery electric vehicle concept, shown for the first time. Lexus might unveil a new HS hybrid sedan.

Subaru plans to present a Legacy Concept vehicle. According to the company, it "showcases the direction of future Legacy sedan design." Kia will bring a concept vehicle, which show organizers believe will "demonstrate the flexibility" of the South Korean automaker's new Soul model.

Mercedes-Benz will introduce Concept BlueZero vehicles, which are thought to suggest the next-generation A- and B-Class models that are sold in Europe. A B-Class model, in particular, is likely to reach the American market at some point - possibly with a hybrid powertrain.

BMW is bringing its reworked Z4 roadster, with more power and a retractable hardtop. The 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine may have either 265 or 300 horsepower, depending on model choice. A seven-speed dual-clutch sport automatic transmission will be available. Most likely, Mini fans will be able to see the next-generation convertible.

Maserati will unveil a new Quatroporte Sport GT S sedan. With its V-8 engine boosted to 433 horsepower, the new model arrives on the 70th anniversary of Maserati's first participation in the Indianapolis 500 race.

Two Chinese automakers will bring their wares to Detroit. Brilliance Auto, which is a partner to BMW, makes its first appearance at the show. Brilliance exhibited its European-aimed lineup at the Paris Motor Show in October. BYD (Build Your Dreams) appeared at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, and will be in Detroit this January as well to promote a plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Despite the current financial crisis and requested loan guarantees by GM and Chrysler, each of the Detroit 3 automakers will host news conferences at the auto show, including a separate event for Lincoln-Mercury. Ford will reveal the latest Shelby GT500, likely along with a redesigned Taurus sedan. General Motors intends to show the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and redesigned SRX, as well as two Chevrolet vehicles first seen at the Paris Motor Show: the Cruze subcompact and Orlando concept. Chevrolet also will unveil the redesigned 2010 Equinox concept crossover vehicle. Buick is expected to introduce the redesigned LaCross sedan. Saab will exhibit a Griffin Edition of its 9-5 sedan and wagon.

Fisker, a builder of high-end sports cars, will show a new concept model. Media presentations also are scheduled by Volkswagen, Bentley, Audi, Lamborghini, Jaguar, and Volvo.

Several automakers, led by Nissan, have announced that they will not be present at the Detroit show. The list of non-participants includes Ferrari, Mitsubishi, Rolls-Royce, and Suzuki.

Journalists will be in Detroit's Cobo Hall for Press Days on Sunday-Monday, January 11 and 12. The 2009 North American International Auto Show opens to the public on January 17, and runs through Sunday the 25th. Show information is available at www.naias.com.

Tirekicking Today will be in Detroit for the entire Press period and beyond, to cover every notable introduction.

Updates Coming: Please check again for an updated Preview of the 2009 North American International Auto Show.

© All contents copyright 2008-09 by Tirekicking Today
Text by James M. Flammang; photo supplied by BMW
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