Detroit: A shade of green

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Road cars

D’you know, this city – this city is hurting bad.’ The words may have been new, but the sentiment they expressed is one I’ve heard too many times in relation to the once great metropolis of Detroit. I ask after the city’s health every time I come here and always to the people best placed to answer it: cab drivers. As we drove down streets populated by glassless buildings and listless vagrants on our way to the Cobo Hall – the venue this year as ever for the Detroit motor show – I wondered how Motor City was going to talk its way out of its current troubles this time.

Truly I have never seen so many brave faces collected together under one roof, nor quite so much energy expended not letting the facts get in the way of a well-spun story. Was Ford talking about having to offload Jaguar and Land Rover? Was Chrysler talking about being off-loaded by Daimler? They were not. Things weren’t that bad, apparently; the storm had been weathered and soon all would be well again. It would have carried more weight if the thousands of media gathered from around the world had not heard it all before. Besides, whatever was said, the corporate body language was impossible to mistake.

The showmanship that has been the hallmark of the Big Three at this time of year was notable only for its absence. This year there were no cars falling through ceilings, no chief execs walking through brick walls, no attempt at all to celebrate the industry upon which this city made its name. Heads are down and seem likely to stay that way for some time.

But you cannot accuse the indigenous industry of failing at least to attempt to address the issues that dog their businesses. From a country more comfortable with small blocks than small cars, all the talk was of lightweight strategies, while most of the concepts were based around flexible fuel, fuel cell and hybrid technologies. They seem even and at last to be embracing diesel power. But surely the strangest sight of the show was the hybrid-powered Hummer unveiled by GM’s chief Rick Wagoner not long after he’d informed us that global oil consumption is currently running at a nice round 1000 barrels per second. When Hummer builds a small and environmentally considerate hybrid – albeit as a concept car – you know that even in Detroit, a city that historically reacts to threats to its existence with all the alacrity of a Brontosaurus with a T-Rex on its tail, the message is finally getting through.

By contrast, the Europeans are on a different arc of the curve. With their environmental pitches laid out long ago, they felt comfortable talking about how being frugal and having fun are not mutually exclusive concepts. To this end I sat down with Volker Mornhinweg, the enigmatic head of Mercedes’ AMG department – and, as such, someone the ultra-powerful, car-hating green lobby in Germany must rank as one of their country’s more wanted environmental criminals – and suggested that AMG could no longer sustain a business model based simply on building ever more powerful and profligate cars.

“There are other ways of doing it,” he replied, “and we’ve started already with our Black Series cars.” These are cars that derive their speed from the reduction of weight as much as the addition of power, and while the first, based on the SLK, was rushed, under-developed and unpleasant, I recently spent a few days in the CLK variant and can report that it is quite outstanding. Indeed it seems that no subject is beyond discussion at AMG these days. There was a time when, had I mentioned the possibility of a diesel-powered AMG product, Herr Mornhinweg would have choked on his coffee, but now he just smiles and agrees with me that, now the refinement issues of multi-cylinder diesels have been overcome, diesel has attributes – particularly a surfeit of readily available low-end torque – that would suit the brand very well.

Audi, however, has already twigged this and showed a unique and, if it goes into production, groundbreaking supercar. It looks just like a standard R8 with a rather excessive fresh air requirement, so large and multitudinous are the extra vents and inlets that have been cut into its body (including a monstrous NACA duct in the roof). In fact they’re all there to feed and cool the mighty 5.5-litre V12 diesel engine crammed inside its engine bay. With 500bhp, a 0-60mph time of under 4sec and a top speed ‘in excess of 185mph’, this is not just by far the quickest diesel car ever made, it is the world’s first oil-burning supercar, too.

Even Ferrari is playing the environmental card. We’d gone to Detroit hoping to see the much-rumoured 599GTB California with its convertible roof, but instead we were treated to a very standard looking F430 Spider with the word ‘Bio Fuel’ scrawled down its front and side in bright green ink just for good measure. You can’t buy this Ferrari of course, not least because you’d struggle to find anywhere to fill it up, but nevertheless it has been tuned to run on E85 bio-fuel (a blend of 85 per cent bio-ethanol and 15 per cent petrol) which is not only renewable and drops CO2 emissions slightly, it also adds another 10bhp, allowing Ferrari to claim the car is both quicker and more environmentally considerate. Whether this will form even part of Ferrari’s commitment to drop its cars’ emissions by 40 per cent by 2012 remains to be seen.

Other supercar manufacturers, such as Porsche and Aston Martin, were silent on account of boycotting the show altogether. The US is a critical market to both, but the core of their business lies on the east and west coasts, not in the frozen north of Michigan.

On the way back to the airport to board the BA flight home, it occurred to me that the show and city are both shadows of their once great selves. Next year I shall doubtless return to see if the much mooted recovery was, indeed, all just talk, but it will be a US airline that brings me here. After March, British Airways will no longer fly here. Lack of demand, apparently.

Back in its heyday, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the US; now it doesn’t even make the top 10. At the moment, it is still home to the largest car company in the world but, by this time next year, even that last great claim to fame is likely to be a thing of the past.

Related articles

Related products