For the next couple of days, I’ll be blogging live from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where dozens of 2008 model cars are on display along with more than 50 “concept” cars and production vehicles. I’m here at the invitation of General Motors, though I’m under no obligation to write “nice” about GM’s cars – or anyone else’s for that matter. Highlights so far:
- The over-the-top GM Style event Saturday night on the Detroit River waterfront: Extraordinary food (lobster tacos, scallop “lollipops” and dip-your-own chocolate truffles) preceded a runway show featuring 19 new GM car designs, stick-thin models adorned in high fashion gowns color-coordinated to match the autos sharing the runway with them, and live performances by Mary J. Blige, Kid Rock and enviro-band Maroon 5 . Adam Levine, Maroon 5’s lead singer, sounded the only eco-note of the evening when, during the band’s pre-concert press event, thanked “any companies making hybrids.”
- Rick Waggoner, General Motors chairman and CEO announced a new partnership with Coskata to make ethanol from “practically any renewable source, including garbage, old tires and plant waste.” Any ethanol effort to use biomass waste rather than expand corn production (and the related environmental impact from fertilizers and pesticides) is good news.
- Two environmental protesters carrying an impressive airborne bouquet of inflated green balloons were tackled and (presumably) evicted from the entrance to the show when they attempted to unfurl a banner. I arrived on the scene just as one of the activists was being thrown to the ground; meanwhile, one man who appeared to be a credentialed reporter started shouting “freedom of speech.” (I tried to get the security guards to let me read the banner, but they just laughed and walked away.)
- I learned that the SMART car, a vehicle for two made by Daimler (manufacturers of Mercedes Benz) goes on sale tomorrow. They have 30,000 orders so far from people looking to buy an auto that will help them save gas in their “zip code range.” I first saw these cars on a trip to Amsterdam in 2000 – it’s about time they crossed the big pond!
- Meanwhile…India’s Tata Motors almost stole everyone’s thunder. On Thursday, the company unveiled the world’s cheapest car, a $2,500 four-door subcompact that gets 50 mpg and travels no faster than 60 mpg. Environmentalists are decrying the “Nano” because it will encourage more driving in one of the world’s most populous nations. But the miles-per-gallon achievement should remind every manufacturer on display here in Detroit– especially those that continue to tie their fortunes to gas guzzlers like Hummers and other SUVS – that higher fuel efficiency standards are becoming the global norm.
Upcoming: What’s so smart about the SMART car? And when can you buy GM’s Volt?