Protesters, Rock Stars and High Fashion Set the Stage at Detroit Auto Show

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: 

  • 1731246autoshowcarsandstarssff 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?

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