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WintonsWorld Dedicated to the truth about cars, and if I’ve got the time, some home truths about politics too. I worked for Reuters for 33 years, where my last job was European Auto Correspondent. I was also Reuters' global Science and Technology Correspondent. I judge cars on their honesty, practicality, quality and value for money.

*Detroit Motor Show 2009 North American Motor Show

Cadillac, Chevrolet
Strength Bodes Well For GM In Detroit

Ford Taurus Also Shows American Industry Won’t Lie Down
Can China Electric Car Really Do 250 Miles On A Charge?

Chevrolet Orlando
Chevrolet Orlando
Chevrolet Cruze
Toyota Prius
Honda Insight
Honda Insight

Speaking Of Doubtful Claims, Will New Prius Deliver The Goods?

Anyone doubting the ability of General Motors to survive the current crisis should take a look at the Cadillac and Chevrolet sections of GM’s stand at the Car Show’s Cobo Centre. A company making  cars as impressive as this isn’t going to founder.

The most beautiful car at this year’s show is surely the Cadillac Converj, the concept plug-in hybrid battery powered car. This has simply fabulous good looks, and would have even overshadowed super cars like the new Ferrari California, had the Italians deigned to appear at this year’s show.

The Cadillac concept is based on the platform used for the Chevrolet Volt.

The Cadillac SRX crossover and the Sport Wagon are also handsome and exude quality. Just across the aisle is the Chevrolet Cruze sedan and the tiny but pretty Beat, soon to reappear as the Chevy Spark. In the corner is the Chevrolet Volt, which also looks good. If its plug-in hybrid system delivers the goods, surely GM with luxury and utilitarian vehicles like these can’t possibly fail.

Then there is the Chevy Orlando. This car looks fine from the front but the horrendously ugly rear end is reminiscent of the truly dreadful-looking old Pontiac Aztec. Surely any car setting off echoes of the Aztec should be returned to the designers forthwith. There is plenty of time before its 2011 launch to put this right.

Ford Taurus
Ford’s stand is impressive too, with the new Taurus sedan and Edge, leading the way. The Taurus looks good. I can see cues from the Chrysler 300C in its looks from the side, with its high waistline and narrow windows. The 2010 Taurus moves upmarket, with luxury, safety and technology features like steering-wheel manual gear change paddle shifters, heated-and-cooled seats and adaptive cruise control with collision warning.

If the specification claimed for this concept car could be taken at face value, this would be the runaway star of the show. BYD Auto of China said its E6 all electric vehicle will travel up to 250 miles on one charge. It only takes 10 minutes to recharge 50 per cent of the battery’s power, BYD said. Any western car manufacturer would be ecstatic to be able to claim these qualities. Any thoughts of bankruptcy would vanish.

A big winner at the show this year is Hyundai of Korea. Not only did its Genesis luxury car win the 2009 Car of the Year award, because of no-shows like Nissan-Infiniti, Mitsubishi, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce, Suzuki and Porsche, its stand was promoted from the dark recesses of the Cobo Center to a huge area close to Mercedes and Acura-Honda. You won’t miss Hyundai’s big marketing ploy – “10-year/100,000 mile warranty” – emblazoned across the back of the stand. (To be fair to Mitsubishi, there is a small area of the show with some Mitsubishi cars, but the area was deserted apart from an automated computer playing a marketing video.)

Lexus HS 250h  
Lexus calls its HS 250h the world’s first dedicated luxury hybrid. It is powered by a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine generating 187 hp together with the electric motor. This car will be more than 30 per cent more fuel efficient than the best performer in the Lexus hybrid range. The car looks pretty dull. Lexus presumably spent most the budget on the impressive technology.

Toyota Prius
The new Prius gasoline-electric hybrid is said to improve fuel consumption to a combined 50 mpg from the previous model’s 46 mpg. The car looks much snappier and chunkier than the previous one’s rather dull lines, with an attractive crease down the side. It’s a little bit longer and wider, but still unmistakeably a Prius. The Prius has been the favorite car for green Hollywood types, but many regular drivers in the real world found it difficult to match the fuel efficiency claims made by Toyota. The car is a hit in the city, where the electric assistance vastly improves the gas mileage. But on the highway the old car struggled to be green. Maybe the new one will be different?

VW BlueSport
VW refuses to tone down its ambitious plans for sales in the U.S., despite crumbling consumer confidence. The jaunty little BlueSport concept is a mid-engined roadster, which can be powered either by a diesel or a gasoline engine. If the car was powered by a 180 bhp turbodiesel it could return an average 42 mpg and accelerate from rest to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. VW, which was vigorously pushing the case for diesel at the show, said with this 2.0 liter diesel the car would deliver the same performance as a 300 hp gasoline engine, with maximum torque available from 1,750 rpm.

The car’s fuel consumption is improved by a stop-start system and regenerative braking.

VW didn’t say when or if the car would go into production.

BMW’s redesigned Z4 roadster has a powered hard roof that retracts within 20 seconds. BMW is moving production of the Z4 to Germany, so the Spartanburg, S.C., plant can be expanded to produce the next generation X3 small SUV. Buyers can choose from two inline 3.0 liter six-cylinder engines – one with twin-turbochargers delivering 300 hp, or another normally aspirated one with 255 hp.

Honda Insight
Honda has slashed its marketing budget so much that it decided to launch its Insight gasoline-electric hybrid with no fanfare at all. It just appeared on the Honda stand. No hype. No speeches. The Insight is aimed straight at Toyota’s Prius and is expected to be seriously cheaper. Honda introduced the original Insight hybrid in 1999. This was a 2-seater, because the batteries were so big they took up most of the rear space. The new Insight has five-doors and room for five. Its styling resembles the futuristic-looking fuel-cell-powered FCX Clarity.

Power comes from a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and a nickel-metal hydride battery system. The top speed on pure battery power is 30 mph. Combined fuel economy is 41 mpg, says Honda.

Neil Winton – January 20th 2009

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