Detroit 2011: The Wacky Goings-On at Cobo Hall

2012 Volkswagen Passat. Photo courtesy of Volkswagen of America.

If you're like me, you're following what's going on at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

It's exiting stuff already. There's something for everyone it appears. Shall I parse it all out for you?

MORE GREEN THAN YOU THINK: While the Chevrolet Volt collects its accolades, the competition is lining up. Ford and Toyota are at the front of the line while others are wondering what it would take to match the Volt's promises. The Prius will grow by another three variants: The plug-in, the MPV (called the Prius V) and a smaller model (called the Prius C). In the meantime, Ford has an all-electric Focus and a mostly-electric C-Max midivan variant (the Energi) for our consideration.

Ok, I get it. You want to risk a huge leap in your electricity bill so you can flip off your local gas station. I'm not entirely convinced that electricity alone would be able to provide a sense of freedom beyond the commute loop. I'm not convinced that petroleum is the answer for everything automotive, but as long as there is further development on these vehicles, we'll keep arguing about them!

In the meantime, enjoy the soy milk…

YOU CALLED IT A WHAT?!? I love automotive names that are weird and wacky. Detroit hosted the debut of three cacklers: the Buick Verano, Chevrolet Sonic and the Hyundai Veloster. The Verano will be the one Buick that is the proverbial square peg. It's about the same size as the Opel-based Regal, equipped with the same motors as the Regal – but is designed mainly by the crew in Shanghai rather than Russelheim. Until I drive both the Verano and Regal – I'll just scratch my head. Unless…someone explains why these two exist…

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read the word "Sonic?" A restaurant owned by Yum Foods that features an eat-in-your car experience…or, a hedgehog? Considering that Chevrolet is replacing the Aveo with it – it looks more like the video game character than something you'd have a burger, fries and a shake in. I can only hope that the hedgehog is better built, better performing and a better riding than its predecessor. It will be equipped with the same powertrains as the larger Cruze on this side of the Pacific.

As for Hyundai's new cheap-and-cheerful coupe, think of it as a Saturn S-Series coupe for this decade. It has a third door on the passenger side, which will help with the loading and unloading of pets, children and wheelchair-bound passengers. The Veloster is more than just a three-door coupe. It is a fun alternative to the Scion tC or a Honda CR-Z. It is for the tuner on a budget – or, rather, one lacking the cojones to take a Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track model on a serious mountain road. I'm sure the Veloster will do Hyundai well.

MO' MOPAR: Chrysler wrapped up their first batch of new models for 2011 with the introductions of the all-new Chrysler 300 and the heavily revised Jeep Compass. The 300 arrives as a huge improvement from the groundbreaking outgoing model, with a larger side glass area and a more eye-friendly look. The rear end remains to be seen whether its too blingy or sort-of Lancia-like. Also, I can now breathe a bit better knowing that the Compass adds a Trail Rated model to go along with its Grand Cherokee-esque front end. I actually drove a 2010 Compass on a teeter-totter – and it's really not a bad vehicle.

This week, Chrysler/Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne dropped a few hints on what's next on the Pentastar's agenda. First off, he dropped a mention of a Jeep with honest cargo space – a pickup. Marchionne didn't say it was a pickup, but I'm sure the RAM brand team wants a pow-wow over said vehicle. Then, another hint was dropped for a seven-passenger Grand Wagoneer – based on the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. Wait…I thought the Durango was supposed to be the seven-seater of that platform! And, the Commander – didn't that fail to grab sales outside of the Detroit area?

Then, Marchionne addressed the Dodge Nitro. He apparently wants to see it gone. He's not the only one. Most likely, its replacement will be on a Fiat platform – the C-Evo. Good point!

Lastly, Marchionne also asked his company to decide which minivan will survive in 2013. The plan is to keep one regular minivan – either the Dodge Grand Caravan or the Chrysler Town & Country – and bring in a Fiat-based MPV to replace the lost model. This one's a toughie – I like the concept, but choosing a brand over another for a minivan seems a bit illogical. Not sure what to think about this…

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST: When news hit about Volkswagen's want of returning back to foreign nameplate leadership, it went all in. They're completing the plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee set to build a Camry/Accord/Sonata/Fusion competitor. At the Paris show, VW showed a revised Passat that will not be for our consumption. Fair enough since this wonderful machine has always been priced too high for the Camry/Accord/Sonata/Fusion crowd. Therefore, VW created a North American family sedan for the Tennessee plant – now called the Passat.

My idea of a Passat is a family sedan with Teutonic manners and an interior that is a cut below an Audi. Not the upcoming North American Passat. It is handsome. The interior has several hints of the European version. But, it just appears to be a mix of basic appliance styling and Wolfsburg's DNA. I'd drive it, but I fear of a form of boredom doing so.

I am reminded when they were building the Rabbit (i.e. first generation Golf) in Pennsylvania some 30 years ago, they did Americanize it a bit. It wasn't over the top, but it still drove like a VW. With that said, the NA Passat will come with the five-cylinder motor standard, the TDI and 3.6litre W6 optional. It will also feature the DSG transmission on the TDI and W6. Now, you're talking!

All I can say is that I better not hit my head on the sunglass holder at the apex of the roofliner (as I encountered in the new Jetta) when I finally encounter this new Passat.

After reading all of this, if you're scratching your head, you're not alone. Then again, keep an eye out for these new vehicles on the roads! You might even see them on this site someday…

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