A Ferrari that runs on garbage?
Either this is an environmentalist's wildest dream or it's the annual Detroit Auto Show.
Maybe it's both.
Officially known as the North American International Auto Show, it's where beautiful cars, models and the people who love both show up after New Year's to check out what's under everybody's hood.
The Worst From the Detroit Auto Show
General Motors(GM) , which is kind of like the old uncle you thought had died a few years ago (actually it was his son, Olds) seemed to draw the biggest headlines in Detroit with its "green" Hummer concept car. The Hummer HX is a little smaller and its V-6 is Flex-Fuel powered, meaning it can run on regular gas or ethanol.
The company used the introduction of the HX to announce that it would be bringing out 16 new hybrid models over the next four years, and it had also made an investment in Coskata, a biofuel corporation that converts garbage into ethanol.
Could a Ferrari really run on waste? We'll see.
Ferrari's F430 Spider Biofuel has green racing stripes -- a tip-off that this V-12 beauty drinks E85, the blend of the 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline that's hard to find outside of Omaha, but which we're told is going to become more common in gas stations over the next couple of years. The engine is tuned to work with the fuel and is part of the company's efforts to reduce tailpipe emissions by 40% in 2012.
Volkswagen(VLKAY) introduced its ill-fated Phaeton luxury sedan a few years ago at this show, and it's hoping that debuting the new Passat CC in Detroit will reverse its luck in this segment. The new Passat is longer, wider and lower with a 3.6-liter 280-horsepower V-6 or a 200-horsepower turbo four- and a six-speed automatic.
A unique "lane departure warning system" in the new Passat lets you know when you've drifted out of your lane of traffic by taking "automatic corrective action" to guide the car back into the lane. Using the turn signal deactivates the warning system.
You'll start seeing the new Passat CC on the highways of Europe this summer and it's supposed to reach U.S. showrooms by November, when the auto maker will figure out what its manufacturer's suggested retail price will be. Considering the lackluster dollar, don't expect a bargain.
Just about every car maker has introduced a crossover and BMW already has its X3 and X5. It felt there was room for one more so the aptly named X6 is being readied for showrooms in the summer. Crossovers have been described as SUVs for people who don't really like SUVs. Then they buy them and haul around groceries and kids and suitcases and figure that they really do need a full-size SUV.
But the BMW-line crossovers are more like sport sedans with a little space in the back to stick a picnic basket. It's not the car you take for that once-a-month trip to Costco. The X6 continues this with a minimal amount of cargo space and don't even ask about a third row of seats. But they're counting on you taking the 4.4-liter 400 horsepower V-8 on a test drive and filling out the paperwork without leaving the leather driver's seat.
If you roam around Cobo Hall in Detroit looking for the Porsche display, keep walking until you're out the doors, find a cab and ask to be taken to the dealership in Grosse Point. That's because Porsche had decided against coming to this year's show, deciding to focus its Teutonic models on the Japanese and Frankfurt auto shows coming up.
But the Chinese are here, drawing big crowds around cars called "The Book of Songs" and "A Piece of Clouds." Experts say these cars aren't ready for the U.S. Their fit isn't just right, their paint is uneven, they don't have cupholders to fit Big Gulps! But one day, the Chinese are going to be delivering cars of high quality and fit over here for about 20% less than what even South Korea can do.
The car that gets the most "heat" is usually the one that's not at the show. And in true Volkswagen style, this year it's the Nano, the latest by Indian car maker Tata Motors(TTM). It's a minuscule, part rover, part car, part lawn-mower contraption that can take a small family around for about $2,500.
Next year, Tata may be at the show, since it's reportedly in negotiations to purchase Ford's Land Rover and Jaguar brands.