In the wake of the Detroit auto show, Robert Cumberford takes the opportunity to paint a picture of the state of the United States car industry. A picture which, in view of the crisis in North America, is not comforting to say the least. Here are some of his more significant and cutting observations.

This year General Motors has been in the midst of a design-driven recovery. Chevrolet launched the Malibu, a product earmarked for the heart of the auto market as opposed to trucks and SUV’s. Chevrolet’s Volt concept car was certainly the most significant vehicle from the entire show; this is an electric vehicle fitted with an on-board generator.

The Ford Airstream hybrid plug-in was absolutely frivolous. Its shape seems to have been obtained by throwing a bomb into the 2005 Synus concept car and then ironing its surface to make it look bulbous; of its forebear it has preserved the metallic look and orange finishings.

The Honda Accord Coupé is in fact a preview of the next production Accord, which is second in United States sales rankings. Not as important, however, as the Toyota FT-HS sports hybrid concept car which has a pointed front and snow-plough type blades on the two sides of the lower air intake. It has roughly the same dimensions as the Nissan 350Z and an equally big engine, and it is probably destined for the production line.

The fact that none of the Japanese prototypes appears to be influenced by European or American design trends must be regarded positively: the overwhelming financial success of the Japanese brands seems to have given the local management teams the courage to allow free rein to their designers.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 162

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