Image: SLS AMG Gullwing
Mercedes Benz
We could tell you all the horsepower and various specs for the electric version of Mercedes-Benz's SLS AMG Gullwing that went on sale last year. But the most important one is that the show model in Detroit will be painted a screaming "AMG Lumilectric Mango" yellow.
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updated 1/6/2011 4:14:26 PM ET 2011-01-06T21:14:26

January in Detroit isn't glamorous. But everyone who is anyone in the auto industry will be there next week to see for themselves just how good the industry's prospects are for 2011.

They'll be taking in new offerings from Big Three makers, scouring the latest from the luxury front, evaluating the best of what Asia can offer and drooling over exotic-sounding concepts of the future.

All will be talking about Porsche: It's the first time in four years the German manufacturer will have a presence in Detroit (it left in 2007 to focus more on making a splash in Los Angeles), and Porsche executives say they'll have something "spectacular" to debut at the show. (Smart money says it'll be some variation of the 918 Spyder hybrid, which Porsche has said it'll produce in 2013.)

Forbes.com slideshow: 10 cars to look for in Detroit

If that spate of fresh metal and Porsche's recommitment to be there have anything to say about it, Detroit's annual event may be on the rise. After a depressing showing with few new products and low attendance in 2009, the 2010 North American International Auto Show saw 65,000 more people attend. A total of $80 million was recently committed to renovating the Cobo convention center by the auto show set for 2012, and improvements in the form of better food options, roof renovations and parking improvements are already happening.

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The real stars, though, are the cars. Take the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell. This is the electric version of the $183,000 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing that went on sale last year. Its four motors (a pair at each axle integrated with reduction gears to drive all four wheels at the same time) combine to provide 526 horsepower and 649 pound-feet of torque and a 0-60 mph time of 4 seconds. The production model will be on sale in 2013. And watch out: The car in Detroit will be painted in a screaming "AMG Lumilectric Mango" yellow.

Forbes.com: The world's most expensive cars

Another sure star on the walkabout track next month will be the BMW 1-Series M Coupe. This car makes perfect sense as a part of BMW's esteemed M line — the guys at Consumer Reports say they like the 1-Series just as much as they do the M3. In fact it's surprising it has taken BMW this long to develop the vehicle.

Show-goers will get first dibs on seeing the 1-Series M's new twin-turbocharged, all-aluminum, 3.0-liter inline-6 engine, which gets 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. The standard-issue 6-speed manual transmission gets from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, with a top speed limited to 155 mph. Sales of the 1-Series M coupe start later this spring; production is limited to 2,700 units.

Forbes.com: The hottest trucks of 2011

Also from BMW Group is the MINI Paceman Concept. This little number presents a challenge for automotive purists — it's a two-door coupe like the MINI Cooper, but it's based on the four-door MINI Countryman. The result is something that sits higher on the road than the Cooper and that will probably be trimmed to a higher degree (leather, tech upgrades) than that baseline coupe. The concept comes with an all-wheel-drive system and a John Cooper Works-tuned turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 211 horsepower. A production version is expected in late 2012.

As for Detroit's Big Three, look for the Ford Motor C-MAX van. The C-MAX is part of Ford's global small- vehicle strategy to deliver 10 different vehicles — 2 million of them annually — from a single C-vehicle platform by 2012. It also has Ford's first application of the 1.6-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine in its North American C-class vehicles.

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The aluminum engine combines direct injection, turbocharging and twin independent variable camshaft timing for a fuel economy 20 percent better than naturally aspirated, larger-displacement gasoline engines that have a similar power output.

C-MAX also has a power-operated rear liftgate, five seats in the main cabin and two smaller seats in the third row, twin sliding doors and active park assist, a special system that will automatically parallel-park the car.

If the crowds in Detroit this year are anything like what convention organizers hope, that parking camera just might come in handy.

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The Hottest Cars Of 2011

© 2012 Forbes.com

Explainer: 10 new car companies to look out for

  • Image: Saba
    Saba  /  Saba

    Like a big-budget sports team on a free-agent acquisition binge, the car industry has been rapidly acquiring new players. And as there’s no overpriced ball park program for car buyers to work from, we thought we had better put together a guide to the rookies.

    As usual, not all of these newcomers are going to make it in the league, but the season is young, optimism is in the air and we will soon see which of them has what it takes to compete in the major leagues.

    Here’s a guide to the newest crop of car companies.

  • Coda Automotive

    With a contract to provide electric cars to Hertz, Coda looks to be solidifying its footing as a player in the electric car business. The company plans to kick off retail sales of its new electric car in California in 2011 and will roll out sales to the rest of the country soon after. The California-based company does final assembly in the Golden State using sub-assemblies imported from China. The company’s challenge will be to interest U.S. customers in buying its unremarkably generic compact sedan for $37,400 when they can now just as easily buy one from a mainstream automaker.

  • Wheego Electric Cars

    Image: Wheego
    Wheego  /  Wheego

    Despite an Atlanta headquarters, Wheego thinks that air conditioning should be an option (and not a standard feature) in its Smart car lookalike electric car (and the company wants you to pay $1,995 for it!). The LiFe two-seater’s base price is $32,995, and like most current electric models it’s approximate driving range is 100 miles. Its small size, 65 mph top speed and relatively high price compared to similar cars from established brands could make LiFe tough for Wheego. The company promises to start delivering cars at the beginning of 2011.

  • Tesla Motors

    Image: Tesla
    Tesla  /  Tesla

    With the arrival of financial angel Toyota, Tesla’s immediate future is solidified as the company moves from its racy Lotus-derived Roadster to developing its $56,500 Model S luxury sedan. This baby will rocket from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds and top out at 120 mph when Tesla gets it into production. Doubt about that eventuality should be eased by the $30 million investment in Tesla by Panasonic and Tesla’s deal to electrify RAV4 SUVs for Toyota, giving the startup company some stability as its gears up for production of the Model S.

  • Think

    Image: Think
    Think  /  Think

    Think isn’t really a new company, but it’s new to most consumers because Ford never consummated its plan to sell Think City cars in the U.S. Now the Norwegian company has set up final assembly in Elkhart, Ind., using lithium-ion batteries from Indianapolis and has contracts to sell its cars to government fleets, which should provide reliable income. More importantly, Think is already delivering its diminutive four-seaters to fleet customers. Hopefully a retail price and deliveries will follow.

  • Fisker Automotive

    Image: Fisker Karma
    Damian Dovarganes  /  AP

    Befitting its sublimely sophisticated founder Henrik Fisker, Fisker Automotive is blessedly short on bluster and credibility-eroding unfounded claims (in contrast to some other notable electric car start-ups). Instead, the company is quietly building substance to match the slinky looks of its Karma extended-range electric prestige car. The company says it has 3,000 “pre-orders” for its cars and plans to sell them through a network of 42 dealers nationwide.

  • Tango Commuter Cars

    Image: Tango
    Tango

    If a Smart car fell into the Death Star’s trash compactor like Luke and the gang did in "Star Wars," it might well pop out looking like the skinny Tango T600. Interested DIY types can buy a kit to build one, while those more interested in driving than building can put their names on a waiting list for a fully-assembled version. No price is yet available, but the company does list a like-new used car on its website with an asking price of $150,000.

  • BYD

    Image: BYD
    Vincent Yu  /  AP

    BYD (now said to stand for “Build Your Dreams”) started life as a contract manufacturer called Build Your Design, and it leads the Chinese charge into the U.S. market. As with other Chinese carmakers, BYD is finding that selling cars in the U.S. is tougher than one might guess based on the runaway success of import brands here. While the company’s products and activities in the U.S. may look inept so far, when a company has the backing of the Chinese government export machine we can expect that they aren’t going away until every Wal-Mart is stacked floor to ceiling with BYDs.

  • GEM

    Image: GEM
    GEM

    Global Electric Motorcars, or GEM, is a small car company, but it’s owned by a much larger one called Chrysler. Now that might not exactly be a financial Rock of Gibraltar, but it’s significantly more substantive than some of the wing-and-a-prayer companies emerging in the electric car segment. GEM builds neighborhood electric vehicles — that is, glorified golf carts that you can legally drive on many urban and suburban streets with low speed limits. These simplified machines provide an affordable route to electric car ownership and are ideal for fleets (and for golf communities).

  • SABA Motors

    Image: Saba
    Saba  /  Saba

    SABA Motors promises to soon deliver a Tesla-like, two-seat electric roadster that accelerates to 60 mph in five seconds and reaches a top speed of 105 mph with a driving range of between 120 and 140 miles per charge. But Tesla already sells similar cars and SABA doesn’t even list a price. Even so, SABA is aggressively seeking investors.

  • Venturi

    Image: Venturi
    Venturi  /  Venturi

    A French company building exotic cars in Monaco and Columbus, Ohio (wait, where and where?), Venturi is developing the “America” — a jacked-up, two-seat electric dune buggy. The thinking, apparently, is that Americans will buy anything with generous ground clearance, hence the high-riding America roadster. With 300 hp and a whopping 54 kilowatt-hour battery pack (that’s more than twice the capacity of the Chevy Volt’s battery), the America seems likely to achieve its promised driving range of nearly 190 miles.

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