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.)
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.Story: GM’s Buick to get luxury compact for first time
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2012 Forbes.com