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Curtain goes up in Motor City

The North American International Auto Show will kick off in early January with droves of unveilings. From high-concept future cars to production-ready debuts, here's what to expect.
Rolls-Royce will show off the Phantom Drophead convertible at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.
Rolls-Royce will show off the Phantom Drophead convertible at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.Rolls Royce
/ Source: Forbes Autos

Downtown Detroit isn’t exactly the most desirable place to be in January — unless you’re a motorhead or just an average motorist keen on getting a first look at the hottest new vehicles coming this year and beyond.

The North American International Auto Show, as the Detroit show is officially called, remains the top U.S. auto show for its sheer number of important model introductions. Last year the show boasted 70 new vehicles, including many world debuts.

And just like the other major shows, the Detroit show lives a double life. Following the special preview days for media and analysts, 800,000 public attendees will stream through the doors, making it one of the most-visited auto shows anywhere. The show will be open to the public Jan. 13-20 at the downtown Detroit convention center, Cobo Hall. Admission for adults is $12.

Business woes this year for the domestic automakers, combined with weak economic conditions and inflamed gas prices, mean that they’re under a lot of pressure to deliver designs that are going to be a hit with discerning shoppers.

We’ll no doubt see several important trends continue: Manufacturers will keep pushing stylish, car-based SUVs — called crossovers because they’re a sort of cross between a wagon and an SUV — as alternatives to sedans and minivans; sporty niche utility vehicles will hone in on younger, more-finicky buyers; and striking designer interiors, with materials such as brushed aluminum and carbon fiber, and customizable features like LED mood lighting and multimedia entertainment systems will find a place even in the smallest cars.

Here are some of the new vehicles we expect to see at this year’s show:

A few months ago at the Los Angeles auto show, Acura unveiled the future design direction of its sedans with its high-waisted, aggressive Advanced Sedan Concept. In Detroit, Honda’s luxury brand will roll out a similarly named Advanced Sports Car Concept that, according to the company, “provides a glimpse at the next-generation Acura exotic sports car,” presumably one that will fill the void left by the discontinued NSX.

Although it’s no secret that the 2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible will use a folding hardtop system rather than a conventional soft-top, Detroit will mark the public debut for the models, which are expected to arrive later this year. In the U.S. we can expect convertible versions of both the 328i and the twin-turbo 300-hp 335i.

Look for a new Cadillac CTS to be uncovered on the Detroit stand. The sport sedan launched a whole new and much-acclaimed look for Cadillac when it debuted in 2002 and will receive its first major redesign for model year ’08. It should prove to be a significant new model for this embattled American brand that faces steeper competition by the year.

Last year, muscle cars ruled at the Detroit show, with unveilings of the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger concepts as well as the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500. The trend continues this year, with a Chevrolet Camaro convertible concept and a revamped 600-hp Dodge Viper.

Chrysler will show its Nassau wagon concept that, according to the automaker, brings the side silhouette of a British-style “shooting brake” sports car (like a low-slung wagon) and the cargo versatility of an SUV. It’s based on the same platform as Chrysler’s 300 sedan and will likely see production.

Ford will no doubt have several surprises on its stand at Cobo Hall, but as of now, one of the cats is already out of the bag: The automaker will pull the wraps off a high-performance, rear-wheel-drive sedan concept called the Interceptor, based on the Mustang coupe. Lincoln may also show a high-performance sport sedan called the MKR.

The Trailhawk concept that Jeep is planning to roll out in Detroit is based on the Wrangler, but with a more stylish, contemporary appearance inside and out, including an open-top arrangement.

Lexus is planning a new high-performance line, to be designated with the letter “F” and equipped competitively against Mercedes-Benz’s AMG line and BMW’s M cars. The first of these, the IS-F, a high-powered version of the brand’s IS sport sedan, will be unveiled at the show and is expected for 2008, along with a futuristic hybrid sports car concept called the FT-HS.

At the Mazda stand, a new hybrid version of the Tribute, called the 2008 Tribute HEV, will debut. More mysterious is the automaker’s Ryuga concept, the latest of several recent Mazda sports car concepts, including the Nagare concept from the L.A. show. The Ryuga looks to be a very sleek, sculpted sports car with gull-wing doors.

January in Detroit might seem like an odd time and place to unveil a convertible, but Mercedes-Benz plans to break the blahs with its Ocean Drive, a four-door convertible based on the big, V12-powered S600 sedan, presumably named after the desirable Miami Beach address.

Other cars to debut include a special edition of the Mini Cooper convertible called the Sidewalk; a thinly veiled preview of the next Mitsubishi Evolution sport sedan in its Prototype X; a Nissan multipurpose vehicle concept called the Bevel; and a revised and face-lifted ’08 Porsche Cayenne.

Anticipated, but not certain, at Detroit are Hummer’s new H4, a smaller model designed to go head-to-head with the Wrangler, and a revised 2007 Maserati Quattroporte.

Two other concepts confirmed for Detroit will presage production cars to come. Jaguar is bringing a concept car, the C-XF, that will give a glimpse of the S-Type’s replacement, due for ‘09; and Volvo’s upcoming XC60 SUV isn’t expected until the ’09 model year, but the automaker will show it as a concept at Detroit.

Rolls-Royce will bring the production-bound version of its convertible model, called the Phantom Drophead. Teased in concept form for several years, the latest development bears the same huge, 6.75-liter V12 engine as the Phantom sedan. Surprisingly, the $407,000 two-door model has rear-hinged doors, a unique, eye-catching feature.

General Motors announced at the L.A. show in November that it is working on a plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue, which would allow drivers to do short commutes on electric power only, with gasoline-hybrid function for longer trips. The automaker is expected to make a significant follow-up announcement at Detroit.

As always, there will undoubtedly be many cleverly kept surprises that aren’t released until the official press days of the Detroit show. Keep checking back the week of Jan. 8 for daily updates from the show floor.