Auto show sizzlers and snoozers

LEXUS LF-A CONCEPT
The Lexus LF-A concept is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sunday, Jan. 9.Jerry Mendoza / AP
/ Source: BusinessWeek Online

As the auto industry prepares to show its latest models and concept cars to the American public at downtown Detroit's Cobo Hall for the annual North American International Auto Show, the mood in the Motor City is decidedly edgy. The industry is as competitive as it has ever been. Every major carmaker has ratcheted up rebates, low-rate financing, and cheap leases over the past year just nudge sales up 1.4 percent.

General Motors and Ford had rough years, both ceding sizable chunks of market share. Only Chrysler is holding its ground. Even Honda is looking for a way to reignite growth after a year of static sales. All the carmakers are hoping that some slick new models will catch consumer interest and help them get a jump on the competition.

Overall, the Detroit show lacked the splash of past years. Missing were any exotic sports car as elegant as last year's Ferrari Scaglietti to spark the passions of hard-core car buffs. Nor were there many redesigned versions of popular models like, say, a Toyota Camry, to stir the curiosity of legions of owners. Some of the concept cars were wildly unrealistic, like Ford's SynUS sport utility that resembled a bank vault on wheels. Others, like Chrysler's Firepower, showcase a possible exclusive sports car for the future.

But only a few concept cars were the kind that an everyday buyer might look at and say, "build me one of those, please." BusinessWeek Detroit Bureau Chief David Welch and Senior Correspondent Kathleen Kerwin cruised the show for three days. The following table has their picks and pans. Click on any car's name and launch a slide show that presents David's list of standouts, with comments on his choices from Katie. Then hers, with remarks from David.