2012 North American International Auto Show at a glance

Well, the media preview of the 2012 North American International Auto Show has come and gone. It was a bit of an odd year for me, as my duties over at Autoblog Canada kept me in the media room and off the show floor for most of the time. Hell, I didn’t even attend a single press conference during the show! That meant that I was actually able to use what little time I had at the show to shoot some of the highlights while the crowds were at the other end of Cobo Hall.

The night before the show, I was fortunate to attend the reveal of the Cadillac ATS. As cool as the ATS is, the fact that it was unveiled in the studio where Harley Earl and his team built clay models in the Fifties was definitely the coolest part for me. In fact, the highlight of the entire show for me happened during the cocktail party following the reveal, when I spent 20 minutes hanging out with GM’s Global VP of Design, Ed Welburn, talking about the history of the building and the iconic cars that were brought to life within its walls.

Our east coast man, Tom Williams, spent more time on the show floor than I did, so he’ll likely be sharing more insights about the show. I did however manage to get out and shoot most of the show, so my contribution over the next few days will be a ton of photo galleries. After the break, is my first gallery of some of the highlights of the show.

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My hotel, food and beer were paid for by General Motors. They are good like that!

Goodnight, Saab

It’s not going to be a Merry Christmas to anyone who loves, admires, or works for Saab. Yesterday, the company filed for bankruptcy, and it seems this is the end of Saab. Saab has been on a deathwatch since former owner General Motors filed for bankruptcy themselves, on their knees in front of the US Congress begging for a bail out. Saab was immediately put up for sale. After much drama, and looking like Saab was nearly done for, small exotic car maker Spyker came in and bought Saab with GM’s blessing.

At the 2010 New York Auto Show, I was honored to be Saab’s guest at a private gallery in Greenwich Village, where I was able to meet Spyker’s CEO, Victor Muller in person. With a gleaming new Saab 9 5 in front of us, Mr.  Muller promised a bright future for Saab as a company that could make money quickly, they just need to build cars. Muller talked up the 9-4x crossover, a new 9-3, and a smaller 9-2 model inspired by the very first Saab automobile to compete with the Mini Cooper. Walking out of the party to hail a cab to Grand Central Station, I felt better about Saab than I had for a long time. Finally free of GM, us Saab fans would reclaim the brand. Right?

Wrong. Did GM sell Saab to Spyker? Yes. But even with the sale, GM’s tentacles were tightly wrapped around Saab’s immediate future. Now on their own, Saab had serious cashflow issues. Saab was unable to pay its suppliers for the parts needed to build cars, and you don’t make any money if you cannot build a car. As it turns out, Saab has not built a single car since April. There was hope from Chinese investors, but GM nixed the deal. GM has a heavy stake in the Chinese auto market, and since the current Saabs borrow so heavily from GM engineering and technology, the fear was selling more than just Saab, but GM tech they did not want their competition to see.

On a personal note, it breaks my heart to see Saab go. I’ve owned two Saab’s myself, a 900S and a 9-5 Turbo. When my son was born, I brought him home in our Emerald Green Saab 900S, his very first ride in a car. It is a fair assessment that Saab may have died when GM got involved. But the truth is Saab had a portfolio of cars ready for the market, good cars, but with no cash, and GM withdrawing support, Saab had no choice but to shudder its doors and call it a day. In a sea of sameness, Saab proudly stood out on their own as a slightly off-beat automaker, and built a loyal buyer base around that philosophy. Losing Saab make the automotive landscape just a little more less interesting.

The Buick Regal

Sometimes I wonder why it is every time I pick up a test car from a manufacturer it’s always a SEDATE four-door sedan! Where the hell are the Corvettes, the Vipers, the Porsche 911s, the David
Saville-Peck Lotus or the M28 McLaren. I know…it’s the senior citizen thing! Do they think that I don’t have a right foot anymore? As I was escorted by Gary Grant…damn that sounds like I need to be cared for, to the General Motors press lot where there sat a nice bright yellow Camaro convertible and a silver Cadillac that looked like it needed some silver-haired-old-buzzard to thrash it around a bit. Right next to them was a rather SEDATE candy-apple-BROWN-four-door Buick Regal. The very nice lady who handles all the press vehicles and the ‘press’ people who want to put the cars through their paces said the Camaro had a minor adjustment needed and would be a several hour wait and the Cadillac was assigned to some other senior citizen reporter that I am sure was about to retire. It was probably Norris MacDonald of the Star. The lucky guy! I didn’t know Cadillac comes with training wheels so Norris can keep it on the road! She said the Buick was ready to go and so was I. The Buick Regal, another SEDATE four-door-sedan…NOT!

I looked the car over to make sure it had no dings from the last test pilot. The odometer read all of 117 kilometers! A virgin! I’m not going to tell you the last time I saw one of those, but I must be honest. I intended to be gentle with her and show her the ropes slowly. Now I find lower Ontario to be almost a grid with mostly straights and sharp corners of the ninety-degree type. On the gas, on the brakes and on the gas again. I spend more time watching for the clown coming through the stop sign or cutting across four lanes of traffic. I like the country to test cars and this was going to be like driving in Vancouver where the least educated drivers in the universe reside and ply their trade at destroying cars and their occupants at speeds well beyond both the driver and their mounts limits. I needed to find a nice country drive to stretch my new friend so I decided to visit an old mistress northeast of Oshawa. I needed to remind myself of her beauty. She has curves that will stop your heart and keep you breathless if you ask too much of both her and yourself. My old mistress? Mosport International Raceway as it is now known. I just knew it as Mosport when I hung around her. My experience had been totally beside her beautiful curves while wildmen and their dates threw themselves at me at well over a hundred miles an hour. In all the years that I had visited Mosport I had only driven around her on a Kawasaki 350 motorcycle in the dark. You know I did not push the bike at all that night. When I arrived at the track there was a lapping day in progress. I introduced myself and my mount to the organizers and asked if I might take the car out on the track to take some pictures of the car for the story I was doing. Lunch time was suggested as the best time as all would be having lunch and well out of the way of a car sitting stationary over the brow of Turn Four. I was told there would be one other car on the track with me. They told me the driver had been warned to my presence. I later found out the driver of the pale green Porsche with me on the track was blind! A driving instructor was guiding him around the famous old track as he bravely sat in the right-hand seat! They did not hold back as the car screamed past us at the entrance to the very high speed Turn Four. I failed to mention I had my eldest son JP in my right-hand seat on my photo expedition. I had sent him up the road just over the brow of the turn to warn the oncoming car of our presence. The beautiful Porsche slipped by the parked-in-the-middle-of-the-track SEDATE BROWN four-door-sedan at a rate that would have had the car impounded if it were on the street! We quickly finished our shoot in Corner Five as the Porsche flew past again and headed up the Andretti Straight and over the brow out of sight. I got in behind the wheel and headed for the pits. I had recently watched McLaren’s Louis Hamilton’s reaction to instructions to return to the pits when he and Tony Stewart exchanged their F1 and NASCAR mounts for a SPEED TV special. When Hamilton was asked to return to the pits he just garbled the transmission and said he could not understand them and went for another spin around the track. I did not get the same verbal instructions so I just skipped the entrance to the pits and headed down the pit straight with my co-pilot giving me instructions as I cranked up the rate of knots in the virgin. My son is a ex-motorcycle racer and I have passed an advanced driving course with no other than Scott Goodyear as my instructor. I am not unfamiliar with turning up the wick. The turn in points on the track were marked with bright orange cones and my son also pointed out the natural markers like trees on the horizon that he used as guides when he raced his Suzuki 1000 here. He gently told me to hold my line until what I thought was suicide before he told me to commit to the turn. The turn? The notorious Turn Two that falls away to your left as the car tries for all it’s might to pull you off the road and into a concrete wall that has claimed more than one driver. The car strained to stay on the road, but held it’s line as I gently fed the throttle to it. I realized that I had just driven through one of the most daunting corners in all racing! The best in the world in the sport we all love had also tightened up their sphincter muscles to get through this turn at speed! The short chute to Turn Three was uneventful, but the apex of the corner would have been hard to find without the orange cone. The speed began to build as the SEDATE-four-door-BROWN-sedan thundered toward what I knew was another blind left-hander that would funnel me down into the very steep and short climb into Moss Corner and then out and up the Andretti Straight and Turns Eight, Nine and Ten at White’s Corner. Before I took Turn Ten I slid into the entrance to the pits and safety. My heart was enjoying the flutters of the sight of a beautiful woman in my youth. The SEDATE-BROWN-four-door-sedan…she was ready for more! What I originally thought of as a responsible mature driver’s ride turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing! The car loved to go! Go she could and go she would, but then again you can’t enjoy the true potential of a car with this kind of breeding on the street. You can just enjoy the thought that the other guy thinks you are just tooling around in a luxurious SEDATE four-door-sedan when you could be having him for lunch!

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The Buick Regal as seen in North America has some history in Europe where it is known as the Opel Insignia. In Europe, touring cars are not overly SEDATE. Our version is none too SEDATE either. Take one for a test drive. There just might be lapping days at a track near you.

Oshawa Assembly Plant Celebrates Start of Production of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Oshawa, Ontario (Monday, January 31, 2011) – The Oshawa Assembly Plant today celebrated the start of regular production of the hotly-anticipated 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible in a ceremony with employees and invited guests.

“This is an exciting new chapter in the ongoing revival of the tremendously popular Chevrolet Camaro,” said Kevin Williams, president and managing director of GM of Canada. “The launch of the new convertible opens Camaro design and performance to a new set of enthusiastic customers, while further demonstrating the flexible capabilities of the award-winning Oshawa Assembly Plant.”

The Chevrolet Camaro Convertible is the second of three new vehicles being launched in Oshawa since last September, and two new shifts have been added to support this additional production.

“The entire team here at Oshawa Assembly is dedicated to bringing this stunning vehicle to market with outstanding quality,” stated Dan Hermer, plant manager at the Oshawa Assembly Plant.

“New product mandates like the Camaro Convertible are testaments to the calibre of the workforce in Oshawa,” added Chris Buckley, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 222.

Employees were joined by Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, to celebrate the milestone. Hendrick, a Camaro enthusiast who purchased the first 2010 Camaro Coupe that rolled off the line, has now also purchased the first Camaro Convertible available for public sale. In both cases, Rick Hendrick acquired the purchase rights through the Barrett-Jackson auction, with all proceeds benefitting local charities.

“I grew up loving the Chevrolet brand, and I’ve never raced anything else,” Hendrick said. “As a Chevy enthusiast, it’s been exciting to see the Camaro return as such a world-class, high-performance car. The folks in Oshawa make some of the best products on the road, so the opportunity to meet them and thank them for what they do is a real privilege.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a driver for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, was also present at the celebration and added, “Chevrolet has been a great partner on and off the track, and I’m very happy to be here on this special day. While I still enjoy my 1972 Camaro, I can’t wait to take home one of these awesome new convertibles.”

The 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, with an MSRP starting at $33,995, will be on sale at local Chevrolet dealerships across Canada starting in February.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible at the Oshawa Assembly Plant
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible at the Oshawa Assembly Plant
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible at the Oshawa Assembly Plant
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible at the Oshawa Assembly Plant
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible at the Oshawa Assembly Plant

Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac Sales Increase More Than 69 Percent in July

GM Canada press release

Oshawa, Ontario (August 4, 2010) — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac continued to build momentum in July, with retail sales increasing 69 percent, driving sales growth to more than 37 percent calendar year-to-date.

July marks the eighth straight month in which retail sales for GM’s brands increased year-over-year, demonstrating the continued strengthening of each brand in the marketplace.

“The continued strong consumer demand for our products reflects our commitment to design, build, and sell the world’s best vehicles,” said Marc Comeau, GM of Canada’s vice-president of sales, service and marketing. “The success of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac each month further indicates our four brand strategy is working, helping build profitable sales in line with our targets.”

Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac delivered retail sales increases across the entire award-winning line-up, with launch vehicles continuing to hit the mark with consumers: Chevrolet sales increased 50 percent, Buick sales increased 11 percent, GMC sales increased 170 percent, and Cadillac sales increased 86 percent.

Building on this strong momentum, new offerings launching this summer and fall include the Buick Regal sport sedan, the Cadillac CTS Coupe, the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra heavy duty pickups, and the much-anticipated fuel-sipping Chevrolet Cruze compact car. Each of these entries will set new benchmarks in their segments, bolstering the stable of new vehicles that are winning with consumers.

With employee pricing available continuing in August on most 2010 model year offerings and some 2011 models, now is a great time to visit a Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac showroom to check out GM’s leading range of award-winning, high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles.

July 2010 Retail Sales Highlights

Chevrolet cars continue to show strong growth, up 37 percent. The fuel-efficient Chevrolet Cobalt posted its sixth consecutive monthly increase, up 132 percent bringing the CYTD increase to 71 percent.
The Oshawa-built Chevrolet Camaro, recently announced as winner of the Edmunds.com Launch Breakthrough Award, and winner of the AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle and Customer Satisfaction Award (sport segment), delivered a 49 percent increase for July.
Strong sales growth for compact, midsize and luxury crossovers continues: Combined Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain sales were up more than 78 percent, with added capacity coming online in CAMI and Oshawa to meet demand; combined Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave sales were up 41 percent – their ninth consecutive monthly increase; Cadillac SRX was up more than 900 percent – its seventh consecutive monthly increase.
GM pick-up truck sales continued to grow in July as the economy strengthens: Combined Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra sales increased 170 percent, their best July since 2005.
The Buick LaCrosse – a Consumers Digest Best Buy for 2010, an IIHS 2010 Top Safety Pick, and the winner of MotorWeek’s Driver’s Choice Award for ‘Best Family Sedan” – continues to post positive results and achieved its highest sales month in July.
Total GM fleet and retail sales were up 21 percent.