Tuesday, January 29, 2008

2008 NAIAS: Automotive Heaven

When it comes to auto shows, Detroit's North American International Auto Show is the show! I managed to squeeze my annual trip home for the show in between two weeks of whirlwind political coverage in South Carolina where the Republican and Democratic parties held presidential debates and primaries in successive weeks. While I normally plan my trip to Detroit around the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, I had to modify the itinerary for 2008 arriving in Motown the day after Dr. King's day.

This change allowed me to do something I haven't done in past years-- attend the auto show on a weekday instead of a weekend day. Boy, what a difference! No huge crowds and very few small children running around made my nearly six hours on the show floor a much more enjoyable experience than past visits.

This year's show was noticably scaled back in terms of elaborate displays and giveaways. Not surprising considering the stuggles most auto companies are going through. But don't get me wrong, the Cobo Convention Center halls were filled with beautiful displays showcasing the best in interanational automotive technology.

I love cars in general, so I go to see just about everything. But, the big draw for many are the various concept vehicles, unveiled to give everyone a glimpse of what we might drive in the future. Most of the vehicles don't make it to production in their concept form, but you often find many production cars and trucks incorporating aspects of concepts. For instance, many of the design cues on Cadillacs come from previous concepts like the Evoq and Sixteen. There are some concepts that do make it to production pretty much intact. The HUMMER H2 and upcoming Chevy Camaro come to mind.

Because of my longtime connection to General Motors-- my mother is a GM retiree, having worked for the corporation for decades-- I write about GM vehicles more often than others and spent more time in what I like to call "GM World" than any other section at the auto show. Here are the vehicles that got my blood pumping:

Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon/Cadillac Escalade Hybrids: GM is aggressively marketing its efforts to go "from gas friendly to gas free" as it puts more alternative fuel vehicles in dealer showrooms. The 2008 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon two-mode hybrid models, now on sale, are the first full-sized hybrid SUVs in the world. The Cadillac Escalade hybrid goes on sale later this year as a 2009 model. The hybrid system, developed jointly with BMW and then-DaimlerChyrsler, is mated with a 6.0 liter V8 engine to provide the same power for hauling SUV owners want with 25%* better fuel efficiency. The only problem is you pay a roughly 12% premium, up front, for the technology so the actual savings to your wallet are delayed by about 10-to-15 years. But, you'll be helping the planet. The Tahoe and Yukon hybrids start around $50,000. I would expect the Escalade hybrid to start around $70,000. OUCH!

Chevy Volt: As we all grow more fuel concious with each passing day, I love the idea of a road practicle alternative fuel vehicle that also looks good. The Chevy Volt fits that bill. GM must really be working to make this a reality. This concept was originally unveiled at the 2007 NAIAS and it's back in 2008. I must admit, the notion of an electric car that could get me to and from work without using a drop of gasoline and recharges when you simply plug it in to a regular electric power outlet is exciting. Now, if they can only make it affordable.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Lie

It's in the Good Book. Moses climbed the mountain, stood upon holy ground and received the commandment, "thou shalt not lie," along with nine others from God himself. In our law-governed society, that commandment is particularly sacred in the justice system. Breaking it in court, while on a witness stand, under oath can send you to prison.

I just returned from my annual trip home to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show during which another controversy involving Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick dominated the news cycle on television and in print. "Mayor Kilpatrick, chief of staff lied under oath, text messages show," was the headline in the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, January 24th. The Free Press obtained transcripts of 14,000 text messages sent by Kilpatrick and Beatty to each other on their city-issued SkyTel pagers. The night before, Freep news partner WXYZ-TV was the first television news operation able to share some of the messages with viewers in advance of Thursday morning's paper. And, it's juicy stuff.

The city's collective jaw dropped upon hearing and reading the messages. The man, dubbed Detroit's "hip-hop" mayor caught in another scandalous and possibly criminal situation. This, after narrowly winning re-election to a second term and promising to do better, to not embarrass the great Motor City. Hmmm. I would say he has failed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really don't care what what the mayor and his chief of staff do with each other behind closed doors. Both were married when this affair apparently happened, but Kilpatrick says he and his wife were going through difficult times and have since reconciled and put this painful chapter in the past. Beatty is now divorced.

The real issue here isn't the affair. The real issue is blatant disregard for truth and the law. Many people in Detroit seem to be missing or discounting that. Kwame Kilpatrick is a lawyer and the elected chief executive officer of America's 11th largest city. Christine Beatty is said to be a law student. I'm sure they know about perjury and its consequences. They should know better than to lie on the witness stand. And, why would they think communicating on city-issued text messaging devices would not leave a paper trail that could come back to bite them? This is yet another demonstration of a lack of judgement on the part of the mayor and a key staffer.

Kilpatrick has weathered several controversies including rumors of a wild party with strippers at the mayor's official residence and a luxury SUV leased for his wife and paid for with city funds. This latest situation is tied a whistleblower trial in which two fired Detroit police officers sued Kilpatrick and the city claiming their dismissals were tied to their involvment in investigating the Kilpatrick-Beatty affair. They won the trial costing the city nearly $9 million.

I don't live in Detroit anymore, but it's still my hometown. I'm tired of seeing the city bruised and battered by its own mayor as it tries desperately to rebound and rise to new heights. I appreciate all of the good things-- downtown development, Super Bowl XL, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, neighborhood revitalization and more-- that Kwame Kilpatrick has been able to do during his time in the mayor's office. But, for the City of Detroit's future, I think this latest transgression warrants Kwame Kilpatrick's resignation.

Oh, Good Evening!

Photos from The Detroit Free Press

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

If 2008 is to be better than 2007 for me, then I will view my waking up to a view of 4 inches of white precipitation, better known as snow, as a sign that I must embrace doing a few things outside of my normal comfort zone.
No, we did not get even a millimeter of snow in Columbia.  I am ringing in the new year with one of my best friends in the city that gave us the Jackson 5-- Gary, Indiana.  My boy Rudy invited me up to attend a New Year's Eve Party in Chicago and despite my dislike of snow and the potential for it to fall in significant amounts at this time of year in the Midwest, I bought a plane ticket and came anyway.  I'm so glad... (sing the old hymn!)

There is nothing like spending time with good friends, particularly those you don't get to see often, to celebrate life, love, and the joy of good liquor.  (I was just looking for another good "L" word and the Kahlua in my coffee made my type "liquor."

Anyway, for the first time in a looonnnggg time, I have actually awakened to the sight of snow and said, "how pretty!"  We left the party at 3 AM and it was cold as hell--- yes, I know hell is really hot, but the cliche fit!--- and I didn't seem to mind.  Don't get me wrong, I couldn't get to Rudy's Land Rover quick enough to get some heat cranking, but the Chicago wind and all that snow didn't seem to bother me.  I wonder what this means, because those who know me well know I had my fill of snow growing up in Detroit.  Hmmm.  My mother would love it if I someday moved back to Detroit, or at least closer.  Maybe there's hope for her wish.

Oh, Good Evening!