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A Nerd’s-Eye View Of The North American International Auto Show

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The $200,000-plus Audi R8 roadster, quite possibly the least nerdy car in the universe.

The $200,000-plus Audi R8 roadster, quite possibly the least nerdy car in the universe.

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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Your humble correspondent finally shook his flu symptoms enough to attend the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Wednesday. Yes, press preview days were officially over, but Industry Preview Days — Wednesday and Thursday — still provide a keen insider’s look at the latest in personal transportation.

And in no particular order, here are the highlights I saw:

* DTE Energy wants to give you $2,500 toward an electric vehicle charger for your house. Seriously. DTE is offering the deal to the first 2,500 of its customers who can demonstrate that they have purchased an EV. In most cases, the $2,500 will cover the entire cost to install a 240-volt charging station and a separate meter. You’ll have two rate choices — $40 a month for unlimited charging (limited to the first 250 customers), or a special rate plan that offers a 40 percent cut on the regular residential rate from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. (EVs can be programmed to charge only during those hours.) There’s a DTE booth in the basement Michigan Hall of Cobo Center where you can get more info, or visit www.dteenergy.com/pev.

* I met with a California company with strong Michigan ties called Achates Power that you should be hearing more about soon. The company, founded in 2004, has 51 employees, alumni of everywhere from Ford to GM to Chrysler to Ricardo to AVL to Caterpillar to Cummins. Essentially, Achates has developed a two-stroke diesel engine with two pistons per cylinder — the opposed piston engine, a very old design — that meets modern emissions requirements,  eliminating engine parts and complexity. The firm has attracted $50 million in venture capital and has been testing its engines since 2005. The engines promise improved efficiency, lower emissions, lower costs, lighter weight, and 10 percent fuel economy improvement when used in large trucks. CEO David Johnson, a veteran of Ford and GM, said he believes the engines will be tested in vehicles within 18 months to two years, and may be on the road within five years. More at www.achatespower.com.

* Tony Bongiovi’s auto interior audio demonstration was just as cool as he told me it would be in our phone conversation Tuesday. The legendary sound engineer has managed to create an entire auto interior that vibrates like a speaker to create top-quality sound. Simply  amazing technology. Check it out in the Michigan Hall at the auto show if you can. More at www.bongioviacoustics.com.

* Macomb Township-based Lumasmart is demonstrating LED lighting in the Michigan Hall too — this week for the commercial and industrial markets (think auto factories and offices for Industry Preview Days), and the following two weeks, the public portion of the show, for energy-saving home lighting. More at www.lumasmart.com.

* I’m betting Ford’s C-Max is the family hauler of the future. Built on a stretch version of the 2012 Focus platform, it’s been popular in Europe for years. It seats seven people (though the two seats in the third row look to be for kids only), offers good cargo room with the third row folded down, gets great fuel economy, and if it rides and drives anything like my zippy 2011 Focus, it’ll be good fun on the road.

* Boy, does General Motors have some cool small cars coming soon. The Chevy Cruze looks like great fun at a great price, 10 airbags and a hands-free phone system and 36 mpg highway, are you kidding me? And the Chevy Sonic looks to be a quantum leap above the current minicar, the Aveo (though I rented one last week in Las Vegas and was pleasantly surprised by how well it rode, drove and accelerated — it just needed better sound insulation).

* A grandpa model, the Buick Regal, is now a gorgeous, swoopy little car. Yes, 30 mpg. But at $35,000 dressed up, a little steep, I thought.

* Toyota has about two dozen models, it seems. And you can tell it’s the Detroit auto show because Toyota’s video program on the big screen emphasizes the Americanness of the Sienna minivan, from its U.S. design (probably in Ann Arbor) to its Indiana production to its domestic suppliers.

*Yes, the $200,000-plus Audi R8 Spyder. If I could buy any car on the planet and price was no object…

* Did you know Jeep makes four different sizes of SUV? Can anybody tell me why we need all four?

* The auto show spokesbabe is all but officially extinct. She’s been replaced by emaciated young men in skinny jeans and overly tight sportcoats who look like extras from Twilight movies. At least, there were a bunch of them at the displays Wednesday.

* Watch out, America. China’s BYD is coming to the states soon with its e6 electric vehicle.

* Hey, the GM EN-V electric vehicles are here, fresh from CES. I rode in the red one last week. Not exactly a smooth ride, but just the thing for getting around Singapore or Beijing.

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