NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) 2006

Note: we sent two reporters to the show, auto industry insider Steve Kasher and enthusiast Bob Gardetto (“moparbob”). Most of our photos are from Bob. As more photos come in, they'll be added to the bottom of the page. Last update: February 24, 2006.

Steve Kasher

Day One

Concept. What a cursed word. Time and again, anyone from Chrysler Group would respond to the most obvious question with the most well-worn answer, "It's just a concept." Anybody out there believe that? Of course not, but officially no one will say otherwise.

Frustrating. Like watching steak sizzling on the grill and being told "Not yet."

chrysler imperial

But let's get to the heart of today's unveilings and begin with the Imperial Concept.

rear - imperial concept carFrom what you've all seen, believe me, photography is not kind to what is a truly beautiful automobile. Whereas most pics show the grille being rather flat, it actually curves softly side-to-side and and over the top.

The taillights are much more detailed than they appear and the tube-like "gunsight" design adds depth and rich heritage to the package.

The deck lid is very elegant and uses one continual horizontal line that gracefully curves across the entire panel.

And while it sometimes appears imposing, it is truly stately and proud and not as somber as the Rolls-Royce Phantom to which it is compared.

The Imperial generates a "wow factor" that emanates from a smile of smartness and not testosterone. It commands visual attention without being offensive or sedated, a mark of true stateliness.

The interior combines some of the best aspects of classic Imperial cues. The expanse and curve of the dash instantly strikes the simples elegance of the 30s and 40s. Extensive lighting techniques provide both task and ambient light. Seating surfaces eschew traditional leather for comfortable suede in upright yet ergonomically supportive style.

inside the 2006 imperial

With its established platform, the Imperial is not far from production feasibility. Chrysler group would like move a step above the 300 line and if the Imperial can maintain its "craftsman" ambiance while holding its price point, a new Imp could the next smash hit for the winged division.

Our next car obviously needs no introduction....

The Challenger Concept just begs to be built. And that's it. This IS pure testosterone. Even the Viper doesn't create this kind of craving, as the Challenger goes from "oh-I-wish-I-could-afford-one" to "omigod-I-could-actually-BUY-one." Kinda like forgoing the supermodel for the gorgeous girl-next-door.

dodge challenger

Mike Castiglione, a 15-year Chrysler veteran, was charged with exterior design. And it was no easy task. He was up against two other competing designs, both of which were more "sports car than muscle car", and he was, in fact, told it was HIS design that wasn't going to go forward. As he related the story, he procured a copy of Popular Hot Rodding months ago that covered the upcoming Charger but strongly lamented the four-door design. He presented his case to Trevor Creed, demonstrating that Chrysler's best fans wanted something resembling his ideas and Creed agreed. Thanks Mike. We all love ya for it.

The design is so clearly a Challenger, but there many subtleties to be noted. The soft crease above the rear window (the so-called "hardtop line"). The original crease surrounding the wheel openings is there.

But realities of the LY platform, the hard points, force the designer to create innovative solutions while still being recognized as its namesake. While the wheelbase is six inches longer, the hood is actually shorter. But the illusion is created by moving the windshield's center forward and losing the front overhang where the original hood had a drop off. In addition, the classic bullet mirrors are moved rearward compared to today's A-pillar mountings, adding even more visual length to the front end. Just like the old days.

challenger logo

Inside, you can sense the imagery that Alan Barrington was trying to project: the image of milled billet aluminum covered in black rubber, then cutting out sections to reveal the metal below. The kickout at the bottom of the gauges reinforces the feeling of staring down a cylinder head. The door panels allude to the original's one-piece molded design, but take it to a new level by "carving out" the familiar trapezoidal shape, exposing the aluminum underneath. It's quite an effect.

The wheel design was a source of some frustration. Castiglione repeatedly tried to bring the classic Rallye wheel to the car, but it just wouldn't take in today's vocabulary. “It looked too much like a luxury car wheel, so we used the five-spoke.” And look closely. Each spoke has a triangular section cut out from its depth that can only be seen from the side. Cool.

The fever that rages over the new Challenger will certainly not abate anytime soon. And “official” word or not, all the reasons I've heard to not build this car add up to the same number: zero.

Plum Crazy, please. Thanks Mike and Alan.

Day Two

Think Jeepster. Got it? There will be a test later.

And here on day two, the introductions on the TK Wrangler and Compass have broken light for all the world to see. And here I'll stress the word "world" as the Compass will be available in international markets along with the tried and true Wrangler, which still be available worldwide in left and right-hand drive versions.

The new Wrangler may not be a surprise to most here but its character has been shift both in definition and status. Whereas the outgoing TJ, like the YJ before it, had a bit of jauntiness to it (the belt line sat fairly low) the new TK Wrangler takes a more primal look, made somewhat brutal in rock-crushing Rubicon trim. The specs on the new Wrangler are available elsewhere in Allpar, so I won't repeat. But the no-excuse disposition of the line seems to become even more so in this new version. It now impresses you with less crudity and more purpose. As if to speak to competitors that this is and continues to be the ultimate hill climber.

As an aside it did seem a bit unfortunate that we were not presented with a hardtop version with three removable panels. This is after all why we trek to Detroit every January, to get our hands on these new products and get a feel for the function in the real world.

Many of those who had their attention on the Wrangler were representing Toledo. As always, the home team like to toot their horn and good news like this is always welcome.

On the other side...

The Compass. The source of many gnashing teeth amongst the Jeep faithful. And is there reason to fear, perhaps the corruption of the hallowed Jeep image? In honesty, no.

Jeep has always remained true to those who have been loyal to Jeep. The new Wrangler Rubicon is that expression personified. But the all-capable definition has to eventually give way to business realities, and Chrysler Group has no intention of allowing the Jeep image to stagnate while the competition redefines traditional Jeep segments. Enter the Compass, a viable and capable entry into the small SUV category. Note: at no time was this vehicle referred to as a "crossover", only a "compact SUV".

In speaking with Jeff Bell, VP of Jeep Brand, he conveyed the division's belief that the KJ Liberty's success in the marketplace (now #1 in its segment) gave planners the confidence to go ahead with the next expansion of the Jeep franchise. "For us it's about inviting more people to join "The Club We Call Jeep". What we're really talking about is being inclusive in a very exclusive mind set." The goal for Jeep has been and continues to be becoming and remaining the most capable 4X4 in any segment they compete. To that end, they have not strayed from their mission.

The Compass and its nature were actually more a result and response to prospects who want a more affordable or more eco-friendly or more compact kind of Jeep. For its segment, Bell refers to the Compass as "world breaking" by combining all the technology into a one-of-a-kind package. The new World Engine 2.4 litre, producing 172 bhp, combined with new CVT technology and propelling a Jeep-specific AND capable 4 wheel drive system.

"Jeep doesn't tell you how to express your freedom" said Mr. Bell. "It empowers you to do it." And freedom and its expression will continue to be repeated as trademarks of Jeep.

As for the Jeepster...

Mr. Bell cites the legions of fans who love the 1949-59 Jeepster, even though it wasn't the same definitions the then CJ line. So, too, the Compass will not adhere to many hardcore enthusiasts definition of "Jeep", it will in fact expand upon the already strong Jeep tradition a welcome a whole new group of freedom seekers to the Jeep family.

Jeep's future is without a doubt looking brighter every day...

“Mopar” Bob

Another NAIAS Press Days has come to a conclusion, and once again the Big Three have shown their might, not just saying that they are in the game and their element, but they have shown the world again that they really mean it. They are on the offensive and are going to fight to stay there for the long haul.

With upcoming threats for global positioning and domination from around the world including the Chinese entering the U.S. market, Ford, GM, and Chrysler have decided to take the lead and let the other players follow them instead of the other way around. Ford said on the first press day they are moving forward in every aspect, to get back in the profitability game by strengthening productivity and brand image; that American innovation is driving the auto business; and that it will be Ford’s mission to bring it all to  the world market place but, with an emphasis here in North America. With products like the Ford Edge, Lincoln Zephyr, and the Mark X crossover vehicle, it will remain to be seen how Ford’s vision will actually come to fruition.

In the GM camp, the stunning Camaro concept was shown on the second press day. GM, also with struggles of their own, said the same thing Ford did as with their business plans for 2006 and beyond, but their message was more in the direction of design and future aspirations like hybrid and hydrogen technologies while announcing that the GM lineup will have hybrid options in 2006.

“We want to make the auto industry a better place to grow into “said Bob Lutz, during an interview after the introduction of the Equinox and Saturn Green Line Hybrids. “We now have the means to do this and we need to expand it globally, starting here to gain more public visible acceptance. Our products will reflect we can be an industry leader in this arena while still making it profitable.”

GM also announced the introduction of the Buick Enclave as the replacement for the Rendezvous for 2007 on the first press day. This sport utility is a lot better than the car it replaces. 

Finally, we save the best for last, and Chrysler did not disappoint us one bit. In fact, they totally stole the show, or in reality blew us editors and reporters away on all three days. Chrysler’s bold stance and presentation thought of every detail.

challenger rearDay one was a true stunner! Though expected in rumor, it came to life when Chrysler unveiled the new 2007 Challenger concept This car IS in every way the real deal!  Like it never left us at all, the design teams hit a home run on this. This car, every line, shape, and detail is exactly like you traveled back to 1970, stole the blueprint, and flashed back to the present. I could give you more details, but the list is too much to mention for this overview. I’m sure everyone here that reads this is just screaming “I WANT ONE NOW!” 

With this also came the introduction of the new Imperial. Never mind the song and dance that was used to introduce the car, this car has affordable luxury all over itself. Move over 300C, this car will be the new hit in virtually any family and youth segment! I don’t have to mention the reasons to you, the car just speaks for itself.  If you want the need to feel important or like you actually have money, the Imperial is destined to be the next big bling-thing on the block!

Day three was the Jeep Show! The 2007 Wrangler Rubicon I think was the bigger attraction. After all, how many cars do you see drive through windows to get attention?  There was also the Compass, which didn’t set the world on fire, but it was something to see as a smaller SUV to hit the market for the Jeep brand. The real detail was the versatility it comes with. It’s like getting a smaller version of the Grand Cherokee on a Dodge Caliber platform. 

The final press day was the real show!  David Spade, a Detroit native, came back home to help our boys with the introduction of the Dodge Caliber. Sporting an AWD and FWD format, this car could be a real improvement in replacement of the Neon. This car has more features for less, including a beverage cooler inside the glove compartment area. This car has flexibility in every aspect on or off road.

The 1.8, 2.0,and 2.4 liter world engines that promote this car are also unique but make the car powerful enough for even speed/tuning applications.  It’s too early to tell if a car like this will in fact find its way to becoming a rally car champion, but in time this should become a youth favorite while either traveling on the street or on the tuner strip.  [Editor’s note: the weight might be an issue, though.]

I know you have seen the news, but imagine where us reporters were standing!  The introduction of the Chrysler Aspen by far stole the show. Even GM and Ford execs were giving it a once over, like we had just stole the thunder from them. I was sitting in the eighth row, dead center. When that paper trail of snow hit us, virtually everyone including the television camera operators some twenty feet back were completely blinded! Everyone there didn’t know what just hit them! This is exactly what Chrysler intended to use as a transition! The elevated platforms that Ford used were nothing compared to this.

After the storm emerged the Chrysler Aspen.  As one journalist put it, “I want to trade my Durango in right now!” The Aspen emits glory, style, richness, and luxury, with absolute power!  I don’t know what is more exciting, and still can’t decide, the Aspen, or the show that presented it. We all know the Aspen has the Hemi 5.7 liter engine, but it boasts a lower price tag than the Lincoln Navigator with far more elegance. Inside the features of the Caliber carry into the Aspen and more. Badging on the seats with wood and chrome all adorn the Aspen with even more chrome on the door handles. This SUV is something to behold and cherish, and will make competition highly shaky to top it.

This press event, my first, was a true experience. I wish to thank those who helped me get here for the press event. Dave Zatz and Steve Kasher. Without your help, none of what I experienced would be possible and do I want to be here next year. Another thanks goes to Bob Sheaves for helping me find my way around this Detroit Maze of roads and streets. Your contributition and kindness is one I soon will not forget. A brief hello to my friends and family at home. Mom, Jim, Mike, Tom D and Stephanie.  Doug W., Vicki, and Tom Lukes, Jodi, Wendy, April, Angie, and Bob Larson: AKA- Sparky! I look forward to coming home to you very soon.

“Romedog” wrote:

Caliber and Wrangler

First, let me start with a positive: the Caliber far exceeded expectations. I was leaning toward thinking it was a big step backward. After sitting in one and spending several hours listening to what others thought, I'm of a completely different opinion. It has every chance of giving Dodge a substantial presence in the segment. Excellent interior space; likable, sophisticated exterior design; solid perceived build quality. A somewhat more clever interior, and it would mirror the hipness of some of VW's better vehicles over the years. A wonderful job in nearly every way, particularly when compared to potential competitors.

Call me converted, but I really liked the Caliber.

In a similar vein, the new Wrangler is an excellent effort. For The Faithful, this is going to be warmly accepted; for everyone else, the increased space and enhanced utility of the new roof system will greatly broaden appeal. Great job--can't wait to see the four door.

Compass

words cannot begin to describe my disappoint. Every critical comment, every unflattering photo—they all understate the disaster that is the Compass. It is really, truly, a miserable effort.

Styling wise, the front clip is an abomination. The body-covered front trim conjures up the mouth of a mollusk or insect. It's dreadful, and barely improved by the addition of an additional trim piece beneath the grill as seen on another of the display models. The rest of the body is hardly better. Think Aztek, and you're not all that far off. The rear has a lot of Vibe/Matrix, minus any sort of cohesiveness found in either of those two marginal designs.

CG thinks this vehicle is going to appeal to women. If the opinion of my significant other is any indication, they better think again. This thing is flat out ugly, and the only women who will go near one will be vision-impaired and completely lacking in self esteem or good taste.

Aspen

Is this the answer to a question nobody asked? Perhaps, but it is a nice re-badge of the Durango that vastly improves on the Dodge's weaknesses. Great interior, generally a better presence than I had imagined.

Will it sell? I'm not sure. I think pricing is going to determine its fate: if it's cheap enough, I think it can succeed. If the prices creep too far upmarket, I think it'll sit. It's not a gotta-have-it by any stretch, and the GM products are roomier and seem to be generally superior in every way.

Imperial

I so wanted to love this car. However, whatever promise the idea has, the execution falls short, the victim, I think, of a general design lacking any sort of cohesion.

To be fair, the car has a terrific presence. It's big, confident, and almost has a swagger to it like a Rolls or Bentley. The interior is also fantastic. However, you get the sense that maybe there was just too much metal for the designers to contend with, and that they added additional curves, flares, etc. to simply fill in the vast expanses of sheetmetal.

The car winds up falling flat in the aggregation of these various cut lines, curves and design cues. To my eye, there's very little cohesion, and even with the gargantuan wheels, the overall body comes across as somewhat bland and bloated.

Does the idea make sense? Without a doubt. Could it work? Absolutely. Does it need further refinement? I think so.

Challenger

Fortunately for me, the internet makes sharing subjective opinions a rather risk-free endeavor. If it wasn't, I'd probably be a bit nervous about stating that I found the Challenger to be really underwhelming.

I wanted to like it. I completely buy into the notion that mining American heritage is a huge opportunity, and that there is a substantial level of consumer interest in these sorts of vehicles. That said, folks, I don't feel very confident that there is much of a future for the Challenger.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, the styling leaves me cold. In the metal, it doesn't have anything approaching the Camaro or the Mustang in terms of character. It's kind of bloated, bland, the honking orange paint notwithstanding. The Camaro and Mustange are almost taut in their presence--the Challenger comes across as, well, a big old tub. More than anything, it comes across as what it is—a very good replica of an old car that uses a body style of questionable appeal in today's mass market.

I guess the question is: how big is the market for a huge retro coupe with a massive back seat? Is it 20,000/year? 40,000? If forced to guess, I'd say that the Challenger runs the risk of being like the Thunderbird: a sales hit for the first year, and then a car you can't bribe people to buy after that.

Opinions being subjective things and all, but I far prefer for CG to pursue the 300 Convertible than this retrospective. At the very least, I'd forego the hardtop and simply offer the convertible, which I think has some real potential. As it is, I give the thumbs down to the Challenger.

More NAIAS auto show photos, posted in February

Jeep Compass instrument panel

bob and the Challenger

“Chryslerman”

The Camaro had a group about 2 deep around it and I liked the front end styling, the profile wasn't great, and I disliked the interior. The rear end was awful looking. my son thought it looked okay but thought the same as me about the rearend styling.

The Ford Edge was boring, and a bit goofy looking. The Lincoln MKS was nice looking, much nicer than the new Zephyr in fact.

The new GM fullsize SUVs look to me, very similar to the old ones, with an upgraded front end and tail. But they have a very impressive looking interior and several nice features about them. Much nicer than I thought they'd be.

The new Camry... Looks bloated and more rounded on the edges. Not very good looking in my opinion, but the interior was nicely done.

Hyundai's new Azera and the 2006 Sonata were nice looking vehicles, hard to believe they were Hyundais (Same for the Kia Optima which is basically a Sonata.)

Then the Chrysler Group vehicles------

The Imperial was a very large vehicle, much larger than the 300. The color picked for the concept was not very flattering, but seemed reminiscent of the late 60s, early 70s brown used on the Imperials/Chryslers. Interior was great looking and while I thought the front was bulky and gaudy looking, the rear end boat tail styling was fantastic. With a few changes to the front it could be as good looking as the rest of the car.

The Aspen is a great looking SUV. In some ways its hard to believe it was from the Durango. Alot more classy and upscale than the Durango, and the use of chrome on it was just right.

The Caliber was alot better looking in person and I think will be a hit. The only complaint I had (and heard alot of others nearby saying the exact same thing) was that the dash area was too cheap looking. The plastics looked cheap. But was very comfortable and functional.

The 2007 Wrangler was nice looking, somewhat softer looking than the current with the sloped, flat face thats on the new Liberty and similar to the Compass which was there and seemed very nice looking, better than the pictures.

The Challenger was by far the hit of the show. People were 4-6 deep surrounding the car, with a long line of people to have their picture taken in front of it. It was handsome and mean looking at the same time. A friend was there with me as well and was very impressed (he also liked the Challenger alot even though he's a GM guy!) Downstairs they had a 1970 Hemi Challenger and my son could see a direct resemblence between them. Over at the Information booth, everyone was asking about the Challenger. When will it be out? When can they order one? Where is the info on it? The man who seemed to be in charge there said, quote; "You have to go to Dodge.com for info but it WILL BE BUILT! How much response on the website will determine if they hurry it to production or let it wait until the other Chrysler RWDs are redesigned." I was shocked. I also realize that the Auto Show workers don't seem to normally have the most reliable info, but he was adamant that it is going into production.

Overall, my favorite new/concept vehicles of the show were:

SUV: Aspen
Small Car: Caliber
Mid/Full Size: Hyundai Azera

Concept Car: CHALLENGER

Mystery photos awaiting captions

mystery

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