Travelling to the Detroit motor show is always a reminder that car planet still has many islands, and a lot of stuff that's of little or no interest to anybody over here.
It didn't help that the big three U.S. manufacturers had come to some casual agreement that none of them would show anything too interesting in Detroit. Beyond a production version of the Ford Raptor performance pick-up, it was all worthy and mostly dull - Chrysler brought a new Pacifica minivan, GM had the yawningly styled all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. And with many other car makers having sent nothing but excuses - no JLR, no Mini, no supercar manufacturers - you had to look hard for exciting metal.
looked pretty much exactly like a 911 Turbo should, as did the BMW M2, but the
could have been produced from an "AMG-ize" filter in Photoshop. The
was my personal show highlight, a production version of the many coupe concepts that Posh Toyota has shown over the last few years. It looks impressive up close, big and blingy but with the slashy styling that made many recent Lexus cars look like they were designed by Freddy Kruger toned down. It's not a latter-day LFA though; power comes from the RC F's familiar 5.0-litre V8 and although we've not been told what it weighs, on Lexus's recent form it's likely to be a bit of a pudger.
By contrast the production version of the Lincoln Continental goes straight to the top of the disappointments column, losing almost all of the concept's air of classy menace. The finished version looks like it took more inspiration from a Chrysler 300C than the Bentley Flying Spur that the concept was allegedly based on. Two other luxobarges did a far better job, with the Volvo S90 having a brilliant cabin and the Genesis G90 (Hyundai's former sub-brand having been turned into a brand itself) looking and feeling surprisingly classy up close.
The show's big news stories mostly came from cars that weren't even present. Tesla boss Elon Musk casually dropped his prediction that one of his company's products would drive itself across the U.S. in "24 to 36 months" before the show opened, putting other manufacturers' plans for self-driving cars in the spotlight. Nissan's Carlos Ghosn insisted that Nissan's autonomy plans were far more advanced and that the company's ambition of 2020 was still ambitious. Audi's USA boss, Scott Keogh, reckoned that the sort of auto pilot that enables you to have a snooze or catch up with work en route is still at least 10 years away.
On a less serious note, Detroit also saw the debut of the VLF Force 1, the Henrik Fisker designed, Viper-based Frankenmachine with all the subtlety of a sousaphone orchestra and a bigger air intake than most combat aircraft. It's also the car that Aston Martin got legal over a couple of weeks ago claiming that it looked too similar to the work he did while the company's design director. IANAL and all that, but it's fair to say I struggled to see much in common between this and any of Gaydon's recent work; frankly it's macho enough to make the Vulcan look a bit girly.