Car lovers impressed with auto show exhibits, upbeat about where industry is going

Sunday, January 15th 2012. | Internet News

Car loversAs Molly Hutchison, 15, slid into a new model Volkswagen Beetle, her mother let out a gasp.

“Oh, it’s completely you. Your dad needs to see this,” said Michelle Hutchison, 49, looking around for her husband, Bob Hutchison.

The Hutchisons, from Fowlerville, were among thousands at at Cobo Center on Saturday, the first public day of the North American International Auto Show.

The mood seemed electric after several months of good news in the automotive industry, including word that the auto show signed a five-year deal to stay in the renovated convention center. Attendance Saturday reached 92,106, the highest opening day in five years, and Friday’s annual Charity Preview raised $3 million, with nearly 12,000 tickets sold, organizers said in a news release.

“I think the economy’s growing, and I think people are starting to feel good,” said Michelle Hutchison, who was helping her soon-to-be teen driver shop for a car that was safe and had good fuel mileage.

Others echoed her sentiments of excitement and potential.

“Everyone seems to be optimistic,” said Kenneth Ward, 49, of Rochester Hills, whose son Charlie Ward, 13, had sat in a Porsche convertible, digging the feel. “You see a lot of smiling faces talking about vehicles. It definitely gives me ideas.”

All over the showroom floor, people lined up to enter contests, try out cars and listen as presenters from the auto companies took them through current and concept cars. While muscle cars were popular and people tested how quickly third-row seats folded down in minivans, others drooled over luxury cars with design elements that could be reality one day.

Mike Zahradnik, 22, a powertrain engineer, stood with a group of friends in awe of the poison-apple red Lexus LF-LC Hybrid concept car.

“The lines are pretty striking. It looks fantastic,” he said, but also wondered if what was under the hood would match the drama of the exterior. “It has to have enough horsepower to compete with its competitors.”

Eddie Salem, 53, of Troy walked around the Maybach 57S, a car with curtains in the back windows and a six-figure price tag.

Despite some 735,000 people who attended in 2011, Salem said the hype of the auto show seemed magnified in 2012. “People either didn’t have it in them or just didn’t want to come out,” he said of his perception of the 2011 show. Like other parents, his idea of a good car for teen sons Thomas, 15, and Eddie, 17, was different from theirs.

“The yellow jacket. The bumble bee,” the boys said over each other. “It was a Chrysler sports car.”

Eiji Naito, 43, a Nissan test engineer living in West Bloomfield, hosted a group of co-workers from Japan, including Uto Fumitaka, 34. They admired the Audi A7, with Naito pointing out the interior carbon-colored finishes and the lines and paint on the mirrors.

“It has very aggressive design,” Fumitaka said.

But tucked behind rows of Toyota Priuses was the concept car the Toyota Fun Vii. Voice-recognition and the ability to change its skin digitally impressed those listening to the presentation.

Terry Reece, 54, a retired mechanic, said when the car is ready for prime time, he’ll look into it.

“If he rolled up in that car, I’d kiss him,” said wife Julia Reece.

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