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Detroit Motor Show: “full of proper cars”

The best thing about the 2012 Detroit Auto Show is that it’s full of new cars. Yes, that sounds obvious, but go stick with me for a moment.

For years, you’d come here and all the unveilings would be of bloated 4x4s and pickups. They were designed to get you to the end of the world or carry a ton of lumber, but they were marketed and used for Bubba and Billy-Bob to go bowling. And it made visiting Europeans feel like total outsiders.

Then came an era of bankruptcy and near-economic meltdown. The American industry was deep in a panic and tried like mad to distract us with feckless half-baked lentil-powered alternative-energy concepts that’d never see the light (honourable exception, Chevy Volt).

But this year it was proper cars everywhere you looked. Not just the marvellous Acura (Honda) NSX and rather lush Lexus LS-LC, or those nifty little Chevy coupe concepts. But real cars that makes the Detroit show, and Detroit’s car makers, look globally relevant.

There were a whole bag of Mondeo-sized saloons, one of which is the new Mondeo itself. The Dodge Dart, which we won’t get but will probably be more than OK. (It’ll spawn a Fiat which we will eventually get.)

The Cadillac ATS (above), and a lovely concept version of its Lincoln rival, the MKZ (below). There’s an interesting contrast here. Cadillac has gone the BMW route and built a bespoke rear-drive platform. Cadillac people say that’s the only way to be taken seriously as a prestige maker. Whereas the Lincoln is a poshed-up (really beautifully poshed-up) Mondeo, with front-drive or AWD.

Ford people say Cadillac is being arrogantly over-optimistic and will never get the RWD investment back. GM people say Lincoln, by using a Ford platform, isn’t showing commitment.

I think either could work and either could fail. What matters is the quality of execution of the cars, and the marketing and the dealers. Never mind what we petrolheads think about, it doesn’t really matter which wheels are driven. Out there in the real world, the Audi A4 does just fine against the BMW 3-series.

We’ll skate over the Acura (posh Honda) ILX, a saloon in the same size class, billed as ‘entry-level luxury’ for people who can’t afford a BMW. Hmmm, wasn’t that what Rover and Saab were aiming for? Look what happened to them.

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