Detroit, Michigan, January 2009
by Earl Cook

The 2009 version of the Detroit International Auto Show at Cobo Hall was historic in that it was occurring in the midst of the huge financial collapse of the American automotive industry. The stalwarts of the industry, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were stumbling, primarily due to the price of gas which had made many of Detroit's products instantly obsolete.

Coupled with the Credit Crisis, no one could buy cars and this involved manufacturers, dealers and customers.

I have wanted to go to the Detroit show for many years. Now, when I finally got to go, the show being held in Detroit this year was downsized and there was a somber mood pervading. This was a show that had a history of being one of the glitziest and where no costs were too high in promotion of new products.

So, as I went to this show I wanted to see if Detroit had gotten the message? What kind of new automobiles will Detroit design and build to work through this enormously important challenge facing them (and us)?

In my opinion, of all the Detroit Manufacturers, Ford Motor Company was the most prepared for the realities facing us today. Several years ago, Ford made historic investments into new technologies that they thought would help them compete with the Asian and European cars.

I say, "Ford gets it!" They were the best prepared and focused on efficiency, quality and safety. As I entered the show, Ford's displays caught my eye.

Ford was smart in touting their safety record. This is an important concern for most drivers, as it should be.

For me, this exhibit by Ford where the car split so that you could see all aspects of its construction was the top exhibit. It would close like a clam shell and you would be inside of the car as you would normally see it.

Lincoln Concept Car. I like this sleek, modern and minimalist design. The front seats rotate for entry and exit or turn 180 degrees so that you face those in the rear seats. The 'suicide doors' also allow the openness.

And, Lincoln is a Ford Company! They have been doing their homework.

The new Honda Hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell Experimental (FCX) is exciting new technology. Honda is currently testing the car in California.

Honda has led the way over the years in innovative new technologies. Their VTEC engines with variable valves have been elegant designs that increase efficiency, provide power when needed, and keep emissions down while doing so.

Chevy's concept car for urban commuters. The color did not do it for me. They are obviously trying to be 'Green', but this color is too much! It is so ugly (in my opinion) that it is almost cute! It will sure get the looks and appears to be roomy for being such a small commuter car.

I personally think that Audi is the most technologically advanced automobile manufacturer in the world. I've watched Audi perform on the world stage of endurance prototypes and introduce and perfect new technologies before they introduced them in their production vehicles.

At the sports car end of high-technology engines is the Audi R8. This car uses Audi's FSI technology with direct fuel injection into each cylinder. This gives improvements in both performance and fuel efficiency. Audi is a world leader in advanced automotive technology.

Audi currently has the cleanest diesel in the world. Their new TDI technology - (Turbocharged with Direct Injection). The new breed of diesels are quite and much more clean.

Here's the Audi R10 TDI that I'm used to seeing in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). As a photographer my view of this car has been as it comes down the short straight at Road Atlanta headed for one of the slowest turns on the course where it brakes from 190 M.P.H. down to 90 M.P.H. in just feet about 10 feet in front of me.

The ALMS is a test bed for new automotive technologies. Audi's TDI technology is just one of the approaches being tested. New hybrids, new fuels and new regulations that encourage efficiency are routinely introduced.

The American Le Mans Series also has a Green Challenge that is administered by the EPA, the U.S. Dept. of Energy the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The purpose of this challenge is to identify the most efficient and least polluting design while still competing at a high level.

I've hoped for years that Detroit would realize where the modern bar has been raised. Unfortunately, no one noticed. As a result, this car to the left is one of, if not the, most advanced cars in the world. And now, the French with their Peugeot twin-turbo diesel is challenging Audi for supremacy at Le Mans and at the American Petit Le Mans.

At the high end of unreachable for nearly everyone is this million $$ Mercedes - McLaren roadster. I've always liked gullwinged doors.

The car and car company that are getting a lot of attention these days is Tesla Motors and this car, the Tesla Roadster. It is an All-Electric design built on a Lola chassis and body. It uses advanced Lithium-Ion batteries for storage.

It is controversial as its value and sustainability are being challenged. It is basically a product of advanced battery technology that has been developed in the computer industry for laptops. This car was born in Silicon Valley and not Detroit so there is a lot of ire in Detroit about this car.

In my discussions about what Detroit could do to regain her footing and design and build vehicles for the future that people would want to buy, my suggestion was that Detroit needed to start using its Proving Grounds. And, they needed to let people see, touch and experience this new breed of efficient vehicles. To my surprise, at this year's auto show for the first time they set up a driving course in the basement of Cobo Hall.

Since the vehicles were electric, hybrid or hydrogen-fueled, they had no or very low emissions so could be driven in a closed room as this. Plus, none of the show-goers in the upper floors could smell fumes.

My nephew, Dan, and I took a ride in a new Ford hybrid. It was very quiet. Beyond that it seemed like any other vehicle. Once again, here was Ford leading the way.

In the recent bailouts of the automotive giants, Ford was the only one that did not need the money. They had already invested into the future.

General Motors, for many years, the largest and top-selling automobile manufacturer in the world had a hydrogen fuel cell prototype on hand.

I was hoping to see a Chevy Volt at the show. This is General Motors' new Plug-in Electric that is already in the manufacturing process but not yet released... Volt Gallery

With GM and Ford in the Electric, Hybrid and Hydrogen Fuel Cell game, expect to see major shifts in the near future. The U.S. must take a more realistic view of its future and access to energy. The extreme wastefulness and inefficiencies of the recent past must be replaced with new sustainable technologies and designs.

Also in the Cobo Hall basement was the University of Michigan Solar Car team. They have won five national and international championships. They are a student run organization but they have sponsorship from GM, Ford and Delta Air Lines.

In 1999, the Solar Raycers came through Atlanta in their race between Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida. Here are the photos and web pages we did for that event. SunRayce 1999

The photos were taken when the cars were at Georgia Tech on a 'Sun Day' where the teams got to fully recharge and work on the cars before they continued on to Orlando.

In 1999, the cars could reach 70 M.P.H. Today, they can reach 100 M.P.H. With advances in solar cell technology, the new cells are more efficient, lighter and easier to bend around curved surfaces.

It may be impractical to think that in the near future that autos can be totally solar charged. They can though, be charged cheaply and with charging stations built that can collect and slowly charge batteries during the day, that energy can be then transferred to a vehicle like the Volt that is a plug-in electric vehicle.

Many people want to drill our way out of our energy needs. I am for more efficient ways of transportation that will take the load off our dependence on oil. Solar is not a replacement, but it can soften the demand so that we are not at the whim of sometimes unreliable foreign sources. Neither do we have to disturb pristine areas of our globe if there are more efficient alternatives.

World Premiere of the new Mini Cooper Convertible! We did not get to see the world premiere of a ground-breaking new technology, we did get to see the world premiere of the Mini Convertible.

The somber mood of this year's show was mirrored outside on a gray snowy day. The GM Headquarters in the background were the site of many meetings as GM prepared to meet with members of the U.S. Congress and present their plans for recovery.

In their first attempt and travels to Washington, they made a bad impression by showing up in a fleet of private jets. This was not the way to show up with your hands out.

My suggestion was that they should all drive to Detroit in the vehicles that they build and drive on the roads in the conditions that their customers must drive. A bit of the Proving Ground concept and a way for Detroit's Upper Management to come down out of the clouds and start getting realistic about our future.

Let's hope Detroit and the American buying public have learned this time. Hopefully, the 'Loop Hole Years' are behind us where vehicles like SUVs were initially bought because they were excluded from Emissions and Safety guidelines that were standard for most cars. Instead of buying loop-hole vehicles, many in America bought more efficient, better designed & built and reliable foreign vehicles. Let's hope that Detroit has learned from this experience and will design and build autos that all of America wants to buy and own.

Just as Detroit must look for alternative ways to power the future, they must also look for alternative ways to meet their healthcare challenges so that they can price their cars competitively.

In my opinion, I think Detroit understands that they must design better and more efficient vehicles for the future to survive. I saw glimpses of that in this show. The technologies that were being shown in the basement of Cobo Hall this year, must become the stars on the main floor in the future. I really hope that Detroit understands and I am cautiously optimistic that a new breed of designer and manager has arrived.

Earl Cook was born in Highland Park, Michigan around the corner from the old Ford Model T Factory. Highland Park and Detroit were some of the wealthiest cities on Earth at that time. The prosperity was gained from the explosion of the automobile in America during the early and mid-20th century and due to WWII. Detroit was also known as the Paris of the Mid-west with its wide tree-lined boulevards, grand theaters and Art Deco buildings.

Earl's family lived in the New Center area of Detroit, 1/2 block from the entrance to Ford Hospital and around the corner from General Motors Headquarters and the Fisher Building. Soon after his birth, Earl's family were some of the first that began the Great Exodus out of Detroit in the early 1950's and returned to their Southern roots. They had been drawn to Detroit from their rural farms in the South during The Depression to work in the auto plants but, as the shine began to diminish, they headed home.

Photography began as a hobby and turned into something larger as, Earl (Cyber Motorsports), shown at the left became internationally known as a photographer / journalist of Le Mans-type endurance racing prototype sports cars. These cars are some of, if not the most, advanced cars in the world. At Le Mans, they race for over 3,000 miles in the day and the night, rain or shine. The winner must not only be fast, they must be well-designed, efficient and durable. These cars are rolling test-beds of technology where much of it can be transferred directly to production vehicles.

At the left, Gail photographed Earl as he was taking the photo (or car) that is shown on the right. Earl's style involves close shots while panning which involves quick twisting of the body! Earl shoots with his light and nimble second-generation Nikon Cool pix 4500 to get these shots.

The Ferrari hat was worn in recognition of the Ferrari 333 SP that won the first Petit Le Mans. Earl and Gail produced an interactive multimedia software title, A Close Look - Ferrari 333 SP in 1996 that was an early example of multimedia technology.

As experiments in digital photo-journalism and web technology, Earl and Gail have covered every Petit Le Mans as photographer/journalists since its inception in 1998. Here is the first version of the website from 1998... Petit Le Mans 1998

As a software developer and consultant, Earl has solved problems for some of the largest organizations in the world.

It is with this understanding and appreciation of the automobile and my experience, that I make my observations and recommendations - Earl Cook, August, 2009

Earl and his wife, Gail, are the developers and software publishers of the eTouch for Health software system. Amazingly, the modern discovery of these energy-kinesiology self-help techniques happened in Detroit in the Michigan Building (third slide). This building was built on the site where Henry Ford's shop was located where he had built his first motorized prototype of the Ford automobile.

Earl has also been an outspoken critic upon our nation's preference for large and in-efficient vehicles such as the SUV...

Stupid Urban Vehicle (SUV)

The Little Red Wagon

2009 Earl Cook