Fashion Week for Car Lovers

The cult of cars is meeting in Detroit at the International Auto Show. Auto blogger Ray Wert tries to gun your motor.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

The North American International Auto Show opened in Detroit Sunday - lots of cool shiny cars getting a lot of press. But isn't that kind of a headline every year? The technology at the car show always generates a whole bunch of hype, but how many of those cars end up parked next to yours at the mall?

Sounds like time for another edition of the BPP's Make Me Care.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby Elephant Walk")

(Soundbite of laughter)

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm digging it.

STEWART: We have the editor-in-chief of Jalopnik, that's a blog obsessed with the cult of cars. His name is Ray Wert.

Hi, Ray.

Mr. RAY WERT (Editor-in-Chief, Jalopnik): Hi. How are you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing well. So I understand you've been attending car shows since you were about 11 years old.

Mr. WERT: Since I was…

STEWART: Out at the car show, you have 12 people there now. So you've seen it live. Is there a particular theme to this auto show?

Mr. WERT: Well, I think the automakers are really trying to emphasize going green as much as possible. But despite that, I think that they're still for the enthusiast, for the high-horsepower freaks, I think there's still a, you know, there's still a nice selection of cars to choose from.

STEWART: All right. You know the rules of this game. I'll reiterate them for our listeners. You have 60 seconds to make me care about the Detroit Auto Show. You're going to hear ticking towards the end - after that, a ding. That means the minute is up. You're up for the game, Ray?

Mr. WERT: Absolutely.

STEWART: All right. Ready, set, make me care.

Mr. WERT: People should care about the Detroit Auto Show because the vehicles being displayed here aren't just the pie-in-the-sky concepts. The majority of the vehicles being shown here in Detroit are production vehicles. They're, like, cars, trucks, vans and SUVs that you, your friends your family, everyone will be able to buy beginning this year or next.

In fact, even the concepts, they are not so much pie in the sky anymore. Automakers are having to build them with some degree of reality or to show off some of the technology or design language that will be seen in new vehicles to come.

Yeah, I'm lucky that your listeners already kind of realize that the auto industry is more than just, you know, the cars and trucks they see on the road here in the U.S. It's global. But despite the global nature of the industry, the Detroit show seems to be increasingly more relevant, with even more global automakers showing up here at the Detroit Auto Show than ever before. Two years ago, there was one Chinese automaker here. Last year, there were three. And this year, there's five.

So despite the message on the street that Detroit's auto show is dying or is less relevant, I think for the majority of general consumers as well as even the auto enthusiasts, it's still pumping their pistons and getting their engines revving.

So, yeah, I feel like…

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. WERT: …Detroit's here to stay.

STEWART: Nicely done, Ray.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

That was really, really nicely executed, Ray.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: A big thumbs up from our control room.

Hey, I want to ask you about the green thing, because I know that's sort of the big headline. And you even mentioned it at the top of our conversation. Is it mostly hybrids, or are we seeing other green technology?

Mr. WERT: Well, I think that there are a lot of companies out there that have displayed hybrids. But, you know, hybrids are still using an internal combustion engine. I mean, it's kind of like just having a more efficient car, but it's not necessarily an environmentally friendly one. I think that message is kind of sunk in with a lot of people out there, that a hybrid isn't just, you know, the savior that everyone hopes it will be. And I think that a lot of automakers are looking at other technologies to be able to even increase that efficiency even more, whether it's with diesel hybrids or with hydrogen fuel cells, which, you know, only emit water vapor as the output from the exhaust.

So I think that there's a lot of different options out there, and people are kind of - or automakers are trying to kind of figure out which is going to be the best one.

STEWART: What's the most whiz-bang technology you've seen so far?

Mr. WERT: Well, you know, Ford has their new EcoBoost technology, which is looking to use a general, you know, general combustion engine, internal combustion engine. And by using a couple of different fuel-saving technologies, they're actually looking at - even without a hybrid. So that means without the negatives associated with, like, the batteries that are being used…

STEWART: Right.

Mr. WERT: …getting 20 to 30 percent more fuel economy.

STEWART: That's pretty impressive.

Mr. WERT: Yeah.

STEWART: In terms of something like the Chevy Malibu and the Mazda CX-9, they were given the big prize for car and truck of the year. Can you explain real quickly why?

Mr. WERT: Well, I think that the Chevy Malibu has a new look that's really hitting home with consumers. I heard numbers recently that the Chevy dealerships are unable to keep them in stock on…

STEWART: Wow.

Mr. WERT: …the dealership floor. And I think the Mazda CX-9 is just an all-around great SUV.

STEWART: All right. We were talking to Ray Wert. He is the editor-in-chief of Jalopnik. The site is great. Your coverage of the auto show, really fun. And, you know what? Thanks for making us care.

Mr. WERT: Well, thank you.

MARTIN: Stay with us. KT Tunstall dropped by the BPP. She performed a little bit from her new album, "Drastic Fantastic." It was really fun. Stay with us. We'll have that coming up. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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