By Mike Goetz
A rather unique part of this year’s Detroit show is the indoor test track for trying out electric and hybrid vehicles. The speed limit is 10 mph. And it’s not too big. But it is beautifully landscaped, complete with two ponds. It was originally only to have one pond, but a plumbing problem one floor up, created another one, which the landscaping crew cleverly transformed into part of the scenery.
I took out one of the new two-mode hybrids from GM, a Saturn Vue. My three-minute ride revealed not a lot. My next ride was the all-electric Mitsubishi iMiEV, which is on sale in Japan and on test in the U.S. Because it was all-electric, there was no danger of this car going into gas mode, I was encouraged by its handler, to “let ‘er rip.” I did. A little. And was suitably impressed again how instantaneous is the torque output of electric motors. But again, my time was short – only two laps per person, then you line-up again.
Some of the more cynical scribes at the press preview days suggested that the track was nothing more than space filler. They had a point. Usually during auto show days, this lower floor of the Cobo Hall would be filled with exhibitors from the non-automaker world – you know, the aftermarket guys, the custom builders, the guy selling the pickup truck shaped hot-tub.
Well, owing to all the no-shows this year (Nissan, Porsche, Ferrari, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, etc.), there was space galore, and some thought the organizers didn’t want to advertise that fact with a virtually empty lower-floor exhibit area. Either way, space filler or legitimate show experience, it was different.