Detroit Show-Stoppers

General Motors decided to do the Japanese manufacturers one better by offering a new concept car that might never have to be refueled. At the same time, GM and Ford showed other concept vehicles that heralded a renaissance of the musclecar era. Those were two of the major themes at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. While the industry certainly is global, there is no global consensus on what automobiles will look like or act like in 2015.

The unique Chevrolet Volt was the concept car that offers the possibility that you will never have to buy another tank of fuel. Unlike today's typical hybrids, which can be propelled by electricity, an internal combustion engine or the combination of the two, the Volt is designed to be driven exclusively by electricity. With a high-capacity lithium ion battery on board, the Volt is recharged from the electrical grid by simply plugging it in at home. And with a range of 40 miles from its battery pack, if you drive fewer than 40 miles to work and back, you might never have to buy another tank of fuel again. But don't worry about being left stranded. An on-board internal combustion engine can recharge the battery pack on the go, so you are never without power.

General Motors is excited about the vehicle and its E-Flex electrical power system because it is both flexible and scalable. The technology can be adapted to use a wide variety of internal combustion engines powering its generator -- for example, biodiesel in Europe, E100/ethanol in Brazil and E85 here in the U.S. It can also be slightly modified to accept a fuel cell as a replacement for the internal combustion engine. As a concept, the Chevrolet Volt is properly radical-looking and utterly silent in operation. GM engineers suggest its projected EPA fuel economy numbers could be triple those of the current fuel economy leader, the Toyota Prius.  

With a five-liter, four-hundred horsepower V8 engine under its long hood, the Ford Interceptor concept is not designed for optimum fuel economy. Instead, it is designed to bring the "Built Ford Tough" slogan back to the brand's passenger cars. With its blunt nose pulled almost intact from last year's Super Chief truck concept, plus a low cabin roof and high beltline, the Interceptor has a sinister "chopped" look. But there are very few hints of retro in this evocative design. It is meant for sedan buyers who need space, but are serious about both power and attitude.

The five-liter V8 is a modified version of the current production engine in the Ford Mustang, and it is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. This should come as no surprise since the concept is based on a stretched Mustang chassis, complete with live rear axle. Inside, the headrests drop from the headliner, and the black leather and metal finishes are cooler than cool.

Speaking of cool, the General Motors design team knows that the upcoming Chevrolet Camaro production car must appeal to twenty-somethings as much as it does to aging boomers, so they walked a very fine line between retro and contemporary in styling the Camaro convertible concept. They wrapped it in a Hugger Orange pearl tri-coat paint that any 1969 Camaro would envy, but the vehicle has more than its share of modern touches as well. The past is represented by a torquey V-8 engine that sends power to the rear wheels via a manual transmission. But instead of a solid rear axle, the new Camaro concept features an independent suspension system supplemented by four-wheel disc brakes. Chevrolet will put both coupe and convertible versions of the Camaro into production in 2009, so this concept is a close approximation of what will be available in your local showroom in a couple of years.

The Camaro convertible concept rides on 21-inch front wheels and 22-inch rear wheels with a deep-dish, five-spoke design. Inside, it features a purposeful interior that cops some moves from the Sixties Camaros but dresses them up 21st century style. The light-and-dark seat upholstery scheme is designed to harken back to the classic houndstooth check interior of the first-gen Camaro.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.