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Wheels up!

Auto industry retirees visit the Detroit Auto Show

Created date

February 26th, 2013
North American International Auto Show

For car lovers everywhere, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is the event of the year, showcasing the most innovative designs and engineering the automobile industry has to offer. Held every January in Motor City—Detroit, Mich.—NAIAS gives hungry car enthusiasts a chance to check out this year’s models and, with the concept cars on display, a taste of what’s to come.

This year, we had a chance to visit NAIAS alongside three men who have a combined total of 100-plus years working in the automotive field: George Gallanis, who was an engineer and manager for GM; Neil Trainor, who worked in finance for Ford; and Dick Miles, another Ford man who worked first in a dealership and later as a supervisor in quality control at Ford’s engine division.

All three men are retired and live at Fox Run, the Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich. It’s been a few years since any of them have been to NAIAS, so we were interested to know what they thought of the current crop of vehicles and the industry overall.

The show

Upon entering the NAIAS in the massive COBO center, the 2014 Cadillac EVR immediately caught everyone’s eye. The EVR combines Cadillac’s trademark luxury with an environmentally friendly hybrid electric/gas engine. (It’s scheduled to go into production later this year.) From there, we moseyed over to the Ford display, which included an actor portraying the company’s founder, Henry Ford. He took us on a short tour starting with Mr. Ford’s original Model A and ending with Ford’s magnificent new concept pickup truck called the Atlas. To end our visit, we headed to the GM section housing the most popular car of the show, the sleek new Corvette Stingray.

While our auto experts were impressed by the design of the Stingray, none were salivating to drive it home to Fox Run. “Too small,” said Gallanis. “I wouldn’t be able to fit my golf clubs in it.” If he could drive away in anything on the show floor, Gallanis would choose the Cadillac EVR. Miles said he’d love to take the Ford Atlas out for a spin. And typical of finance guys, Trainor is waiting to see the numbers on all the cars before he makes his decision; however, he felt that the Lincoln display was tops for domestics, Hyundai for foreign manufacturers.

After the show, we sat down with our panel of experts to get their reaction to what they saw and their thoughts on where the auto industry is headed.

Q: What did you think about this year’s auto show?

Gallanis: The entire show was most impressive. The way it was set up with Henry Ford walking around giving tours and so forth, that was entertaining but is was also very effective at communicating and making an impact.

Miles: I was impressed by the efforts being made to improve fuel economy, like the streamlining of the vehicle with retractable running boards on the new trucks, for example. And the other thing was the eight-speed transmission. I’ve had experience with transmissions and an eight-speed transmission is an engineering marvel. My car has six speeds and I thought that was pretty good, but eight speeds is another step toward improving fuel economy.

Trainor: I believe that competition is a key component of advancing technology, and there is no other industry that has encouraged the engineering field like the auto industry because they must be innovative and they must make a profit. Automotive engineering people have really shown what they can do. And you see that in all the magnificent cars they had at the show.

Q: What about the cars themselves? What innovations are you most excited about?

Gallanis: We’ve come a long way in the electrical aspect of cars. With the combination of electrical and gasoline engines, people don’t need to worry about running out of an electric charge. The other thing I’m noticing is the downsizing…and by that I mean that people with long legs like myself are having a difficult time finding something that fits comfortably. You have to go to a bigger car that eats more gas.

Miles: The other side of that coin is the bigger pickup trucks, which, of course, are using more fuel.

Trainor: Another thing that’s new is the color combinations. They never used to show brown with gray, like they had in the Cadillac ELR, but now they do and it’s very attractive. Another thing that blows my mind is how they can significantly downsize the engines, and yet produce the same torque and the same horsepower, and that’s the power of competition.

Miles: It used to be you had the big V-8s. That was it. That was the powerhouse. Then when the sixes came along, people sort of scoffed, but now the six is the standard. And of course it’s a V-6 now, and it’s much more efficient and getting the same performance.

Q: The auto industry has gone through some tough times; where do you see it headed?

Miles: There’s been such great progress made in getting good performance out of smaller engines. Even four-cylinder engines are much better than they used to be. We’ve come so far with engine design and I suspect it’s going to get better still.

Trainor: Even though the automotive industry is under a lot of regulation, it’s possible to be a very creative and innovative industry that can work within these strict parameters of economics and efficiency. Environmentally, we’re doing a great job.

Gallanis: Twenty to thirty years ago, the car industry fought those mandates. But today with all the magnificent improvements we’ve had with technology and so forth, they seem to be going along with it. And it motivates them to come out with the things that we are seeing today at the auto show. We don’t know what we’re going to be seeing in the future, but I’m sure their efforts will be multiplied.