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Posted on Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Top 5 things to do and see at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show

By Ben Freed


The Toyota concept car Furia is seen through video panels as it is unveiled during a press presentation at the North American International Auto Show.

Melanie Maxwell |

Since the wheel was invented, humans have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy figuring out how to travel faster and with more style than our neighbors. The North American International Auto Show is the yearly showcase of that competition, and it is breathtaking.

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Before attending media days on Monday, the last time I went to the NAIAS I was an eighth-grader at Tappan Middle School. I remember being overwhelmed by the grandeur and impressed by the futuristic technology all around me.

Ten years later, I couldn’t help but feel the same rush of emotions as I walked around with my mouth hanging slightly open trying to take it all in.

Cobo Center will be open to the public Jan. 19-26 and you can purchase tickets ahead of time at the NAIAS website.

Here’s my guide to experiencing the best of this year’s show.

Related: Four different itineraries for visiting Detroit and the 2013 Auto Show


New concept cars are unveiled during the media days with great fanfare. The Hyundai presentation included video, music, and sweeping lights.

Melanie Maxwell |

1. See the cars of the future

This might seem like low-hanging fruit, but it really is the first thing you have to do at the show. While it’s impressive to see the new models that will be available in 2013, you also could go to any old auto dealership to do that.

Concept cars are not vehicles you will see on the road any time soon. Some are merely shells, while some come decked out with bells and whistles that are not practical to put in standard models.

“What you are about to see is not set in stone,” Hyundai’s presenter said during the unveiling of their concept car during the media preview.

“It is a spiritual guide for what will be the next generation of the Genesis.”

Those spiritual guides range from breathtaking to head-scratching, but always leave much to the imagination.

2. Check out the local products

While the NAIAS may be held in Detroit, that does not mean Washtenaw County doesn’t have a strong presence. While you’re at the show make sure to check out the cars and parts designed right here in your own backyard.

If you stop by the Toyota display, it will be tough to miss the new 2013 Avalon, designed and engineered at the Toyota Technical Centers in York and Ann Arbor Townships. Local engineers also completed the Rav 4’s electric overhaul, working on the powertrain with engineers from Tesla Motors.

In the Ford area, make sure you peek under the hood of the new electric vehicles and hybrids. The company’s Rawsonville plant, located in Ypsilanti Township, has been helping fuel Ford’s battery-powered cars since 2010.

“All of the batteries we use in our C-Max, Fusion, and Focus hybrid or electric vehicles come from Rawsonville,” chief engineer John Davis said.

At Hyundai and Kia, make sure you tinker with the brand new navigation and audio systems. They were designed at the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center. The center has been focusing on making user experience with the technologies more integrated and less distracting as you drive.


See if you can beat my time in the Ford simulator. Be careful, the last turn is a doozy!

Courtesy Ford

3. Play games!

Honestly, this one might go at the top of my list. One of the few details I remember well from my eighth-grade trip to the show was racing one of my friends in a Mini-Cooper simulator.

I could go on about how much fun NAIAS is for the young (and young at heart!) but I simply will say the simulator at Ford and the hands-free driving game at Toyota were very exciting. I’m sure there were more games I didn’t find, but I was there for work.

Check out this video of the Ford simulator, then try it yourself when you visit the show:

4. Go green

While at the show this year, make sure you pay attention to the green initiatives being pushed by nearly every company on the floor. It’s no secret that cars are being asked to go further on less gas, but there are even a few companies showing off bikes they designed that “harness the technology” of their hybrid models.

I’m not entirely certain how the bikes work, and I don’t recommend trying to ride off on one, but they are indicative of a focus throughout the show on cutting emissions and raising gas mileage.

Of course, some people are still not entirely convinced electric cars can do everything their gas-powered relatives can. While it won’t necessarily show off top-end speed or acceleration, there is a “DriveGreen Experience,” provided by Japanese company Aisin, in the basement of Cobo. Skeptics and joyriders alike can take a brief ride-along in an electric car.

5. Get outside the hall

The auto show is amazing, but unless you’re a car junkie who needs to know the specs of every vehicle, it will not take up your entire day. If you’re going to schlep to Detroit, why not spend your remaining time there checking out a part of the city you haven’t seen before?

We have a few Detroit experts in the newsroom, so I turned to them for tips on what’s new, exciting, or just plain fun to do in the city.

Ypsilanti reporter Katrease Stafford said she would simply walk over to Campus Martius Park. Located just a few blocks from Cobo, the park has an outdoor ice skating rink in the winter with a cute cafe right near by.

Our community engagement specialist Kyle Mattson recommends checking out the Belle Isle Aquarium. Just a quick 10-minute drive from NAIAS, the aquarium re-opened in August 2012. Until its closing in 2005, it was the oldest continuously operating public aquarium in North America.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 7:28 a.m.

I don't know why anyone would want to "explore Detroit". The place is a dump.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:53 a.m.

Number 1. Look at the models. Number 2. look at the models. Number 3. Look at the models. Number 4. Look at the models. Number 5. Look at the models and on the way out glance at a car.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 1:06 a.m.

I've been going to the Auto Show every year on opening day for the last twenty years. As a car nut this is my birthday, Christmas, and New Year's all rolled into one. Today was ot exception. The car is alive and well, despite how my town attempts to force us to think otherwise. With the crowd on opening day its a reminder that the car is king. Sure there needs to be fuel savings and the industry has responded while our government has proposed a average fleet economy of fifty miles per gallon in the coming years. The technology for electric cars just isn't there yet, and buying a $100K Karma Fisker takes away any advantage of having a fuel efficient car. So Ann Arbor, keep with your noisy wind turbines, reduced car lanes and more for bicycles, towing cars sitting on the streets for over an extended period of time, keep building parking garages and keep giving tax breaks for those who want to feel as though they're helping by buying a Prius. All the better. Because there will be more gas for me and hopefully cheaper too so I can get in my buggy with no particular place to go and just drive baby, just drive.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

Hollow barking from Dog Guy. I know folks who do what you describe and they also love going into Detroit. I'm not a car guy , but the auto show is a fun and educational wow. So much is happening in D that you should overcome your inner fear fantasies. So how is the new Lincoln?

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

You forgot to mention the People Mover! Don't miss it! Milllions of your tax dollars spent on the Future of Transportation!

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

That's the spirit!


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

If you close your eyes and ignore the cold weather, you can pretend you're on the Disney World monorail.

Dog Guy

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

My Top 5 things to do in Ann Arbor this weekend which are safer and more fun than going to Detroit for the 2013 Detroit Auto Show include free climbing Burton Tower, base jumping Tower Plaza, street luging Washtenaw Avenue near Huron Parkway, rewiring Dreiseitl's finger as a hawk light, and bungee jumping all downtown construction cranes.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

Dog Guy must have caught a few beat downs in the D. stay on the upper west side where its safe honey.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:42 p.m.

I'm a 5th generation Detroiter and my family came up here to get jobs in the auto industry with GM Ford and Chrysler. I will only buy American BASED cars whose headquarters are local. And more specifically my parents and I will only buy GM and Chrysler products :)


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:37 p.m.

Does that mean you buy Italian Chryslers, a company with execs in Italy and France?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

And I guess that Torino is a city in Alabama ...


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

#6. Apply for a 2nd mortgage to help pay for that new luxury car that the majority cannot afford nor drive.

Great Lakes Lady

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

To actionjackson: The article you posted shows a Toyota as #1. One of the commenters posted: "The foreign companies are also sexist and xenophobic. I love how women drive Hondas and Toyotas so much and those companies probably wouldn't have a woman on their board of directors if it killed them. It took almost 40 years for them to have a foreigner at all on their board and he had to show his allegiance to them by working for them as an exec the whole 37 years. Now that Jim Press left Toyota I'm guessing no more foreigners on their board anymore and still no women."

Great Lakes Lady

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

When you list a "highest rated" vehicle, you need to realize some important biases involved. Rated by whom? And how many dollars of advertising do they receive by what car companies? Are they provided "loaners"? etc. Some auto writers still feel burned by a domestic auto "lemon" they purchased 30 years ago, and will never shake their bias. Bottom line: today most vehicles are very reliable; and profits, majority of taxes, benefits, etc.... go to the headquarters. You can't buy any more "local" and help the Mich economy by buying a Ford, GM, Chrysler whose employers pay taxes to support Mich infrastructure,....roads, police, fire, etc....


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:44 p.m.

Why does the money go back to the headquarters? That doesn't make any sense. The money goes back into the company and to it's shareholders and to pay bloated exec salaries. And right now, most of the big three are pumping their profits back into their european and chinese divisions, while the "foreign" companies are building new plants in the states.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Dear Reporter; So much focus on the import cars... People, (Ann Arbor) wake up, buy American Company Products. Yes there are arguments on both sides but at the end of the day it is the right thing...


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:36 p.m.

JJ, that is a very 1980 perspective. "Foreign" cars are now more American than the big three cars are, with the profits going back into their communities. The profits from selling a "foreign" car go to the dealership, the salesman, back into the service department, the body shops, and back to the design companies that dream up and design the cars. Even the execs live in the states. In the 80's, the big three dared the "foreign" companies to come over here and build better cars and beat them at their own game. And they did and towns in the south, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and elsewhere are reaping the benefits.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

Free Radical - What impacted the Ann Arbor News had nothing to do with import or export of products. The business model for how the news and information is now delivered to our society has completely changed. Can you name a foreign media outlet that The Ann Arbor News competed against locally that cost them their demise?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

I agree with JJ my family came from Mississippi and Alabama to Detroit to get jobs in the auto industry when Detroit was plentiful. And if you buy American cars it helps the local economy. SE Michigan is based on the auto industry. So why would you buy a foreign based product? You might as well move over there if you like Hyundai, that cheap Toyota, and not much better Honda. Germans cars are acceptable lol.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

The Honda Accord is the highest rated mid size care with U.S. made components and build.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

@Richard - that is true, but it also matters where the profits go. Purchasing Toyotas and Hondas assembled in the USA supports some US jobs but the profits go to Japan. That is an important point that it seems most people ignore.

Free Radical Scavenger

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

I agree. And the loss of manufacturing jobs in the state contributed to The Ann Arbor News going out of business.

Richard Carter

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Good sentiment, however It can be very hard to decide at the end of the day when you follow the whole supply chain which product is more American. There are Toyotas designed right here in the Ann Arbor area, as mentioned in the article, that use a lot of American-supplied parts. There are "American" cars made almost entirely of parts shipped from overseas. So if you only go by brand, you're potentially being duped as to how much of your money is actually staying in America. The supply chains can be very long.