Detroit Auto Show Looks Toward Frugal Future

A little over a year ago, Honda's luxury Acura brand was criticized for not offering a powerful V8 engine in its flagship sedan. After all, the pundits opined, luxury buyers insist on eight or more cylinders when they're spending more than $50,000 for a premium chariot. The fact that Acura's 3.7-liter V6 generated 300 horsepower, a specification that used to be perfectly reasonable for eight-cylinder motors, seemed not to matter. The image was everything.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, I pondered this supposed entrance to the luxury club with some amusement while I witnessed Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler, and the Fisker Karma all spin around their turntables with four-cylinder engines. If the name Fisker draws a blank, it's a new start-up that's building $80,000-and-up, plug-in, extended-range electric luxury cars. Electric luxury was also the theme for the other brands except Lincoln, which will test acceptance of rather petite luxury with turbocharged 1.6-liter power -- the luxury equivalent of a pocket pooch.

These guys want to sell plug-in electrics from China and they have some experience over there.

Here's a Lincoln concept with four cylinders and no electricity.

Depending on your point of view, the sudden emphasis on fuel sipping is either that it's about time we save the planet and end our reliance on imported oil, or that these guys shouldn't take the recession so seriously. And for those few who want their reward for all those years of toil to be a voluptuous, 12-cylinder Autobahn cruiser, I'd suggest you get that order in soon.