Payne: Toyota Camry or Ford GT?
"I want something that doesn't break down," said the lady in the red sweater when I asked her what she coveted on the Detroit Auto Show floor.
"Oh," I replied, rather expecting the answer to be the drop-dead gorgeous, Holy-Mother-of-Pearl Ford GT supercar that had been a one-car mob scene since the doors opened to the public.
"My husband's Toyota Camry has 293,000 thousand miles on it and has never had a problem," she continued indignantly. So who's counting? She is. "My Chrysler minivan has 150,000 and it's in the shop. Again."
Another Camry customer is born.
Red's answer is proof that auto shows aren't just fashion runways. They are also giant showrooms for folks who are in the market. They come to ogle the supermodels. The latest designer trends. Flying buttresses on the GT! Twelve LED headlights in the NSX! But then visitors will track down the cars that fit their lifestyle. Compare them. Try them on.
This year Ford's stand leads with strength. Literally. The place has so much muscle it practically reeked of testosterone. Ford's supercar was the biggest bodybuilder in a gym full of big biceps showing off the Dearborn automaker's new performance division. Mustang GT350 R. F-150 SVT Raptor. Like Hulk Hogan at a pro wrestling autograph signing, the athletes were mobbed by adoring groupies.
Ford can do performance in its sleep. The history of the Ford GT alone will bring competitors to their knees. Winner of LeMans in 1966. And then in 1967, 1968, and 1969. Fifty years later, a new, 600 plus-horsepower GT that sounds like Godzilla gargling razor blades has its sights set on further French conquests.
At the Toyota stand, the Japanese automaker also wants to flex its new muscles. The Lexus RC F GT3 racing concept is the luxury brand's first venture into serious GT racing. But its oiled pecs were largely ignored by showgoers. The FS-1, a delicious sports car on a Lazy Susan, got more respect. But performance cred is earned. Let us know when you win LeMans, boys.
But front and center in the Toyota display was a bank of Camrys. They welcomed visitors like . . . like what?
A beautiful hostess at a downtown restaurant? Naw. Despite the midsize sedan's much-ballyhooed facelift this year, it's hardly a head-turner.
A geriatric greeter at Wal-Mart? Nope. The Camry may be plain on the outside, but its hybrid technology is cutting edge.
A row of shiny TVs at Costco? Bingo.
The Camry is a pleasant, colorful, affordable appliance. That never breaks down.
Camry can do reliability in its sleep. It sets the tone for a smart brand that attracts people who need transportation. Like Red. Let the motorheads (guilty as charged) daydream about Ford GTs. Most folks want something that gets them from A to B without detours to the shop. Americans are a friendly tribe, but we don't want to know our mechanic on a first name basis.
For all of its performance cred, Ford covets Toyota's reliability rep. The Blue Oval's jaw-dropping performance and styling (Ford's Aston – er, Fusion – is George Clooney next to the Camry's Steve Carell) draw customers to showrooms. But reliability is what keeps them coming back. Ford boasts slinky supercars that can fly at 200 mph for 24 hours, but Toyota excels at vanilla sedans you can flog 200,000 miles for 24 years.
On a flight back from Denver last year, a rental fleet manager told me a consistent complaint of customers is Ford's original Sync infotainment system. Its moods drove them batty. Ford fixed the problems with Sync 2.0. But it has to earn customers back that it lost to Toyota.
During auto show media week I was driving a new, $33k, 2015 Camry. Like my kitchen toaster, it did its job with relentless normalcy.
Its console was the right balance of touchscreen and dials. Its hi-tech safety features watched over me like an angel. Its roomy seats fit all sizes. Its four-banger engine ran like a top. And its Lassie-like reliability makes you forgive its shortcomings. The low-mounted seat heater dials you have to blindly fiddle with to get right. The cruise control stalk that hides behind the steering wheel begging to be confused with the turn signal. The hard chrome console bezel that chews at my leg.
Someday, Toyota will blitz LeMans and Ford will rule Consumer Reports. Until then, we'll drive our sexless Camrys to the auto show to ogle Ford GT beefcake.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Ford GT
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car
Price: $150,000 est.
Power plant: 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6
Power: 600-plus horsepower, 500-plus pound-feet of torque
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, sub-3 seconds (no doubt)
Weight: TBA (expect a lightweight with carbon-fiber tub)
Fuel economy: TBA (and honestly, does it matter?)
Highs: Porn for autobuffs; Classic GT40 styling for the 21st c.
Lows: Might get you thrown jail
2015 Toyota Camry
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sports car
Price: $23,795 base ($33,448 as tested)
Power plant: 2.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder
Power: 178 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.9 seconds (Car & Driver)
Weight: 3,240 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/35 highway/28 combined
Highs: Bone reliable; Confy interior proportions
Lows: Styling a cure for insomnia; Center console can chaffe long legs