It was a declaration and an appreciation and an evaluation, all at once, and it took Kathie Ellis exactly one word to make her point.

“Cool,” said Ellis, a sales executive for an auto supplier. And in four letters, even though she drew them out to sound like eight or 10, that’s a concept to carry to Cobo Center for the run of the North American International Auto Show.

Coolness is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and more than 700,000 people will likely do some beholding before the show closes Sunday.

With an entire convention hall of possibilities, it can be hard to decide where to start or what not to miss. So, inspired by Ellis, I asked a few people who had been through the show last week to identify the single coolest thing in it.

Might be a car, might be an option, might be a display, might be something else entirely. That was the challenge: after an unhurried, uncrowded day or two before the public arrived, what single thing stood out?

For Ellis, it was the mammoth Ford video screen — and a quotation from Henry Ford that flashed across it — at the sprawling exhibit of the car company he founded, but likely wouldn’t recognize.

“The genius walks into his success,” it said. “The rest of us must work for ours.”

There is no shortage of genius at Cobo — and no shortage of cool, either.

Sleek and exotic

Laren Harmon likes tires — he’s the director of sales for Michelin — but he flat-out loves cars.

“I get giddy,” he said.

He’s 43, but he looked like a kid who’d been allowed to cut school for the show.

Just being there was cool. But the coolest among all the coolness? The FO 15 Luxury in Motion, a long, sleek, silver self-driving concept vehicle from Mercedes.

“If that’s the way we’re going to drive 30 years from now,” he said, “I want in.”

Jim O’Brien wants into something a little more immediate and less sedate.

He’s the morning co-host at WCSX-FM (94.7), the originator of the quasi-annual Stone Soup project that enlists listeners to restore a beaten-down muscle car for charity, a former submariner — and at the auto show, a dreamer.

“The Ford GT,” he said.

Mid-engine, 600-plus horsepower, and already the winner of the wish-I-was-taller award, with crowds three and four deep even on a relatively sedate supplier day.

“That’s the car that can beat Speed Racer,” O’Brien said. “I’m convinced.”

A 3D car, and dogs!

Up the dial from O’Brien and across the river, reporter Peter Langille of CKLW-AM (800) has a 105-minute commute — each way — between his home near Sarnia, Ontario, to the station in Windsor. Not cool for most of us, but he’s used to it.

“I’d have to go with the printed car,” he said.

Yes, printed. Local Motors, using a 30,000-pound machine from Cincinnati Inc., is using a 3D printer to create a dune-buggyish thermoplastic electric car.

“For ‘Big Bang Theory’ fans,” Langille said, “that’s the coolest.”

Tom Stevenson and Gary Godlewski of White Collar Canine in Highland were strolling the show with a series of European imports: their bomb-sniffing dogs, who tend to be Belgian Malinois.

The dogs, fortunately, did not find anything noteworthy. The handlers did.

“The new sports cars,” Stevenson said, as in Maserati, Alfa Romeo and the Chevrolet Corvette. “They were all starting to look the same, but now they have personalities again.”

“The engines,” Godlweski said. “They’re half the size they used to be, and twice as powerful.”

So that’s obvious coolness and hidden coolness, and then there’s Michael Keller, a lighting specialist from Las Vegas who’s 62 and still looks cool with a ponytail.

Keller, busy with some last-minute tweaking at the Lexus display, said the coolest things he’d seen weren’t in the building. He liked downtown and Midtown, with the restaurants, pedestrians and excitement he’d never caught before.

“I’ve been praying for these days a long time,” he said — which is appreciated, and come to think of it, cool.


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