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Exhaust Note #25: NextCruise – How the Future Fared on Woodward

NextCruise was billed as a fun, eco-friendly addition to the gas-guzzling fun of the Woodward Dream Cruise. We were promised engaging displays, a glimpse into the future and the opportunity for some quality time behind the wheel of hybrids, clean diesels and alternative fuel vehicles. Did things pan out as organizers had hoped?

The future (clean diesel, in this case), craftily hides inside a Grand Cherokee.

So, like I was asking before the jump so rudely interrupted me, how did things work out? I’d be lying if I called the affair an unqualified success, but a good time was had by all.
First, the good: NextCruise delivered when it came to showing off a wide range of technologies and fuels. The manufacturers involved went out of their way to provide vehicles — some cars were pulled off the Hydrogen Road Tour for the event — and give a thorough look at the possibilities available for the future of cruising.

There are fuel cells in that Equinox. I would have gone for a more distinctive paint job. Something along the lines of “OMG FUEL CELLS,” probably.

Now for the less good: While the organizers of NextCruise have a great idea — we were long overdue for an open, accessible symposium on where the auto industry is headed — they’ve planted themselves in the middle of the wrong event. As we made clear in our posts this weekend, the Dream Cruise is about flash and noise. With a lineup of staid, nearly silent green vehicles, the NextCruise fleet was easily eclipsed by the bright colors and throaty roar of the rest of the event. An ethanol-powered two-seater Indy Car did its best to make up the gap, but even a powerful engine like that can only two a bunch of SUVs and sedans so far.
You know what would have been theme-appropriate for NextCruise while tying in some much-needed Dream Cruise sparkle? A Tesla Roadster. They didn’t have one of those, though.

I understand that NextCruise was intended to show off how technologies of the future meet the vehicles of today, but the Dream Cruise isn’t about the vehicles of today. If you’ve spent any time at the big event, you know that there’s still some regular traffic mixed in with the antiques, classics and general freakshow cars. Thing is, you either a) don’t even notice it, or b) catch sight of an SUV and think, “What the hell is that doing here?” The NextCruise as a whole provokes that response.
Even after NextCruise, I’m more apt to think of something like this when I hear the phrase “environmentally friendly cruising.”

This was the first year from NextCruise, and if the organizers are as smart as I think they are, they’ll come away from this having learned a lot. I hope they’ll continue their efforts, but I also hope they find a more appropriate time and place for the event. The Detroit area goes cruise crazy for almost two weeks around the Woodward Dream Cruise — there’s plenty of room for NextCruise in there without trying to draw attention away from the main event.
Steph’s Counterpoint
I enjoyed NextCruise’s appreciation of automobiles and optimism for the future, and was less concerned with the juxtaposition of past, future, and present. I don’t see as much problem appreciating a 1908 Model T, 1957 Chevrolet Corvette, 1966 Ford Fairlane 500, late 1990s Ferrari, and a 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 on the same weekend we check out Chevy’s fuel-cell Equinox and BMW’s flexible hydrogen, or gas-powered 7-Series. As far as flash, the E85 Corvette pace car had it, as did the IndyCar.
True, much of Dream Cruise is reveling in the past. But I hope there’s room for enthusiasm for cars as technology, physical forms of our abilities to solve problems, and our tickets to the open road, regardless of era. Might be tougher to get passionate about the green stuff that you haven’t figured out how to modify for more power in your backyard, but events like this give hope that for at least some of us, cars will never merely be appliances.
Comments like Katrina’s should also serve to remind the manufacturers that this cool new technology must be wrapped in something we can get passionate and crazy about, too. Toyota’s Prius has done well in part for being wrapped in an unconventional and recognizable package, but no one would call it sexy. Sedans and SUVs boasting hybrid powertrains may satisfy the green element, but they won’t keep car nuts sated. For that, Tesla’s roadster-first and then getting to work on a promised sedan approach is the one that will keep and grow car nuts. Our car-crazed culture will continue to be strong, and though high fuel costs and worries about the environment drive us to finding alternative power sources, we’ll still want the magic, mystique, bling, flash, and sophistication we’ve seen in bygone eras.

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