Forget the Big Three; Why Smaller Carmakers Are Better


The little guy is making a big statement in the car business.

Forget the Big Three. Or the Detroit Three, or the worldwide bakers' dozen of car makers. The remarkable take-away from this year's North American International Auto Show, open to the public in Detroit this week, is how innovative and interesting smaller carmakers have become.

Forget all the gloom and doom you are hearing. Speaking strictly from the technological perspective, this is a particularly good year for innovation for all things that roll. Automakers both domestic and international are showing that they are taking solving the problems of today's vehicles seriously. BMW, Volkswagen, GM (Stock Quote: GM) and Ford (Stock Quote: F), to name a few, are all showing significant steps away from traditional internal combustion engines.

All-electric vehicles, like the new Mini and the soon-to-market Volt, are getting most of the media love here. But just as important for these larger makers are fuel-efficient diesel technologies, which offer far higher fuel efficiencies and lower costs to own, which can give a real boost to small businesses looking to manage the cost of their vehicles.

But to my eye, the smaller automakers are the stars of this show. Many of these smaller brands are already chic, including the uber-sexy Tesla Motors and the Smart vehicle, a unit of Daimler AG (Stock Quote: DAI).

But several other small and medium-sized businesses are also making a difference in cars. Here are two of my favorite automotive mini-me's cutting the trails for an exciting tomorrow:

Myers Motors

If there is a poster child for what one company can do with a bit of money, design and good, old-fashioned American hustle, it is Tallmadge, Ohio-based Myers Motors. Dana Myers builds these NmG (No More Gas) Personal Electric vehicles in a facility he directly controls and supervises. Now, sure, these for-singles-only three-wheelers look like something out of a wacky Tim Burton movie, but there is no denying they solve an important transportation problem: Most car travel is done by individuals who drive less than 20 miles, usually to work. Or to shop.

So it makes no sense to clog our road, foul our air and send our wealth overseas to drag around thousands of pounds of extra vehicle we don't need. Spend one minute in front of one of Mr. Myers' cars and you very quickly realize that this guy has a point.

Some sort of solo vehicle is a needed new category. And the sooner the rest of the industry starts cranking them out, the better off we all will be.

Horse Power

All-electric is all the rage here in Motor City, but other approaches to saving fuel do not get the chops they deserve. Take Napoleon, Ohio-based Horsepower Inc. This company showed its HP2g vehicle at the show.

And no self-respecting car nut would do less than swoon over this auto. President Doug Pelmears says his vehicle can get 110 miles per gallon running on E85, an ethanol-based fuel made mostly of corn in nearby fields. And what a car. The HP2g is built around a good, old-fashioned all-American V-8 that pumps out -- get ready for it -- 400 horsepower, or about 50 hp less than a 2007 Porches 997 Turbo. That's a lot. And this alcohol-breathing monster lays down a simply terrific 500 foot pounds of torque -- or about 100 less than a souped-up Corvette ZR1, which, again, is really a lot.

Said another way, this is a muscle car that gets 10 times the gas mileage of any competitor. It's ridiculous, but in a good way.

The larger message here in Detroit was, if these two tiny companies can do so much with so little, why can't the rest of the auto industry be this innovative?



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