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The $250,000 Muscle Car Mashup

At first glance, the Equus Automotive Bass 770 looks like a macho mixture of a 60s Dodge Challenger and a Ford Mustang with a touch of Ferrari thrown in for good measure — and that’s exactly the point, according to Ian James, the boutique car company’s “brand ambassador” (and a race-car driver who was at the wheel for this promotional video.)

James introduced the company to a small group of journalists in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show. The Bass 770 (pronounced “base” because that’s the deep throaty sound the 770 horsepower V8 makes) is built by hand in Rochester Hills, an affluent city not far from Detroit. Production is set to start soon and the company plans to make 100 cars a year, each available for US$250,000.

Equus is owned by a “European businessman” whom James says wishes to remain anonymous. He politely refused to divulge any further details — despite repeated questions and reporters who came at the question from different angles — saying only that the businessman was bankrolling the whole thing and wanted to keep his identity hidden. Journalists were skeptical and James seemed mildly amused, repeatedly saying that yes, the businessman truly does exist; the car is truly about to go into production, at an actual facility. He even gave out the address: 2094 Bond St.

“There’s one owner. There’s no management by committee. That’s why we’ve been able to move fast,” said James.

The Bass 770 is aimed at “high net worth” people in Asia, Europe and the Middle East with a taste for American muscle cars; the kind of person “who wants the best and wants to be seen in the car.” That’s why it has borrowed design elements from Plymouth, Dodge and Ford and combined them on one vehicle, with an engine made by General Motors.

As well, the Equus logo is a galloping horse with shades of both Ferrari and Mustang and Equus itself is the name of a luxury car produced by Hyundai. James maintains despite all that the company hasn’t stepped on any of their competitors’ toes, insisting that the car has its own distinct style. “The styling looks different to everybody,” James said.

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Stealing the show

A version of this post appeared on the Totem Brand Stories blog

For the automotive world, winter typically means two things: driving in snow and auto show season.  While the cars are always the stars, the shows themselves are almost as competitive.

The Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off the season in late November, followed by the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (on now, the media preview was last week) with the Montreal Auto Show muscling into the spotlight and running concurrently with the Detroit show. Toronto gets its turn February 15 – 24 when the Canadian International Auto Show marks its 40th annual year.

Despite the Motor City’s struggles and the former Big 3’s troubles, horsepower and sex appeal are still a big part of any auto show.  This year was no exception in Detroit, thanks to the unveiling of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, a 450-hp beast that is loaded with an array of futuristic technology.

But, while the Corvette and other performance cars like the Acura NSX and the Hyundai HCD-14 concept car got the lion’s share of attention, there were two reveals in Detroit that truly reflect consumer tastes.

Honda’s Urban SUV concept and Nissan’s Resonance concept point to a growing and key competitive market for most car companies: the compact SUV – also known as a crossover, or my favourite descriptor: trucklet.

Take a look at the driveways on your street or in any mall parking lot and you’re bound to notice the many Toyota RAV 4s, Honda CR-Vs and Ford Escapes. Each of these vehicles combine car-like handling with varying degrees of truck-like utility, making them useful for hauling around kids and dogs and groceries. Equipped with four-wheel drive, they can also prove handy in a snowstorm. Plus, that 4×4 capability gives them a touch of attitude that you just can’t get from a minivan, even though the minivan is truly the perfect vehicle for hauling kids and dogs and groceries. That’s just one reason why crossovers are so popular – automakers know that we consumers don’t always buy cars for the most practical reasons.

Crossovers have an interesting lineage. The sport utility vehicle boom was led by the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee – both big, brawny, thirsty machines. Gradually the SUV segment expanded into smaller vehicles that have nearly come full circle back to being cars again, and many look like long lost descendants of the old station wagons that pre-dated the SUV boom in the first place. Two key examples are the Subaru Forester and the redesigned 2013 Nissan Pathfinder.

Honda and Nissan believe this segment still has legs (er, wheels) and are aiming the Resonance and the Urban SUV concept (one assumes it’ll have a catchier name when it hits production) at young city dwellers. Honda’s machine will be smaller than the CR-V but not quite as small as its subcompact Fit “making it the ideal size for navigating both crowded city streets and open mountain roads,” says Honda.

The Resonance, assuming it makes production, will carry five people and be powered by a hybrid electric drivetrain. Hybrid and other alternative powertrains are important as automakers look for ways to win over urban consumers and meet government fuel economy standards.

Many of us like to think we’re more Corvette than Caravan when it comes to our choice of vehicle. But small trucklets could actually be one instance where automakers’ need to sell more small, fuel efficient cars might align with our desire to look cool while we ponder heading off on the road less travelled.

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Volt, Sonic star in Detroit

Some early news from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit: The Chevrolet Sonic made its debut and, to no one’s surprise, the Chevrolet Volt is the North American Car of the Year. And, the newly revamped Explorer is the truck of the year.