Thanks to ZipCar, there are two little Fiats on my corner that make me smile every morning as I walk to work. One red, one tan, little bursts of fun in an industry that not only helps me forget about those J.Lo commercials, but injects some much needed personality into the category. Which is something I could never figure out: cars are moving, breathing things. They cut through wind, flick rain off their backs, they have curves. Blessed with relatively low gas prices (compared to other markets), we can choose big cars, small cars, fun cars, cars that announce themselves. A few years ago, the PT Cruiser was an example of a car that put identity first. Like the old VW Bug, you would think manufacturers, especially in America, would put design before all, even before safety, price, gas mileage. Sure people say they want those features, that’s the correct answer. But what Americans really want is a car that says “this is who I am.” In America, cars = identity, as compared to, say, German drivers, who look at cars for engineering. (One of the resources I keep nearby is Clotaire Rapaille’s “Culture Code,” which reveals many of the real emotions that drive consumer purchases, not the reasons we tend to find in focus groups or creative briefs. Highly recommended read.)

So the Fiats are on my mind this week, in addition to the VWs, Audis and everything electric. The 2012 Detroit Auto Show is on, and to anyone who even casually follows the industry, that means more car news  than normal. Check out this electric concept called the E-Bugster and tell me cars aren’t getting fun again. In fact, electric cars seem to be the story line of the show, whether or not the public wants them. (See earlier comment about cheap gas.) Manufacturers have government gas mileage standards to hit, and rarely do issues like supply and demand get in the way, so rolling out a few electric models seems to be the solve. But creatively, I’m a fan of this wave of new concepts, because electric cars are at least putting the design in the driver’s seat. Check out these electric models, from Audi’s E-tron to Mitsubishi’s I to the gorgeous Tesla. By far, some of the most exciting products I’ve seen in a while.

But here’s the car of the week: Porsche’s Panamera Turbo S. Top speed around 190mph. Gorgeous lines. And, check this out: it gets 23mpg on the highway. So if you have a spare $194,000 to spend, you can say it was for the gas mileage.