2014 North American International Auto Show Steve and Thom's Highlights
DETROIT’S ANNUAL CAR FRENZY
By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
Photos by the Authors
Your veteran TACH team immersed themselves this week in the chaos that is Press Preview at the North American International Auto Show. It is not the biggest, nor the most publicly attended but certainly the most important motor show in North America drawing six thousand journalists from around the world. This is the show automakers love to use as a venue for introducing new models and teasing about future plans. While too much news comes from the show to bring you all of it in one story we’ll share our highlights and, if you don’t mind, we may indulge in a bit of punditry.
Steve: I always look for trends that might define each year’s show but this year little stood out. Perhaps more striking is what we did not see. First, we saw very little in the way of new hybrids, electrics or other alternative powertrains, a huge trend at previous shows. With the exception of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that will be available in the Los Angeles market little more than a year from now it looks like the automakers’ interest in hybrids and electrics is waning.
Thom: Steve, did you miss the Audi Shooting Brake hybrid, the Volkswagen Golf e-tron, and new Audi A3 e-tron (which share drivetrain components), BMW’s well-known electric and PHEV i-Cars, a new Tesla (not due for years), but not the huge buzz of PHEVs we’ve seen in other years. Oh, BMW released a pair of 4 Series M spirited driving machines, a coupe and a sedan, both sure to sell hotly to purists, enthusiasts, and those who must own the best BMW regardless their driving skills.
Steve: One other exception might be the wild and crazy Porsche 918 Spyder with an electric motor on each wheel to augment the already over-powered V8 engine. The plug-in hybrid Porsche boasts a total grunt of around 900 horsepower and a price just under $1 million. The 918 Spyder, by the way, gets my award for best paint job, not so much because its pearly-white is the prettiest or wildest color on the floor but because it is a $21,000 option on this million-dollar car. At that price it must be special.
Thom: And the retro-new 911 Targa is just super, as well as the purest variety of Porsche.
Steve: The other non-trend, so to speak, is the continuing neglect of futuristic “design exercise” vehicles by the manufacturers. I’m thinking of the futuristic, unpractical but fun and way-out-there stuff that will never be produced but intrigues us with its creativity. While there were a few that might flirt with this category you would not need the fingers of even one hand to count them.
Thom: I couldn’t agree more, or less. It is daunting indeed that there are few whimsical cars, but the Toyota FT-1 will be a must-see, as will be the new Corvette Z-06, Ford F 150. But I don’t think folks will be as wowed by the novel Volvo XC concept, maybe Kia’s GT-4 Stinger will ignite a passion for a daily driver track car with over 200 hp.
Steve: We have to say – and indeed, we enjoy reporting – it was a great year for GM. Not only because of the positive buzz around the new leadership team with Mary Barra (first woman to lead an auto manufacturer) at the top, but GM products continue to garner prestigious accolades. The Corvette Stingray and Chevy Silverado swept the respected North American Car and Truck of the Year awards to kick off the Auto Show. And as Press Preview ended we heard that GM announced the first dividend in nearly six years and the stock price is steadily moving upward.
GM used the NAIAS to reveal the Z06 Corvette and the fresh and lovely ATS Coupe. The former will provide a distinct glow on the Stingray halo and the latter a more gentile, less edgy, coupe for the entry luxury market. Getting back into the mid-size pickup market GM also revealed the GMC Canyon to be a companion for the already-announced Chevy Colorado pickup. Both appear modern, capable, full of fresh content and mighty good looking.
Thom: Note that the global Canyon or Colorado (Chevrolet) platform was introduced two years ago as a concept designed in South America and built in Thailand. The US versions will be built here, and we’ll soon get their latest 2.8-liter diesel engine, one specifically engineered for North America altitude and chill. Oh, it’s absolutely a small Silverado.
Steve: The new Mustang garnered a great deal of attention. The sixth generation of the iconic pony car comes on the 50th anniversary of the original, so Ford really needed to get it right. The lead exterior designer is a Croatian native educated in Germany and the interior designer is way too young to understand the car culture of 1964 but they have done a masterful job – in this reporter’s view – of bringing the new Mustang to fruition. (Watch for video interviews with both designers here on TAC soon.) The new Mustang was revealed selectively before the show to criticism from some purists and other pundits but seems to be getting nearly universal approval at the show.
Thom: The opposite of Mustang may be the latest MINI Cooper John Cooper Works MINI. We surely want a spin, and perhaps this iteration will hoist its repair reputation.
Steve: Chrysler’s big reveal was the bread-and-butter Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan to be built in a Detroit area factory (Sterling Heights Assembly) where Chrysler spent $1.2 billion to upgrade the plant with lots of robotics and a state-of-the-art paint shop among other improvements. Sitting on an Alfa Romeo Jiulietta platform I thought the exterior design of the Chrysler 200 quite striking and in tune with mainstream design trends, that is, swoopy and sculpted with blingy lighting and a coupe-like roofline. Even more impressive is the interior with much improved quality and design, and a standard 9-speed automatic transmission. The Chrysler 200 is a crucially important product for Chrysler as it competes for attention and approval in an ever more competitive marketplace, though I think it is hyperbolic to call it Chrysler’s “flagship” as they did at the press conference.
Thom: if they deliver on their promise, the new 200 will be more than competitive, far more so than the previous “Imported From Detroit” model. Tons and tons of style from a fully robotized and updated manufacturing facility, every bit is measured to insure greatness. We’ll just hope the promise is filled.
Steve: My Best of Show award goes to Toyota’s bright red concept sports car called FT-1 some are referring to as the next Supra. The brash deeply sculpted design features tunnels that look as if air could pass entirely through the car. The classically sporty profile looks as if it would be at home on a race track or a deserted, winding country road. Toyota uses adjectives like “sexy” and “curvaceous” and they say “it will stir people’s emotions.” While we tend to ignore the marketing hyperbole I think these descriptions are justifiable.
Thom: Not a bad choice at all, but what about “the next Maxima” from Nissan? They have been hurting badly for a car, short of the GT-R, that excites any passion. This one sure as heck does! If they follow through, and we’ll know in just months, the Maxima will literally sizzle. And Infiniti, a coupe with 400 hp and 500 torques? Who knew?
Steve: A few other introductions that deserve noting are: the stunning Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Concept and new M-B production C-Class sedans; an all new Acura TLX mid-size sedan; Audi’s Allroad Shooting Brake concept (“shooting brake” is what they called station wagons in the early 1900s); the new Ford F-150 pickup that lost 700 pounds by using an aluminum alloy body; Nissan’s cute IDX-Concepts (one racer and one street car), an homage to the classic Datsun 510; the muscular and forward-looking Volvo XC Concept Coupe; and VW’s Dune Buggy concept based in a New Beetle.
Thom: That you nailed. Many found the semi-retro IDX Concepts to be must haves, particularly anyone who remembered, fondly, the Datsun 510. Of course Ford has literally bet the ranch, the company, the emblem on the aluminum-bodied F-150. Naysayers are abundant, but they simply ignore the reports coming out of Audi, and Land Rover about ease and costs of repair. Though they are not reporting, our experience says its been in the works for at least 20 years - 10 million miles of testing? Can’t do that with 100 trucks in a year… Oh, a new Bentley arrived, complete with some startling body work heretofore unseen. Talk about aspirational, as is the new Subaru WRX Sti, now with available “automatic” transmission. Will that option work for this ultimate boy-toy?
Thom: We’re also forgetting a new and more powerful, larger Honda Fit and Hyundai Genesis Sedan with cues from last year’s compelling HCD-14 concept that is expected to challenge mid-sized luxury cars at prices far above its predicted $40,000.
Steve: Traditionally the Detroit auto show ends with the EyesOn Design Awards for Design Excellence, making sort of a bookend with the NACToY awards that kick off the show. EyesOn Design is one of the premier summer classic and collector car shows of the area and they are able to press 30 of the leading designers from around the world into walking the show floor and determining the best concept car, the best production car and (this year for the first time) the most innovative use of color, graphics and materials. The awards presentation includes enlightening discussions of design trends and issues as well.
Winning the Best Production Car Design Award this year is the Ford Mustang. Winning both the Best Concept Car Award and the Best Use of Color, Graphics and Materials Award is the Volvo XC Coupe Concept. That is quite a coup for the Swedish carmaker now owned by a Chinese company. The XC Concept Coupe hints at the design direction for the company’s products and what the next XC90 might look like.
More shows to come: Chicago, Geneva, New York. Stay tuned!
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