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2015 Detroit Auto Show Summary and Refreshingly Honest and Knowledgeable Opinion


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       • SEE ALSO: Complete Press Pass Coverage 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Co-publisher's Note: I'm sure that you will enjoy and appreciate Steve and Thom's automotive knowledge and candor reflected in their wrap-up report of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

The Auto Channel is proud to call Steve and Thom integral elements in why The Auto Channel is different (and better) than 99.9% of the too many copycat auto focused web sites. Thom and Steve's breath of experience as both journalists and car guys is unrivaled. Steve told me that the 2015 Detroit Auto Show was his 52nd so when he references the past he speaks from first hand knowledge. Thom has been an auto journalist for over 30 years and continues to tell it as he sees it which in virtually every case is exactly how it is.

Thanks guys for being such a clear reflection of our award winning team of tell-it-like-it-is, experienced and honest individualist editors and reporters here at The Auto Channel.

NAIAS 2015 Wrap-up
By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau


Steve: The North American International Auto Show in Detroit – universally acknowledged as one of the most important motor shows in the world - traditionally kicks off with a presentation of the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year awards judged by a panel of about 50 independent U.S. and Canadian A-list journalists. Eligible cars and trucks are those introduced in 1014. Golf and Golf GTI took the win for cars. Ford F-150 gets the truck award.


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Bill Ford set the tone for the 2015 NAIAS on the first day of press conferences when he said, “From here on everything we do at Ford will be green, global and high-tech.” His team followed with introductions of the Mustang Shelby GT350R (“R” for racing), a new Ford GT super car and a raucous new Raptor pickup, none of which have any green or global credentials but certainly fit in the high-tech slot.
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Joe Hinricks, Ford’s president of the Americas revealed their 10-speed transmission and smart-terrain suspension and chassis control system.

Thom: Ford's 10-speed transmission is significant considering the outperforming Ram 1500 diesel. Ford has to be disappointed to be out fuel-economied and the new tranny should boost fuel economy for the aluminum bodied F-150.

The Ford Raptor is also a pleasure to see as there were rumors of its demise. Having driven one—finally—down in Baja, they are joyous off road vehicles indeed. This Raptor should be far better in every aspect.

Steve: We saw a gaggle of super cars, lots of new mainstream production vehicles, some inspiring production-focused concepts, but just a few greenies – close to 50 new products in all, including a trio of Chinese cars that included an attractive small crossover that they hope to bring to the U.S. market by the end of 2017. Here are highlights of the show:


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One of those super cars, and my pick for Best-of-Show, is the Maserati Alfieri, named after one of the brothers who founded the company over 100 years ago. The Alfieri, a high-performance, ultra high-style coupe combines a subtle elegance and grace with the classic look of a modern super coupe. Shown first at Geneva last year it will be on sale here next year with V6 power between 400 and 500 horsepower depending on the engine you choose.


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The most significant greenie at the show is Toyota's Mirai fuel cell sedan. We’ll have it probably next year in LA and other markets as hydrogen-fueling infrastructure grows. The car’s styling shows some significant panache and it has a 300-mile range with enough torque to provide a gratifying driving experience. Honda also showed their next generation fuel cell car that looks much more modern but less conventional than the Toyota.

Thom: Fuel cell vehicles are of great significance—on the West coast where tax dollars support infrastructure growth. Having driven the 11 million dollar Ford FCV many years ago, and watching it be refueled at their proving ground, we note that the hydrogen fueling system is long gone. Ultimately FCVs and other hydrogen powered cars may be the norm, but that is still far in the future. Oh, Toyota’s car looks production-intent, Honda not so much.

Steve:

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The other surprise greenie is the full electric Chevy Bolt a high-style small crossover with full electric power and a 200-mile range built on the next generation subcompact Sonic platform. GM CEO, Mary Barra, offered no promises to produce the car but it appears ready for prime time. As I was admiring the Bolt Ed Welburn, GM’s VP of design, told me, “Everything we do for Chevy from here on will have a bit of (Corvette) Stingray in it.” And I could see a few subtle references. Bolt gets automatic park-and-retrieve system, 200-mile electric range and an estimated $30,000 price tag including an anticipated federal subsidy.

Thom: Bolt was built in Australia and laid up in fiberglass from a full-sized clay model. You don’t usually do a clay unless you’re quite serious about a vehicle. The designer noted that the wheels are pushed to extreme edges for packaging and human space and that, unlike Volt, the battery pack is under the floor. A colleague from Germany said that it’s front mounted motor allows more room in the boot, a better use of space.

Steve:

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The next generation Chevrolet Volt was also previewed with its slightly better range (up to 50 miles/charge), an upgraded interior and space for a third passenger in the rear, though that third passenger would have to be a diminutive one. One of our colleagues quipped, “With the new Volt and Bolt, Chevy’s next move ought to be an autonomous car for those who can’t drive called the Dolt.”

Thom: I wish I’d said that—sort of. Autonomous cars are a technology often in search of a problem. Well, that is a midwestern view, not one from the beltway or the 405. I do wish the Volt had better styling. This is a less remarkable car to my eyes. Perhaps it will look better on the road?


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Steve: A couple of other truck announcements, besides the hot-rod, off-road Ford Raptor and cosmetically enhanced Ram Rebel, stood out at the Detroit show. Toyota Tacoma, fully redesigned with an exceptionally bold nose, is ready to take on the new GM offerings in the mid-size pickup category. And, Nissan’s all-new, full-size Titan will be offered with an optional Cummins diesel. Engineering for Titan, they emphasize, was done in MI, design in CA, testing in AZ, marketing and advertising in TN and assembly in MS. The implication is that it is a truly American vehicle.

Thom: As the in-house diesel guy, there’s lots to say about the truck and the engine. The engine will likely appear in some other vehicles yet to be announced as Cummins traditionally has partners in multiple segments. The engine, built in the same facility as the parent ISV5, is offered to mid-sized truck makers for vehicles of the size/shape of a UPS truck. Hinted fuel economy should put the Titan in the same area (25-28 highway) as Ram, only with far more towing and hauling capacity.

Titan itself uses front suspension derived from the real-world NV van series and takes input from customers who have half a million trouble-free miles under the tires. The rear is similar to the original F-Alpha Titan with inverted suspension that creates more ground clearance.


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Steve: We finally got a close look at a pre-production version of the long-promised Acura NSX mid-engine, twin-turbo, hybrid gas-electric, racetrack-capable super-car from Honda’s luxury brand. It will be built in a dedicated facility near the Honda factory in northeast Ohio. The “Wow” factor for this one is nearly off the charts.

Thom: It’s interesting that there was a very late engine change, now longitudinal. Definite WOW and a stellar interior, if you liked red.


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Steve: Lexus, the leading Asian luxury automaker, expanded its high-performance offerings with the introduction of the latest addition to the “F” line of cars – the GS F. GS is the mid-size sport sedan and Lexus likes to make comparisons with their German competitors, in this case claiming a lighter, better handling and quicker car with 5.0-liter V8. Lexus also announced it will compete in the popular GT3 racing series in 2015.


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Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, made a big splash with their Q60 Sport Coupe Concept. They promised 2016 production. While certainly a niche market car it will provide a bright halo for an otherwise undistinguished brand. Infiniti will apply a great deal of advanced technology as well as exceptional performance to go along with the unexpectedly fresh design. The Q60 will be powered by a new 3.0-liter, twin-turbo, direct-injected V6.

Thom: Infiniti, part of Nissan / Renault, is planning major changes to it’s engine lineup, as Steve mentioned. Look for technologies like twin turbos, direct injection (all well known), even supercharging to move in to their lineup. OK, we mean Titan and other heavy SUVs.


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Steve: VW has a broad range of products and an ambitious plan to dominate the world auto business but has not had a credible mid-size CUV product. So, it was not surprising that they showed a hint of one here – the Cross Coupe GTE. We expect a similar product in 2016 but we won’t expect the high-zoot design, or some of the outside-the-box features we saw here in the concept vehicle.

Thom: I heard a lot of disappointment from German colleagues about the front end, wishing for more boldness and character. Personally, I was impressed by the shoulders, which reminded me of ’40’s Zoot Suit design.


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Steve: The most serious Chinese participant yet to visit the Detroit show displayed three vehicles highlighted by the Guangzhou (pronounced gwan-jo) GS4 small CUV with 1.3 or 1.5 turbo. It appears fully sorted and they are hoping to bring it to the US in late 17 if they find a distribution partner. The other two cars on their stand were a midsize sedan currently sold in their home market and an unusual, gull-wing SUV concept with an aquarium in the console. The Chinese designer for Guangzhou worked for Mercedes-Benz and some design details reflect that experience.

Thom: Their first market is Russia, then other emerging markets before moving on. You may not know GAC Group, but they are partners to western auto makers.


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Steve: Perhaps the biggest surprise to everyone here was theHyundai Santa Cruz Sport Pickup Concept focused on a demographic they call “urban adventurers.” Do you remember the cute and fun Subaru Brat? Well, this Hyundai offering is similar in that it is a mainstream people hauler converted to a short-bed pickup so these adventurers can haul their bikes and other sports equipment to where ever they want to play. Most pundits agree that Hyundai’s design expertise is strong and this concept truck reflects that.

Thom: Compared to similar small pickups, Brat, Explorer Sport Trac, et. al., wheels are pushed to the rear for a solid appearance and no extreme bed overhang. We’d want to keep the tow hooks and other bold ideas for the 4x4 version, maybe a tamer “citified” 4x2 for less adventurous buyers.


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Steve: News from FCA (Fiat-Chrysler) was limited. An open-air version of the Alfa 4C called Spider (not Spyder) and a dressed-up Ram Rebel with lift kit and lots of hot-shot trim briefly got the spotlight, but neither represent anything particularly forward looking. We’re promised some new products from Alfa in the near term though, so look for some sporty mainstream sedans and hatchbacks from that historic but struggling Italian brand next year.

Thom: Most impressive about Alfa is how well FCA’s American execs have researched the brand’s history and can deliver it impressively. Even Europeans were impressed. That said, the 4C failed to connect with my eyes. Again, maybe it looks better on the road than an all black platform.


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Steve: I was about to give the worst car name award to the concept on the Buick stand called Avenir until I talked to the designer. He reminded me that Buick tends to use French names and revealed Avenir is French for ‘future.” It is an impressive car. The rear-wheel drive, full-size Avenir is purely a concept at this point and is meant to represent a flagship sedan for Buick. And, what a knock-out it is. Cadillac has been hinting at a similar car for themselves for a couple years now so we assumed an association. Not so.
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The Avenir is on a unique platform. Also fresh meat on the Buick stand is the soon-to-be-released convertible from Buick called Cascada, essentially the same car with the same name is sold by Opel in Europe – kinda cute, but looks very much like the VW Eos. This will be the first convertible from Buick since the Reatta.

Thom: Two notes on Cascada: Why doesn’t it have a Buick grille? Really? What? Grille’s are cheap after the engineering has been done, and it has. Oh, some German’s said “It’s an Opel, nobody buys this car in Germany.”


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Steve: Mercedes showed the most advanced technology with the Mercedes F015 concept first shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas just the week before NAIAS. The F015 is designed to be fully autonomous. Four occupants in the “pod” face each other and the car operates itself. Though this technology is some way off, it may not be as far away as you might think.


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Still trying to define itself as a player in the full luxury market Lincoln introduced the redesigned MKZ mid-size crossover that closely follows the look and feel of the surprisingly successful MKC small crossover. High-end Black Label trim and other premium content along with the split-wing grill and design queues will help the brand along the path to luxury respectability.

Thom: I looked at this car, CUV, from high and low. It’s new? Really? Not just a new grill? A big sigh of “Meh”, and a desperate hope it looks impressive in traffic.


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Steve: The Detroit show traditionally wraps up with a series of design awards judged by the most prestigious panel of judges assembled anywhere in the world and hosted by the EyesOn Design car show team that benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology. Best Production car honors went to the Ford GT and Best Concept and Best Use of Color, Graphics and Materials awards both went to the Buick Avenir. Best Interior was judged to be the Audi Q7. EOD also honored industry icon Bob Lutz (looking as good and sounding as powerful as ever) with his second Catalyst Award. Lutz, as usual, gave a colorful, candid and lengthy acceptance speech.