NAIAS 2014 | So…

So, the domestic manufacturers in the US have returned to pretty much full strength, even though the concept cars that were once their hallmark at the Detroit show, have now become more the province of the Asians and the Europeans.  Only Cadillac maintained some element of the tradition with the Elmiraj concept, — although this car was actually introduced at Pebble Beach last August.
Nevertheless, the show was a success for all concerned, including the much-maligned City itself. The US remains a key market and a tough battleground that global manufacturers must conquer to succeed in today’s auto industry.


The Koreans have made great strides in the US market, steadily increasing market share and delivering excellent quality products.  Their two-pronged dual brand strategy seems to be working as they relentlessly move up market.  The Hyundai Equus and Kia K900 4 door luxury sedan models are priced in the $62,000 to $67,000 range.  This is pretty rarified air and it remains to be seen if this will be a step to far at this point in the brands’ development.
To add some excitement, Kia introduced the GT4 Stinger concept, a two-seat sport coupe with a somewhat retro look.  The forms were smooth and without a lot of the heavy sculpturing that we have seen on many other concepts.  Most striking is the front end.  The grill is bold and open, with a narrow bright surround featuring a subtle version of the Kia look.  More important, however, are the unique headlamps, cleverly styled into the leading edge of the front fenders.  The lights themselves are made up of 6 horizontal LEDs forming a rectangular block.  This breaks new ground and is like nothing we have seen before.
The bodyside has pronounced wheel arches, but remains simple and elegant.  The wheels were ‘different’, but not to our taste.  At the rear, the back window flows into the glossy black back panel which is contained on each side by bold ‘C’-shaped taillamps.  All in all it was a very attractive concept from Kia.  Let’s hope that they bring something like this into production.



Honda, like Toyota, continues to pursue the fuel cell as a future energy source, unfortunately the FCEV concept that they displayed was a bit too extreme for mainstream appeal.  Like the failed Honda Insight, there are elements of the car that would probably make it “sale proof”!  The front end is interesting with wide splits or vents that extend from the bottom edge of the front fascia all the way to the windshield.  Viewed from the side or the rear, however, the car just looks ponderous and heavy.  We are sure that the covered rear wheels, long roof and high tail all contribute to a low drag coefficient (although the relatively wide body must be a negative) they add up to a car that is just not appealing – environmentally friendly though it may be.
Honda also introduced the next generation Fit.  Aside from the ugly yellow color on one of the cars, the new version is well executed but rather boring.  The prior generation made a statement as a ‘tall’ car, the new one may get lost in the crowd.
Acura unveiled the TLX concept, a conservatively styled 4 door, which we understand, is very close to the production version on the TL replacement.  The stance is strong, the overall impression is somewhat sporty, the 5 square LED headlamps give it a unique look and, finally, here is a design where the Acura grill actually works.


On the first press day, Nissan displayed the IDx Freeflow and Nismo concepts that debuted in Tokyo last year.  This concept was an exercise in co-creation and was developed in close coordination with target customers from the “digital native generation”  — those born after 1990. They proposed a simple, ideally proportioned 3-box design, without legacy references.   Although it looked fresh, it did remind us of some older Datsun products, especially the B210.   A little bit « vintage », just enough retro…This might work in Japan, but we don’t see it as a global product.
On the second media day, Nissan unveiled the SSC or Sport Sedan Concept that is being positioned as a pre-curser to the Maxima replacement.  Resplendent in ‘Strad-Amber’ orange paint, it made quite a statement and is way sportier looking than the present Maxima.  The SSC might be overdone for that segment of the market and for many people at the show, but isn’t the whole point of a concept vehicle to stretch the thinking of both the designers and the customers?  We would expect that the aggressive “V-Motion” front end with flying V (some say boomerang) headlamps would be toned down for the production car, but its key feature, a long floating roof extending almost to the rear of the decklid is probably going to be retained to a significant extent.  This roofline gives the impression of a streamlined cabin with a substantial lower body.  The SSC and the Toyota FT-1 put the industry on notice that the Japanese manufacturers are intent on taking a new styling direction away from dull cars and into a dramatic new era.
Infinity unveiled the ‘in your face’ Q50 Eau Rouge, a four door sports sedan clearly targeted at Mercedes Benz AMG models and BMW M Series.  With a suitable powertrain – say from the Nissan GTR, this car could take the fight to establishment in Europe.  With the name, the F1 accents front and rear, great wheels, carbon fiber galore and Sebastian Vettel as the Director of Performance, this could really work.  There is a lot of uniqueness from the Q50, but let’s hope Infinity can make financial sense of this – it looks like fun.  By the way, inside there is red infused carbon fiber on the doors and the center console; outside the color was created by spraying 24 coats of red-tinted clear over a silver base coat.
Lexus should watch their friends at Infinity a little more closely.  The Infinity Q30 hatchback, compact SUV concept (yes, another one) in an interesting shade of copper is an example of how it should be done.  The vehicle is dramatic without being overdone.  The forms, proportions and features are exciting yet the vehicle looks real and production ready.  In this genre, Infinity may have one of the best solutions.


The wildest and most exciting car at the show was undoubtedly the Toyota FT-1 concept — which stands for ‘Future Toyota – Number 1’.  Designed at the CALTY studio in California, the FT-1 certainly lives up to Akio Toyoda’s new ethos “No more boring cars”.  Its Formula One style nose, splitter, rear diffuser and ‘rain light’ scream “speed”.  The huge 21 – inch wheels, sleek sculptured body, exposed engine under a clear panel in the hood and giant deployable rear spoiler yell “more speed”.  Then when you open the door and see the minimalist interior with heads up display and Formula One style steering wheel, you just want to jump in and drive!
In contrast, the Toyota FCV fuel cell concept car was downright ugly.  Its gaping ‘mouth’ and huge ‘gills’ at the front create a face only a mother could love.  The strong bodyside feature line originating at the rocker just behind the front wheel, climbing up over the top of the rear wheel and terminating in the taillamp does little to minimize the high belt and awkward proportions.  No CALTY Design here……….    The FCV concept was gone by the time the show opened to the public.  It was replaced on the very large turntable by a very small, tilting, three-wheel, mini vehicle.  Maybe the ugly concept car wasn’t so bad after all?
New from Lexus was the RC 350, another 2-door coupe to join the fray.  It is attractive from the rear and rear three quarter views, but the front end is way over the top for our taste.  The Lexus “bobbin” grill has grown to maximum proportions with three different insert textures, plenty of brightwork and two small round (fog ?) lamps integrated into the bright trim below the bumper area.  It is all just too much.  To make matters worse there is a feature line that starts alongside the headlamp and wanders up over the wheel flare to the base of the A-Pillar.  It does not help.
The performance version of this coupe, the RC F, helps things a little with a less complex grill — but it remains huge and unattractive.  Some scoops and other performance ‘add-ons’ also help, but I think we will “pass” on this one.
As a possible entry in the luxury compact SUV club, Lexus displayed the LF NX concept.  Unfortunately this one does not work for us either.  The huge Lexus grill is, well, huge.  The body has extreme sculpturing, it sits too high on wheels and the rear end has over-sized elaborate tailamps, plus a diffuser fit for Le Mans.  It was all too much and I would rather not talk about it any more!
The best thing on the Lexus exhibit was an LFA on a simulated rolling road with the associated sound track of the car going through the gears.  Music to the ears!


Following the Concept C Coupe shown in Frankfurt, Volvo demonstrated further product aggression with the Concept XC Coupe introduced at the Detroit show.  Sharing a similar, bold front end with the C Coupe, the XC is a two-door estate car or station wagon with dramatic tail lamps extending the Volvo tradition in this area.  Two-door station wagons are not the most logical of vehicles, but this one looks good and would be a handsome addition to the Volvo line up.  Full marks to ‘the new Volvo’ for creating these interesting concepts.
The one criticism we have for the XC is the use of grey painted trim mouldings throughout the car.  Clearly this was intended to create a different look for the concept and to that extent the designers succeeded.  However, we think that the “industrial plastic” look that resulted diminished the overall value of the vehicle.  Properly designed, bright trim, or jewelry, goes a long way to making a vehicle look high quality, rich and appealing.  The touches of orange paint on the front and rear bumpers are no substitute for tasteful brightwork.


NAIAS 2014 | Range Rover & Jaguar

Speaking of $200,000 vehicles, Range Rover displayed its latest long wheelbase version – the Autobiography model (‘write your own story’, I guess) that is priced from $185,000 to $199,500.  The “off roader” looks imposing, has 510 hp on tap and features a spacious, very nicely crafted interior, but $200,000 is a great deal of money, even by today’s crazy standards.
Jaguar showed quite a few different versions of the F-Type, a car that is always good to look at, plus the C-X17 SUV concept that originally debuted at Frankfurt last year.  We can all revisit the angst that we felt when Porsche introduced the Cayenne, but the fact is every manufacturer has to have at least one SUV in its line up to stay in the game.  Jaguar is already quite late on the scene and aficionados will have to wait until 2016 for this rather nicely executed model to hit the showrooms.  By that time Maserati and Bentley probably will have theirs on the road already.



Porsche 918
The guys from Zuffenhausen had plenty to show and a big display that included a private room just for the hyper-hybrid 918 Spyder. The 918 is certainly stunning, especially from the rear with its exposed engine complete with radical exhausts that exit from the top of the engine just behind the occupant roll cage. We cannot wait to hear those exhausts from the driver’s seat. The front end is a bit bland unfortunately and the 4 square LED headlights under aero covers may be high tech, but they just don’t look right.
big introductions for Porsche were the 911 Targa and the Macan SUV.   The Targa is great looking with its large wrap around rear window and black fabric covered roof panel.  The mechanism required to stow the rather small roof panel behind the roll hoop and on top of the engine with just the push of a button, however, is quite elaborate and makes one wonder whether it is worth all the effort!  Why is the roof panel covered in black fabric you may ask?  Well, it ends up exposed under the rear window, so a shiny, body-color panel would create too much reflection.
The Macan compact SUV looks like another winner. The proportions work very well and the vehicle looks much more attractive than the highly successful, but somehow clumsy styling of the Cayenne – especially the first version.   One interesting facet of the Macan is that the clamshell hood completely surrounds the large front lamp units, so when the hood is opened there are two rather large holes in the panel.  The large, flat, grey plastic mouldings on the lower part of the front and rear doors seem to be a jarring element for a Porsche.  Presumably they are intended to reduce the apparent size of the doors or the height of the belt line.  The interior is instantly recognizable as all Porsche.  The array of switches is rather bewildering at first, but we would love to have the chance to get used to using them.
The selection of vehicles from Porsche is now quite significant, covering a wide range of tastes and a wide range of prices.  The Panamera, for instance, ranges from about $76,000 all the way to almost $200,000!