NAIAS 2015 : AMERICA IS BACK ! – Part V [end]

Acura made the biggest splash among the Japanese brands with the long awaited production version of the Acura NSX.  The car is stunning, as well as being a technological tour de force.  Interestingly, the production design was completed in the US by a team led by Michelle Christensen, the engineering/development was done in the US and the manufacturing will be conducted in a new ‘craft centre’ at the Honda plant in Ohio.  Full marks to Honda for allowing the vehicle to be developed outside Japan and in its major market.  The final version is faithful to the concept model, even though the packaging went through several iterations to accommodate various different powertrain permutations and the dimensions grew in both length and width.  The end result is suitably dramatic from all angles — if only we could drive one.
During the press days Honda displayed their fuel cell concept, presumably to match the one also found on the Toyota stand.  Neither car is particularly attractive, but they are distinctive and standing out is certainly an appropriate goal for a vehicle powered by this future technology.  Now all we need is a hydrogen infrastructure……..
Honda also demonstrated their racing prowess with a display featuring the Honda powered 2014 Indy 500 winner and the 1965 Mexican GP winning F1 car.  We look forward to the return of Honda to F1 this season.
Toyota displayed the FT-1 concept car again — this time with gunmetal grey metallic paint.  Frankly it looked a lot better than with last year’s red paint job.  The big introduction for Toyota in Detroit was the new mid-sized Tacoma truck.  No big design breakthroughs here so let’s move on to Lexus.  The signature “bobbin” grilles are getting bigger and bigger, but they are still hard to love.  If you can get past the grilles, there are some decent looking products available from this brand — the GSF 4-door and the RCF coupe being two great examples.  The ground hugging GT3 racing version of the RCF coupe painted in bright white made a dramatic statement and a strong declaration of intent.
Nissan’s big news was also on the truck side of the business with the introduction of an all-new Titan full-sized pick-up.  Neither Nissan nor Toyota have been as successful in the large truck market as they expected, but this is probably another step in the right direction for Nissan, especially with a brand new V8 Cummins diesel available under the hood.
The Infiniti Q60 concept was one of the most interesting designs at the show.  The Q60 is 2-door coupe (yes, really!) with strong and interesting design cues from front to rear.  The front end is dramatic, with sinister ‘hooded’ headlamps, a bold grille with a large illuminated emblem and two large lower air intakes with integrated fog lamps terminating in bold character lines sweeping up towards the headlamps.  The side view is equally strong with big wheels, deep sculptured panels and an interesting quarter window termination.  The theme continues in the rear with bold shapes around the exhausts an integrated decklid spoiler and taillamps that echo the “hooded eyes” of the front.  Let’s hope they build this one!
It is good to see the success of Jaguar/Land Rover under Tata management.  Jaguar introduced the XE sedan (a BMW 3-Series fighter) at the show to complete their range of handsome sedans.  The XE has the appearance of being a little bigger than the BMW, but in our opinion it is the best looking of the three cars.  Land Rover came to the show with the latest version of the Discovery and some new diesel powered models.


All in all the Detroit show was good this year.  The atmosphere was upbeat and confident with some stunning designs to grab our attention.  The 4 cars that stood out for us were the Ford GT, the Acura NSX, the Buick Avenir and the Infiniti Q60.
Now it is on to Geneva.


In this Episode 4, let’s talk about the German manufacturers and ask this question :
Why is it that the Germans (Audi excepted) seem to have forgotten that the definition of coupe or coupé is:
    “A closed two-door car body style with a permanently attached fixed roof”
Mercedes call their new 4-door GLE ‘thing’ a coupe; BMW have 4 and 6 Series Gran Coupe 4-Door Sedans, as well as the X4 and X6 Sports Activity Coupe 4 doors; while VW has a new SUV called the Cross Coupé GTE!  What is this all about?  Mercedes just went through an elaborate retake on their nomenclature, but cannot tell the difference between a 2-door and a 4-door.  BMW’s Gran Coupe 4-doors are at least sleek looking, but what happened to the letter “d” on Grand – or is it Granny?  Well, I know…It certainly follow the Pininfarina concept Car called Gran Lusso…The Mercedes GLE and BMW X4/X6 are about as far removed from a coupe as one can get,  — except perhaps for the VW GTE!  To say that I am disappointed in these manufacturers would be a gross understatement.
Mercedes Benz had quite a few new products to show off.  The previously revealed AMG GT provided the main “eye-candy” in a bright pearl white paint job.  The car is striking from every angle and should become a force to be reckoned with the market.  Not nearly as attractive is the MB copycat version of the BMW X4/X6, the GLE.  There is no accounting for (bad) taste I suppose, but few market watchers would have predicted that the ugly duckling “Sports Activity Coupes” from BMW would achieve sufficient traction in their customer base to force MB to follow with a similar – also ugly — product.  I just can’t talk about these vehicles any more…….  Also on display was the Maybach version of the S-Class.  The interior is a bit overdone, with every conceivable feature and luxury detail, but it would be nice to stretch out in the back with a glass of wine while someone else drives you to the yacht.
The F015 autonomous vehicle concept attracted quite a bit of attention.  This beast is huge, with 26 inch wheels, four doors each of which has its own large screen TV, the rear doors are rear hinged and there is no B-Pillar, the front seats swivel 180 degrees, so you can have a meeting while being autonomously conveyed to your next destination.  What a total waste of time — and it is ugly too.  I typically like MB styling, but they seem to have lost their way with the F015 and the GLE.  I do still love the S-Class Coupe, however, and yes, it really is a coupe!
There was not much new on the BMW stand.  The i8 is still gorgeous, apart from the bright blue seat belts that is.  The interior of the i3 on display left me cold, however, Supposedly it is responsible, eco-friendly and in tune with the younger crowd, but the exposed, reconstituted trim boards on the IP and the doors left me crying for leather or vinyl.  The seats just left me crying.  But all is not lost, the 650i Gran Coupe is beautiful, even if they did get the name wrong.
Audi introduced the new Q7 to mixed reviews.  Somehow it is not as elegant as the previous model with sharper feature lines and a more station-wagon look.  The body is now graced with a “side spear” towards the bottom of the doors, presumably to disguise the element of slab-sidedness.  The grille on the Q7 (along with other models) is larger and more intimidating – good for autobahn driving.  Audi still maintains an envied position in the industry with respect to interiors and the Q7 is no exception.  To be the benchmark for as long as Audi has in this critical area is an astonishing achievement.
The VW display was brightly lit, as ever and prominently displayed were its Motor Trend Car of the Year and North American Car of the Year awards for the Golf range.  VW has struggled for share in the US market this year and continues to underperform. Missing from the VW product line up are the small and mid-sized SUV’s and CUV’s that are presently selling so well in the US.  As in previous years, VW again showed a concept for a potential competitor in this segment.  This year it was the Cross Coupé GTE.  You and I would probably call it an SUV.  Shown in a delicate shade of metallic blue, the GTE is a sharp and clean design with a solid “machined” look.  It features a low bodyside ‘A’ line that also embraces the unusually low door handles.  This low feature line, together with a broad spear on the lower edge of the doors, combine to improve the appearance of another slab-sided body.  All in all this is a competent design, they just can’t get it to the dealers soon enough.


Next is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles or FCA – not exactly a ‘domestic’ anymore, but becoming more of a force in the market every month.  Under the Fiat banner and Marchionne’s expert guidance, the Chrysler Group has recovered dramatically from the dark days of 2007/2008 — are you watching Daimler? – are you watching Cerberus?
Introductions at the show for FCA included the Fiat 500X, the Alfa Romeo 4C cabrio, the Jeep Renegade, the Ram 1500 Rebel and the facelifted Chrysler 300.  The 500X should be a big plus for the Fiat distribution network in North America.  Having struggled for a long time with just the 500 that was only recently supplemented by the homely looking 500L, US dealers must be breathing a sigh of relief that they have a car in the 500X that they can actually sell in decent quantities.  The styling is more ‘good’ than ‘fantastic’, but the car is “cute” enough to perhaps create the cult following among younger people that the brand desperately needs.  Thumbs up for Fiat on this one.
The Jeep Renegade, built on the same platform as the 500X and in the same plant in Italy (a first outside the US for Jeep), looks a little bit awkward at first due to its compact dimensions.  On closer examination, however, the interior is certain to win over a lot of buyers.  The package is excellent and the interior styling, materials and features are extremely well executed.  Two hits on the same Platform.
FCA cleverly has the displays for Alfa Romeo and Maserati on the outside of the big central FCA stand – separate, but together.  Alfa displayed some historic racecars to reinforce the brand image, while Maserati featured the previously introduced Alfieri concept – a beautiful design that we all hope they build.  The wheels are especially interesting with unusual rod spokes finished in a blue accent colour that was also used to highlight other areas of the car.


As usual the General Motors display covered a vast area, plus there were two separate stands for Cadillac and Buick.  Trucks and SUV’s abounded in every shape and size, including the new mid-size Chevy Colorado pick up and its twin the GMC Canyon.  Unremarkable from a design standpoint, these trucks, along with the new Toyota Tacoma, mark a resurgence in this smaller (but still quite large) pick up truck category.
Chevy featured a facelifted version of the Volt which, although smoother and cleaner than the original, remains somewhat unremarkable.  It is, however, probably distinctive enough to continue giving Volt owners the “green image” they desire.  Also revealed at the show was the Chevy Bolt concept, a 5-door hatchback battery electric car that most likely will be in production in a couple of years – oil prices permitting!
The Buick display proved to be much more interesting, featuring the Avenir concept – a large 4-door sedan that might be a good fit for China, but surely encroaches on Cadillac territory in the US.  This relatively large RWD car made a powerful statement with a long front end, sweeping feature lines on its flanks and a unique boat-tail rear.  With the present emphasis on aerodynamics, there has been a tendency for the rear quarters/decklids/rear ends of many sedans to follow an increasingly similar look – with the Avenir, Buick has struck out on its own and we like it!  Also on display was the Cascada mid-sized 4-seat convertible – a Buick version of the Opel Cabrio.  The North American market for this kind of convertible has been steadily declining over the last few years, so it will be interesting to see if this pleasing design can drive some incremental sales for Buick.  Personally I like the proportions much better with the top up!
Cadillac introduced a new V-series version of the CTS, joining the recently announced ATS-V.  Although their horsepower figures have been pre-empted and overwhelmed by the Dodge Charger/Challenger Hellcat models, these Cadillacs are all business, so we should give GM full credit for going “head-on” with the Germans.


The weather is cold and snowing.  Temperatures are well below freezing and the steam is billowing from the manhole covers in the streets.  Ahhh, Detroit in January!  But, never mind the conditions outside, the atmosphere inside Cobo Hall is hot and vibrant.  The European industry might still be sluggish, but North America is back and roaring on all 8 cylinders.  Fuel prices are low, but Corporate Average Fuel Economy targets remain high and are looming on the horizon.  Trucks are selling fast – the bigger the better; SUV’s and CUV’s are selling in every possible size and permutation.  There are 700+ horsepower, 200 mph supercharged cars at affordable prices; there are electric cars; hybrids and even ‘almost ready for prime time’ fuel cell concept cars.  It is chaos out there.  Just the way we like it.

Hang on for a quick ride (in 6 parts…) through the good, the bad and the ugly as we cruise the first big auto show of 2015.

Starting with the North American domestic manufacturers, Ford made a good deal of noise (literally and metaphorically) with the stunning new GT, plus a Shelby GT350  version of the Mustang and a Raptor version of the new aluminum-bodied F Series pick up – all displayed in an interesting shade of dark blue.

The GT is clearly designed with racing in mind and the plan is to be at Le Mans in 2016 to take on Ferrari again in celebration of the first Ford GT40 victory 50 years before.  The car looks a bit too long in the wheelbase (a function of engine placement for the twin-turbo V6 no doubt), but overall the result is dramatic and even at an expected price in the $150 to $200,000 range, Ford should have no trouble selling the 300 cars required for homologation and could easily reach the probable maximum of 1,000 cars destined for retail customers.  Among the many interesting features, there are several standouts.  Key is the “flying buttress” roll bar that spans the wide rear quarters of the car and bridges the dramatic aero tunnels on either side of the vehicle that extend from the doors to the rear wing.  The doors themselves hinge forward and upward adding to the drama.  The tail lamps also are intriguing – a large ring of red at the end of a turbine-like housing that has a mysterious vent down the center.  Add big black wheels and what’s not to like about this monster.

The GT 350 Mustang echoes some of the GT’s front-end thematics and with 500 horsepower it should be more than enough to satisfy those of us who cannot quite stretch all the way to the real GT.

On the Lincoln stand we saw the introduction of the new MKX SUV based on the Explorer.  Lincoln has come a long way towards re-establishing itself as a bona fide luxury brand with some genuinely nice products, tastefully styled and carefully executed.  The MKC, mid-sized SUV, introduced at the last Detroit show has made a good impression in the market and the expectation is that the MKX will consolidate this position.  The Lincoln Motor Company – as they like to call it – has a long way to go, but they are certainly on the right track.

——– to be continued….