Volvo seems to be regaining its footing under Chinese ownership. The acclaimed XC90 SUV has helped drive US sales from 56,000 in 2014 to 70,000 in 2015, so the addition of the all-new S90 sedan should accelerate that volume growth. The S90 shares a bold front-end theme with its SUV partner, featuring cool headlamps. The car has a bold “substantial” look that reinforces the Volvo trademark emphasis on safety. The interior is pleasing and the whole car seems to be well executed. Whether they can really go it alone in this market and maintain a viable presence remains to be seen.
Kia unveiled the refreshed Forte and Forte5 sedans and hatchbacks. The designs are competent, but not striking.
The big news on the stand was the Telluride concept. It is a rather boxy SUV and yet another example of the pillar-less, suicide door fad. The design was widely acclaimed, but frankly we are not sure why! The front end is blunt and rather dated and the bodyside heavily sculptured. The rear view is perhaps the best, clean and simple with sophisticated vertical taillamps accentuating the width. The Telluride received quite a few votes for best concept at the show – but not from us – especially not in that shade of dark olive green!
Hyundai launched the newest luxury car brand “Genesis” at the show announcing the G90, a Mercedes S-Class sized rear wheel drive sedan, which is be followed by smaller G80 and G70 models and perhaps an SUV. The G90 looks like a serious contender in the class with a full complement of leather and wood on the inside and a dominating exterior. The grille is a bit too much like an Audi in our opinion, but the strong crease lines on the body side and on the hood flowing up the A-Pillar provide some individual character.
To provide some additional excitement at the Genesis launch, the Vision G Concept was unveiled. This is yet another large two-door coupe, but it is certainly a beautiful car. A strong bodyside crease flows all the way from the front grille to the tailamp. A second feature line extends the belt line onto the hood, where it joins two more creases that are continued over the roof. The rear surfaces are quite complex, but skillfully drawn. One oddity is the door release handle that is on the quarter panel rather than the door itself.
The interior was luxurious as you might expect, although the instrument panel is rather simplistic. Overall we liked the car (in spite of the fact that several features seem to be “borrowed” from competitor designs) and it would make a great flagship for this new brand. No doubt that the arrival of Luc Donckerwolke will make Genesis a successful brand.
VL Automotive was founded by Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villareal with a business plan to take incomplete Fisker Karmas (Fisker is now owned by Wanxiang) and replace the hybrid propulsion system with a conventional Corvette powertrain producing the Destino. Of the exterior body panels, only the doors are common with the original Karma. The Destino is clearly better looking than the already striking Karma – both inside and out. Even if VL runs out of Karma gliders, there appears to be a good opportunity in converting customer owned Karmas to Corvette power.
It was announced at the show that Henrik Fisker has now joined VL and the company has been renamed VLF Automotive to incorporate his initial. To signal Henrik’s involvement VLF revealed a stunning new design based on the Viper chassis and powertrain called the Force 1 V10. This car (a prototype) which was built in about 6 weeks, is about 8 inches wider than a Viper. It uses the Viper rear tyres on the front and even bigger rubber at the rear. What’s not to like about this monster? Well not much really, perhaps the funny “wing thing” at the trailing edge of the roof and perhaps the overly small and “squinty” headlamps, but overall we really hope that they are able to produce this baby for some lucky customers.
And so what seemed like a fairly ordinary show in the beginning actually had quite a few gems to keep us excited. The industry remains creative and vibrant, always bringing us back for more. On to Geneva………….
Honda’s big announcement at the Detroit show was the new Ridgeline pick-up truck that continues to feature a monocoque construction rather than the body-on-frame construction of most others. The previous model was ungainly and awkward, but this latest version is a big improvement, although its clean lines and ‘crossover front-end’ are not at all rugged looking. This new model has a number of interesting features like a two-way opening tailgate and hidden storage under the load floor.
Acura revealed the ILX, a stunning concept car in a beautiful shade of red. This quite large, pillar-less four door was as dramatic as it was beautiful. Strong feature lines, bold shapes and many interesting details, make this a strong contender for the best concept at the show. Bright trim pieces sweep up across the A-pillars onto the roof towards the centre of the car, flowing seamlessly into the formed rear window. The high mounted stop lamp is like a spear extending over the backlite – quite unique. The taillamp and exhaust outlet shapes and dramatic and complement each other on the Kamm tail. The interior is equally strong with four bucket seats separated by a prominent center console, a rectangular steering wheel, a surprisingly small instrument cluster and the inevitable large central infotainment screen. There is not much chance that this concept will make it into production, but this could signal a breakout for Acura design going forward – something they badly need!
Frankly, the Toyota display was rather boring and very similar to last year. The only vehicle that was new and interesting was the Kikai, which is a crazy cartoon of a car, but it is fun to see what happens when you let designers run free!
On a more serious note the Mirai (which means Future) is here! Toyota will sell 200 of its fuel cell vehicles in Southern California during 2016 at a price of $57,500. Of course they are all spoken for already. Toyota showed two special versions of the Mirai, one of which had an experimental flat panel roof antenna that will provide much improved communication with satellites. The second was a gull wing two-door concept with cool chrome wheel covers.
The FCV plus (previously shown in Tokyo) is not intended for production, but it is a vision the future of fuel cell cars with electric motors at each wheel and wildly futuristic appearance inside and out.
Toyota’s youth brand, Scion showed a very interesting concept called C-HR. This small coupe actually had four doors, the rears being cunningly disguised to maintain the coupe appearance. The car features big (21 inch) wheels, strongly emphasized wheel arches and very interesting front and rear lights – the rears appearing to float above the quarter panel.
Stop the presses! Toyota just announced that the Scion brand will be dropped in August of this year. Apparently the slow sales of the brand can no longer be tolerated and the Scion products will be folded into the Toyota line-up where appropriate.
Lexus debuted two interesting cars at the show. First was the LF-FC, which is a large four-door concept with fuel cell power. The proportions of the vehicle are excellent, with elegant lines, a strongly sculptured bodyside and dramatic lights front and rear. Like the Acura ILX there are no door handles – great for the design, but perhaps not so practical…. The large air intakes, plus the sharply angled headlights and running lights further dramatize the now familiar and very prominent “spindle” grill.
The LC 500 could be seen as a more realistic and practical version on the exciting LFA coupe, but it is actually the realization of the LF-LC concept shown here in Detroit 4 years ago. It will be the flagship of the Lexus brand when introduced in 2017 with lots of power and a beautiful design. Even the obnoxious spindle grille looks somehow better on this svelte design, framed as it is by the intricate front lights and air intakes. The rear lights are not so pleasing, with blank white lenses when unlit and elongated spears going in two random directions. We love the exhausts, however, and the unusually strong feature lines embracing the exhaust outlets and the license plate that sweep towards the center of the vehicle.
The Nissan display was an exercise in contrast. On one side was the IDS concept, which is an autonomous, ‘zero emissions’ EV four door sedan; while on the other was the Titan Warrior pick up concept, the rock crushing opposite to the “tree-hugging” IDS. Like many concepts these days, the IDS features a pillar-less suicide door set up. The design is much more pleasing than the homely Leaf, but it may be a little too extreme for production. The “buck-tooth” grille, as well as the front and rear lights, are evolved from the current Nissan look. There are some new features, like an illuminated Nissan badge at the rear and a messaging system across the base of the windshield! This would allow the driver to say things like “After you” to pedestrians or other drivers. The potential messages have the imagination running wild!
The Warrior truck concept is well executed, with all the right macho elements. It further reinforces Nissan’s determination to gain more market share in this important US segment. With its recently introduced new version of the Titan pick-up – which now comes with a V8 Cummins diesel engine – they could do just that.
The Infinity QX30 crossover had been shown as a concept a year or so ago and more recently announced for the US at the Los Angeles show. It is faithful to the original concept and should be nice addition to the Infinity Range.
Also revealed at the show, was the Q60, a two-door coupe version of the Q50 sedan. Again, it is very close to the concept unveiled at last year’s show and succeeded in being both elegant and sporty.
Rounding out the Japanese exhibitors, Subaru presented the Impreza Sedan Concept. In common with most of the Subaru line, the concept didn’t try to be outrageous or futuristic, but it was a clean well executed design, with some nice fresh touches that should work well for Subaru, assuming that something like this reaches production.
The big introduction from Mercedes was the new E-Class. While the design was classic for the brand and instantly recognizable, it was somewhat disappointing and broke no new ground, although we did like the strong front end featuring large air intakes. The interior is also classic Mercedes – but in a good way. We were happy to see that they have gone away from the “iPad stuck on the instrument panel” look, moving to an integrated rectangular screen that spans from in front of the driver all the way to the central infotainment display. This display is either two 12.3-inch screens made to look like one, or, on lower line models, a more conventional instrument cluster and a central 12.3-inch screen also integrated to look like one large display. There are some well-executed wood inserts and LED accent lighting customizable in 64 different colours!
The S-Class Cabrio is a really beautiful car with a great interior….. and now we get the twin turbo V12 S65 AMG version. Lust at first sight!
The facelifted SLK, now called the SLC was also on display.
The Audi stand next door featured the Q8 h-Tron Quattro concept. This sharp looking crossover was first shown last fall in its battery powered e-Tron guise. The h-Tron is powered by a fuel cell and uses a combination of three hydrogen tanks plus a 1.8 kW hour battery pack to store energy. We do like the front-end look of this concept, as well as the “pop-out” rear view cameras on the front fenders. We can’t wait for these cameras to become viable for production so that we can get rid of the huge door mirrors we are obliged to use today.
The new A4 sedan and Allroad wagon also were on display. This model is typical Audi, with a nicely executed exterior and a finely detailed interior that remains the standard of the industry. We just wish that the exterior had a little more “reach” and we are disappointed that the interior has the “iPad” look for the infotainment – especially considering the hi-tech cluster Audi introduced on the TT.
We do like the facelifted R8 without the big “spear” behind the doors, but the front grill texture is rather Japanese looking. We also love the belt driven Ducati that was on the stand!
BMW chose Detroit to introduce the M2 Coupe, harking back to the 1970’s when we first came to love BMWs. A 2002 turbo model was on the stand for comparison. We are sure that the car will be a blast to drive and the front end is certainly a very dramatic combination of air intakes and aerodynamics, but the rear half of the car just doesn’t work. The roofline/C-pillar is weak and the car is just too short to provide an aggressive stance.
A 650i Cabrio on the stand painted in an attractive matt bronze colour caught our eye and the i8 still generates awe in all of us – although the black and white colour scheme is not our favourite……..
The VW stand was a rather sad place to be during press days. The pall resulting from the emissions debacle hangs heavy in the air and the VW executives failed once again to move us, the dealers or the customers beyond this fiasco. The VW goal of increasing US volumes to 1 million units is now just a dream. Amazingly, Subaru’s volume in the US exceeds that of VW, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini combined.
I am sure that the 2016 Passat is a decent cart , but it is rather dull and the only thing worthy of comment is the frameless interior rear view mirror. No big volume opportunity here.
The Tiguan GTE Active Concept was yet another attempt by VW to convince us that they actually have some SUV/Crossover products in the pipeline. They certainly cannot come soon enough for the struggling dealer body. Although execution of the vehicle is quite good, the choice of wheels and tyres seemed dated. In a move to convey ruggedness they put big truck tyres on the concept. We would have preferred a bigger wheel and a lower profile tyre.
As usual, the snow and the cold weather arrived just in time. After a very mild December, Mother Nature remembered that all the international journalists were due in Detroit for the auto show, so she turned on an icy blast and just enough snow to be a nuisance. The show itself was one of contrasts. After very strong sales in 2015 where an all-time US sales record of almost 17.5 million units was set, you would expect an almost euphoric atmosphere. Instead there were some notable companies missing from the floor, a good deal of space was dedicated to suppliers and for some reason there was a very large Rob Report stand. Another contrast was the record low fuel price at local filling stations, juxtaposed with the tremendous effort that almost every manufacturer has devoted to electric, hybrid and fuel cell propulsion. But… enough of this introspection. Let’s look at the cars.
Starting with the domestics, Ford had its usual large stand — lots of cars and trucks, but not much new or exciting. The Fusion facelift should help maintain the great momentum that this well designed mid-sized car has earned, but frankly it was hard to spot the differences without one of the old models alongside.
Two of the more interesting vehicles were hidden away on a mezzanine floor. The new, even bolder version of the Raptor Off-Road pick-up truck and alongside, the Focus RS, which is new in the US market in 2016.
The Lincoln stand was remote from the parent company this year and featured the return of the Continental as a full size four-door sedan. At least Ford has come to realize the power of the classic model names from the old glory days, so maybe they will get rid of the ‘alphabet soup’ on the other Lincoln models too — MKC, MKX, MKZ etc, etc. Alas, Cadillac is probably too far down that road to go in a similar direction and they are too hell bent on chasing the German manufacturers. The design is not as bold as the original concept, but it is clearly a Lincoln and presents a fresh look. The strong belt moulding incorporates the ‘fixed’ door handles and integrates the door mirrors. The door latches are electronic and just require finger contact to release. Similarly on the inside the doors are opened with just the push of a button. Some points of contention: The grille looks like a cross between a Jaguar and a Kia and the taillights are pure Dodge ‘racetrack’. Why? The 5 small, rectangular headlights on each side are cool, but they look rather like an Acura.
General Motors had little in the way of new mainstream products, but they did show the production version of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Some people said that the styling is similar to the BMW i3, but if so, I would say the Bolt wins hands down.
The Cadillac stand featured the new XT5 SUV. This is an evolutionary replacement for the SRX (more alphabet soup confusion) and clearly follows the Cadillac design theme. Arguably not as attractive is its predecessor, it is further let down by a mediocre interior.
It was left to Buick to provide some flare and excitement for GM. Evolving from last year’s Avenir 4 door concept, Buick displayed the Avista concept. The Avista is a large 2 door, 4-seat coupe that is even more striking than the Avenir. Its dark blue paint job appeared to be inches deep and accentuated the sweeping lines and bold features. The shape of the DLO* was gorgeous and it was highlighted by tasteful bright trim. This is the kind of car we would all like to see built, but how big is the market for large two door cars??? Quel dommage!
*DLO: This is an acronym for ‘Day Light Opening’ and is used to describe the graphic appearance of the vehicle’s side glass. The DLO is the most important graphic element of the vehicle’s design and provides a major contrasting surface to accentuate a form. Further emphasis may be created by outlining the DLO with bright trim. By concealing the A-Pillars and/or rear-most pillars with flush glass or other treatments, the DLO may be extended to include the front and/or rear screens. This design treatment works best with a light coloured car, dark tinted glass and blacked out pillars.
GM is doing some good work in the design studios; the new Buick LaCrosse just a few feet away from the Avista is a very nicely executed full size car. Nothing extreme or extravagant, just a really nice car – perfect for the Buick customers.
For Fiat Chrysler Automobiles the main event was the introduction of the new Pacifica minivan. Chrysler invented the segment back in 1983 and has dominated sales ever since. Ford and GM dropped out of the market, but Toyota and Honda are close on Chrysler’s heals. The all-new people hauler, available with a hybrid powertrain, is planned to replace both Chrysler and Dodge versions of the prior model and consolidate FCA’s position in the segment. In the short term the Dodge Caravan will be continued to fully assess the potential ongoing demand for the old model. The new design is strong with a front face reminiscent of the 200 sedan. It also comes laden with features, including foot-actuated sliding doors, touch screens in the back for kids video games and even a built in vacuum cleaner!
Also new on the FCA stand was the Fiat 124 Spider. From certain angles you can clearly see the shared Mazda MX-5/Miata underpinnings, but overall the design is fresh and should attract some new customers to the Fiat stores. We like it better than the Mazda!
There was a relatively large Alfa Romeo presence on the FCA stand with four Giulia Quadrifoglio models on display. The car certainly looks great (especially this model), but it is going to be quite hard for Alfa to penetrate this highly competitive segment with a brand that is essentially new to the market. It will also be hard for Americans to master pronunciation of the full name!