NAIAS 2017 | Episode 15 : GAC, VLF

The GAC Group became the first Chinese auto company to exhibit on the floor of the NAIAS.
The full name of the company is the Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Company Limited, which is headquartered in the city of Guangzhou, the origin of the ancient Silk Road. The corporate philosophy apparently is “Green-tech, Pleasant Life” and the company is presently studying participation in both the North American and European markets. In the “You cannot make this up” category. GAC is talking about selling cars in these markets under the ‘Trumpchi’ brand!

The exhibit displayed four cars. The GS7 SUV and the GS8 mid-size 4-door sedan, both are somewhat generic designs, although the lights of the GS7 were quite bold and modern. The GE3 is a small SUV around the size of a Chevy Trax. It is a pure electric vehicle that goes on sale in China this June. The EnSpirit concept is a small four-door sedan with a coupe bodystyle and a soft fabric roof. To emphasize the open feeling in the car there was a Bonsai tree growing in the center console!

During the show, Fiat-Chrysler and GAC signed a framework agreement to expand their cooperation in China and who knows, perhaps in the US too.

In addition to the Destino and Force 1 V10 shown last year, VLF Automotive displayed a large, very orange SUV based on the Chevy Colorado mid-size truck frame and mechanicals. The front end is reminiscent of the now defunct Hummer H2, complete with a “knock-off” Jeep-like grille.
The overall design of the vehicle was very disappointing and not worthy of Henrik Fisker, who’s work I usually admire. Apparently, the vehicle could find a decent market in China.

All in all, the NAIAS was a pretty good show with plenty to see and talk about. There a lot of uncertainty hanging over the US industry following the presidential elections last year, notably the potential renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement, possible changes to the fuel economy standards and perhaps even new border taxes. Any one of these factors could have a dramatic effect on the industry as a whole. 2017 will be an interesting year.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 14 : Subaru

The fact that Subaru outsells VW in the US market continues to amaze us. The brand has an avid and very loyal customer base, especially in certain regions, but the question is, “Where do those customers go as they mature in the marketplace?”
To help answer this question, Subaru presented the Viziv-7 concept, a three-row seat, 7-passenger midsize SUV. The Viziv – a contraction of “Vision for Innovation”, was previously shown in LA and is scheduled for production in early 2018 probably in a slightly tamer version. It is longer and wider than the Durango, Traverse, Enclave and Flex, giving Subaru a market replacement for the unloved Tribeca, which was discontinued in 2014.

Subaru uses the phrase “Dynamic x Solid” to describe the design philosophy – and solid it is. The first impression is one of a big and boxy vehicle with a bold grille and oversize frog lights. The fog lights are matched in the rear by similar looking low-mounted rear lights. The main taillamps are mirror image, C-shaped units that are connected across the car, but progressively fade from red to black as they approach the centerline. The bodyside is heavily sculptured with prominent feature lines accentuating the wheel arches and concealed pillars emphasizing the length of the greenhouse.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 13 : KIA

Introduction of the Kia Stinger at the show was an interesting surprise. Having spun the Genesis brand away from Hyundai to go after the premium makes, now the manufacturer pushes Kia in the BMW direction. Kia hired an ex-Audi designer and an ex-BMW dynamics expert to work on the team, so it is clear that they meant business – including testing at the Nurburgring.

As Laurent Boulay told us,” the car is designed by Andreas Sittel and Miklos Kowacks, colour and trim by Barbara Schaeffler, supported by our colleagues in the Namyang Design center. As a small team we are all very proud to write the next steps with this car.” And we can agree on that…Note that the Stinger received the Eye On Design Award for production car design Excellence…

The Stinger is a long low 4-door with aggressive, sporty styling. It is essentially a fastback/ hatchback and the long roof is accentuated by the signature Kia bright trim flowing up the A-Pillar along the roof and all the way down the C-Pillar to the base of the back lite. The ‘dog bone’ grille gives the impression of a snarling animal and the numerous black intakes and vents add to the sporty impression. If it were ours, we would prefer the car in a darker colour to minimize the intrusiveness of all the vents. The rather simplistic extension of the tail lamp into the quarter panel is one jarring element in an otherwise attractive design. The rear headroom is good, in spite of the low roof, but the entry/egress is somewhat difficult. The interior is well executed and suitably Germanic. With 365 hp, the twin turbo 3.3 L V6 should provide more than adequate performance.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 12 : Honda – Acura

Honda introduced the all-new Odyssey minivan at the NAIAS. It is fresh, but with evolutionary styling, a stronger, but lighter body and a formidable array of new features and options. The minivan market maybe smaller and with fewer players than it once had, but it is still fought over with unrelenting ferocity.
Honda uses lots of descriptors for design elements and features, so forgive us if we use a few in this article. The signature “Solid Wing” grille or face is familiar, but freshened, lower and wider for improved aero. The belt-line “Lightning Bolt” is a bit more elegant and now incorporates hidden sliding door tracks at long last. The body side is more sculptured, but with too many lines and angles for our taste. The lights are LED’s all round.

The interior is a key area of focus, it is after all a people hauler. The instrument panel is dominated by a central, high-mounted infotainment screen. The “Magic Slide” second row seats move front-to-back and side-to-side for easy access. The “Cabin Watch” camera feature allows parents to keep a close eye on what is happening in the second and third rows. The “Cabin Talk” feature is like an in-car public address system that allows easier communication throughout the vehicle. All good stuff!

Not much new from Acura this year, but we can at least lust after the now ‘fully in production’, drop dead gorgeous NSX. There was also an example of a racing version on display for good measure.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 11 : Nissan – Infinity

Nissan revealed the stunning Vmotion 2.0 large sports sedan concept. It is another one of our favourites from this show. The concept features what Nissan calls “Emotional Geometry” design language and defines the future styling direction for the brand. It is an evolution from the V-motion front-end design that we see on today’s cars. Predictably Nissan says that the concept incorporates “Intelligent Mobility Technology” – a must for every concept these days……

The sharp and aggressive surface language has crisp character lines throughout and the 3D shapes create a striking volume and architecture. The black roof that extends in a bold sweep from the middle of the hood (using black paint) to the deck lid is framed on either side by carbon ’pillars’ that incorporate silver threads adding a distinctive sparkle. This sparkle is repeated in carbon inserts on the wheels. The generous cabin with acres of wood is fully revealed by the ubiquitous show car trick of using ‘suicide’ rear doors and no B-Pillar. We like the bold shapes and design details, especially in the C-Pillar and tail lamp areas. Very nice.

Over on the Infinity display we saw the QX50 concept that is the product of ongoing collaboration with Daimler and shares underpinnings with the GLA and upcoming GLB. The concept reflects about 90% of the late 2017 production version that will be built in Mexico alongside its Mercedes stable mates.

The Infinity brand is all about driving and technology — or so we are told. The design language is “Powerful Elegance”. The proportions of the QX50 are driven by the front drive, transverse engine layout resulting in a short front overhang. To offset this factor the bold grille flows into prominent hood creases that sweep up and around the A-Pillar and into the belt line and all the way to the rear lamps. A lower A-Line crease flows from the headlamps and fades towards the edge of the rear door where it is ‘replaced’ by a pronounced feature line that rises up and over the rear wheel. The lights are distinctive front and rear.

The interior breaks new ground for Infinity. Gone is the so-called “dual cocoon”, which has been replaced by more driver orientation and a roomier feeling passenger side. “Dot” quilting was new and interesting on the seats and doors, with sweeping accent trim and multiple colour materials and leathers adding to the ambiance.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 10 : Lexus

Lexus has a considerable array of products these days, most of which are quite interestingly and attractively styled. The brand continues to move out from under the Mercedes shadow that characterized the early years. The brand spindle grille is still controversial, but in spite of steady growth in size, evolution of the texture seems to make it more acceptable – or maybe we are just getting used to it. The only version that we still do not like is the black textured version used on the NX and RX.

New at the show was the dramatic UX SUV concept – a pillarless four-door SUV coupe. The UX is a long way from production ready, but it is certainly better looking than the clumsy Mercedes and BMW equivalents. The front has a sinister look with lots of interesting LED’s. The bodyside is scalloped with dramatic wheelarches. The ‘show car only’ wheel/tyre design was striking and it was hard to see where the tyre stopped and the wheel began. The taillamps are cool with both a full-width element and an element that rose up the C-Pillar. The rear view cameras are sleek and mounted on twin pylons. The A-Pillars are concealed from the outside, but had a curious and impractical translucent interior trim that was hard to photograph. The skeletal seats are wild, adding to the drama. The UX was probably the best concept at the show.

The big Lexus LS 500 four-door has truly come of age. No longer a Mercedes clone, this car clearly has its own character and unique presence. The very strong front end is the key distinguishing point, but the body side has its own character too. The rear reminds us of the older 7 Series BMW’s with the “Bangle bustle”, but all in all a very nice large sedan.

The LC 500 coupe version is also a very nice execution with an interesting C-Pillar treatment, although we are seeing this “green house flow through “on several other cars including the Toyota C-HR and several Nissan products.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 9 : Toyota

What better place to present the replacement for the best-selling car in the US than Detroit. Toyota unveiled the highly significant, all-new Camry on the second press day. Toyota has responded to the long-held view that the Camry is a dull, boring car.

With more powerful engines, a focus on performance and driving dynamics, plus aggressive exterior and interior styling they plan to push the Camry in a new direction.

The bold front end includes a ‘spindle-like’ grille stolen from the up-market Lexus; there are strong feature lines on the hood and body side; and a long roof that creates an almost fastback look. The instrument panel is equally bold with sweeping feature lines from both right and left combining to form a unique look for the panel as a whole – impressive new ground from Toyota. The hybrid model has some unique design features and a more evolutionary front end. Unfortunately, the wide lower grille makes the car look like a giant bottom feeding fish!

After some years of concepts, Toyota finally has a sub-compact SUV. The C-HR is quirky inside and out – thankfully not Nissan Juke quirky, but quirky none-the-less. It is quite faithful to the original 2014 Geneva show concept. The exterior has bold features and shapes, dramatic taillamps and neatly executed concealed rear door handles high on the C-Pillar. The interior is similarly bold with anodized aluminum trim pieces flowing across the instrument panel and into the doors. With plenty of powertrain options including a hybrid version, the C-HR should find plenty of customers.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 8 : Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes Benz certainly has a dizzying array of products, but they still keep adding more and constantly updating the existing models. This year their theme was “dream cars” — and they have plenty that most of us can only dream about.

The big introduction was the all-new E Class sedan – the 10th generation. It is a classic unmistakable Mercedes product boasting a huge array of technology in all areas – plug-in hybrid versions; autonomous driving; autonomous parking via smart phone; car to x (anything) communication; lighter weight. The list is endless. The styling doesn’t break any new ground, but it will certainly satisfy the typical buyer.

The SLC (formerly SLK) is also new for 2017. Again, not a breakout design, but certainly nothing to complain about.

Another world premier was the AMG S65 Cabriolet. Powered by a 630 hp twin turbo V12 with 0 to 100 km in around 4 seconds, four luxurious seats and the top down, this is truly the stuff of dreams.

Also presented was the S630 Cabriolet. Only 130 examples of this car will be sold world wide – one for each year of the company’s existence!

The stand was full of desirable cars in all configurations and with multiple powertrains, including plenty of hybrids, not the least of which was the AMG GT R. The dreams just go on.

Last, but not least, we should mention the EQ electric vehicle concept. Previously unveiled at last year’s Paris show it provides us with a clear picture of how fully electric vehicles from Mercedes Benz might look.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 7 : BMW

BMW announced the new 5 Series in Detroit. Very much an evolutionary design, but longer, wider, taller, and yet lighter than the outgoing model.
The 5 Series and the 7 Series are rather close in looks and may be hard for people to distinguish between the two. All engines are teamed with an 8-speed transmission. Notable on the interior is iDrive 6.0, featuring gesture control for some functions.

The larger 7 Series is shown for comparison.

The X2 concept was revealed at the show. It is a sporty looking companion for the X1 launched in 2016. The ‘angry’ looking front end has a large version of the classic grille – which has evolved considerably from the original twin kidney shapes. The ‘eyes’ are menacing and the grille is framed by large side air intakes connected by strong feature lines meeting below the main grille in the form of a splitter.

The hood and roof are long and low, while the greenhouse has narrow windows sitting over the prominent rear wheel flares. The sporty look is complemented by the long tailgate spoiler and the BMW roundel badge prominently placed in the C-Pillar – just like the brand coupes.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 6 : VW

VW is still reeling from the diesel emissions scandal. Amazingly VW sells less cars in the US than Subaru, but there was at last some excitement on the show stand with production versions of the Atlas, 3-row SUV/Crossover and a fun Microbus concept.

At long last VW seems on track to providing a line up of 5 crossover vehicles tailored for the US market. The second generation Tiguan, introduced last year in Franfurt, will be joined in dealer showrooms this Spring by the US built, US centric Atlas. The Touareg carries over for now.

The Atlas was first previewed as the CrossBlue concept way back in January 2013, with several iterations since then. The design is masculine, with a broad front end featuring LED headlamps and running lights , flat top wheelarches and a strong bodyside feature line that rises over both front and rear wheelarches. The interior is classic VW and the third row of seats is accessed by a clever folding mechanism on the second row seats that allows a child seat to remain in place. There is reasonable luggage space when the third row of seats is occupied.

The VW Microbus or Vanagon returns (again). VW revealed a concept evoking the much loved VW Microbus that was closely associated with the 60’s hippie subculture. The ID Buzz concept as it is called for some reason, is a striking, all-electric (600km/360 mile range), autonomous vehicle. The driveless feature would be activated by pushing the rectangular steering wheel into the instrument panel. VW wants to sell over 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2025 and will make this a cornerstone of the brand.