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!