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 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 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.

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 5 : Audi

There were big announcements from the German manufacturers, both concepts and production vehicles.
Audi presented the Q8 concept, a late entry into the SUV/Coupe segment dominated by Mercedes and BMW. It is expected to be launched in 2018. Built on a shortened Q7 platform, the Q8 features a number of design cues from the famed 1980’s Quattro rally cars, including flared fenders and large front intakes below the sinister headlights. The 8-pointed grill is massive, with a strong vertical and horizontal texture that looks almost woven from a distance. The C-pillar is wide and strongly raked, reaching down to the full-width LED taillamp(s). The interior features bold shapes and multiple touch screens – a precursor for the upcoming new A8? The Bombay Blue exterior was a little jarring.

As I overheard one top industry executive sarcastically opine “Nothing says rugged, off road and sporty like baby blue”. Nevertheless the concept was enthusiastically received. It is much more graceful than the rather clumsy BMW and Mercedes SUV/Coupes and we look forward to seeing this Audi on the road..

NAIAS 2017 | Episode 4 : Fiat Chrysler FCA

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) chose to reveal their Portal concept, a minivan for the future, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas prior to the NAIAS. FCA is lagging the industry in the hybrid and electric vehicle area, although it now has the Pacifica hybrid minivan as well as the Fiat 500 all-electric available for sale. The hi-tech Portal is intended to burnish FCA’s image in the advanced propulsion and future-tech areas of the business.

The Portal is a semi-autonomous, battery electric vehicle with a 250-mile range. It features twin sliding doors on each side providing a 5-foot opening for easy entry and egress to the three-row reconfigurable seating. It was shown with two-handle yoke style steering and a glass roof with an interesting inner cruciform structure. The styling broke plenty of new ground and was full of interesting features and elements including the ball shaped rear view cameras. FCA hasn’t shown a concept at an auto show since 2009, but the Portal is clearly a success and worth the wait.

FCA introduced the new Jeep Compass at the show. It replaces both the old generation Compass and the Patriot. Neither will be missed, but they both sold well until the end in this SUV dominant market. FCA recently discontinued the Dodge Dart and the Chrysler 200. Both cars were decent, modern vehicles, but they have been swept away to make room for more profitable SUV’s and trucks. The new Compass follows the very successful Jeep formula — well packaged, very capable off-road, nicely equipped and with the look of a small Grand Cherokee.

On the separate Alfa Romeo stand, there were 6 Guilia’s and one of the new Stelvio SUV’s. Let’s hope that these long awaited cars make it to the dealer showrooms very soon. The question remains, however, can these good-looking cars make a lasting impact in the tough premium sedan market against the well-established brands like BMW, Mercedes and Audi.