NAIAS 2018 | Episode 4 : Fiat Chrysler {FCA]

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) followed the trend of the show focusing its announcements on trucks and SUV’s.  A new, tech-heavy Ram pick-up was introduced keeping pressure on Ford and GM for sales in this lucrative segment.  The Ram remains the only player in the segment with a coil spring, multi-link rear suspension.  The exterior has more sharply defined shapes and feature lines, although there are now some similarities with the Chevy Silverado.  Storage bins in the sides of the bed are carried over from the prior model.  The 12-inch touch screen (with split screen capability) in the center of the instrument panel is a unique feature in the segment.  The Ram also has plenty of in-cab storage with a notably large centre console.

The latest edition of the amazingly successful Jeep Wrangler, debuted at the Los Angeles show and was strongly featured on the FCA exhibit in various body styles.  The only missing version was the Scrambler or pick-up version that is expected to join the range later this year.  The carefully evolved design retains the familiar look, but with subtle changes.  This model, the “JL” is more user-friendly than its predecessors, yet somehow even more off-road capable and lighter too.  The 3.6L V6 is standard a 2.0L turbocharger 4 cylinder optional.  Jeep’s Ecodiesel with 442 lb-ft of torque will be available in 2019.

Also introduced at the show was a face-lifted version of the mid-sized Jeep Cherokee.  The controversial front end with its column of three stacked lights has been replaced by a more conventional look and the tail-lamps have been refreshed too.

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.

NAIAS 2016 | Part I : The American brands

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!



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.


The big news at Chrysler, apart from the fact that the company is now fully owned by the Fiat Group, was the introduction of the all-new Chrysler 200.  Built on the CUS-Wide, Alfa Romeo derived platform, this mid size sedan must play in the highly competitive, mid-size segment against cars like the Toyota Camry and the Ford Fusion.  The design is certainly attractive enough, with a fastback greenhouse, clean lines, a sculptured hood and, of course, the LED running lights that are de rigueur these days.  The interior is well executed, with good use of materials and loaded with features.  The bad old days of Cerberus and Daimler cost cutting are a distant memory.  How could they have got it so wrong???