2011 NAIAS Recap and Summary

The North American International Auto Show is now in the history books and from a consumer point of view it was a qualified success.  I say qualified because although The Detroit News reported an improvement to more than 735,000 visitors, what they didn’t say was that it was only a 3% increase.  But this blog is not about show attendance, its about the vehicles, and from that point of view I feel it is still a far cry from its heyday.  Oh, for the days of old, when just about every manufacturer showed a new concept AND a new model.  <Sigh>  Even though the pickings were a bit slim, I reported on some trends I noticed, mainly from the wheel point of view.  But there are some other component design and finish trends I’d like to report on before my memory fades, and we head off to the Chicago show in less than 2 weeks.

2011 Mercedes CLS

So, just a quick review of last weeks’ posts:  First, there was gloss black everywhere, on wheels, grilles, interiors and ever some exterior trim where you would not expect to find it.  Second there were both bright and subtle combination of finishes on wheels.  And finally, there were a few new wheels that appeared to be aerodynamically designed. You may have also noticed I only briefly covered grilles, mainly because that information is usually available elsewhere and I do not want to waste time duplicating efforts.  If you want to see some design trends on grilles, take at look at Automotive News January 17th issue, page 18.  According to them “Big, in your face radiator grilles were a fashion statement at the Detroit auto show.” Although in my opinion it is nothing new that size has been big for a while.

2011 Lexus GS Hybrid

What is new in grilles is all in the details.  In general grilles have 3 major components, the surround, the bars and the texture (the part that is typically behind the grille so you cannot see all the way through to the radiator).  The textures used to be nothing more than inexpensive molded black plastic egg-crate but now have all manner of sexy shapes and expanded-metal appearances.  In addition, grilles used to be just a combination of bright chrome and body-color paint.  Now they include satin chrome finishes and other matte paints.  The Lexus GS example pictured above, combines a bright chrome surround with satin chrome bars, a much more expensive looking assembly than if the entire grille were finished in bright chrome.

2012 Buick Regal GS

Bright chrome as an accent is also noticeable on exterior door handles.  In years past a less expensive car had black plastic door handles, mid levels had body color painted and higher end cars had bright chrome ones.  But now many cars including the new 2011 Kia Optima have a door handle that is body color painted but also includes a bright chrome accent strip in the middle.  Audi, on the other hand, has some models where the center accent strip is in body color while the rest of the door handle is chrome.

2011 Bentley Mulsanne

The detail in headlamps has also been increasing over the past few years.  From the first clear lens headlamps which allowed the inner workers to be on display for all to see to the latest creations with LED’s, there seems to be a race to see who can include the most interesting shapes.  Because LED’s are so small, they have brought all manner of new possibilities, especially in their use for daytime running lights.  While the Audi A1 was not displayed in Detroit, this video from André Georgi, Audi’s lighting designer, explains how headlights are the automotive equivalent to eyes.

2012 Hyundai Veloster

The use of interesting shapes is not limited to the functional parts, the exterior shapes and surfaces are also getting more interesting.  The lower part of the new Hyundai Veloster headlamp illustrates this perfectly, it is not anywhere close to being conventional.  And the Nissan Leaf (will they ever return to Detroit?) even has a headlamp surface that was designed to move the airflow away from the side view mirrors in order to reduce interior noise.

Chrome Lugs on a VW?

So that closes things out for Detroit.  I really didn’t have enough time to cover interiors but thankfully we’ll be at Chicago in 2 weeks.  Until then, we will return next week with some fun stuff, from my latest cool Matchbox find, to my nomination for the coolest chairs at the show.  And in a few weeks we will have our first report from Autorama – stay tuned for a bevy of surprises.

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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