This month’s “On The Road” is really more like “home turf” as we visited The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in downtown Detroit. The event is held at Cobo Hall (now called Cobo Center but more on this in a minute) and is less than an hour down the road from our offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In reality the NAIAS is not so much a car show as it is a full week of activities related to the industry. For us that meant starting the week at The Main Event where we got a chance to have a few words with Elon Musk as he accepted the award as Executive of the Year. On a side note we got a chance to interview Franz von Holzhausen at the show later in thew week. You car read the entire text at Green Car Design here.
If you were questioning the return of the auto industry you only had to read the local press leading up to the show “More than 50 worldwide and North American unveilings are expected“. And if you were questioning the return of Detroit THAT was put to rest as soon as you entered the newly renovated Cobo Center. The venue always challenged the weather as the worst thing about the show, but this year both were awesome. On a side note, for those who live on the West Coast, anything above 30 degrees in Detroit in January is a heat wave and we almost hit 40. Even though the cars are still on top of each other like sardines and you feel like cattle as you trek from reveal to reveal, it was nice to see some money invested in the infrastructure. The renovations actually started behind the scenes 4 years ago, but this year the improvements were readily visible beginning with the 3-story Atrium that presents a commanding view of the river and the Windsor skyline and ending with the increased space in the Toyota booth. And if you are still question the importance of the show, here are some facts for you from 2012: More than 5,000 journalists from more than 50 countries, public attendance of more than 750,000 people and almost $50 million donated to charities in the past 10 years.
OK, enough about the venue, let’s get on with the unveilings! If you want to read about the green cars at the show, head over to Green Car Design for our report there. For the rest or the herd, read on below.
Mike Accavitti opened the press conference with the same claim found in pretty much every other press conference at the show – record sales, fastest growing etc etc. In a year where we the economy continued to recover, a higher tide floats all boats. At least he brought us an update on the NSX Concept – and this time with an interior. I cannot express enough how may people I talk to love this car, and as it moves towards production it will likely reset the standards just like the original did back in 1991. In fact, this concept compares favorable to the original even though it looks bigger on stage. Aside from the interior, exterior changes are minimal, but have an impact. The grille and fascia details have been tidied up and the rear diffuser is also improved. And of course there are new wheels which kind of remind me of the Grim Reaper’s sythe. But the real story is inside where I love the shapes and surfaces and exquisite details but trying to find them among all the red is a bot difficult.
Acura MDX Prototype
While Acura’s Jon Ikeda assured us this was only a protoype, it is likely the production version to be released later this year. Mechanically the biggest story is that the upcoming MDX will be also be available as a front-wheel-drive, giving those in the sun belt a less expensive alternative. Ikeda talked about the “alluring proportions”, “modern surfacing” and Jewel eye™ headlamps. The jewel-eye headlamps debuted on the RDX last November in Los Angeles and while I have not yet driven with them I can say that they look like nothing else on the road. 10 Light sources per side with 20 beams of light claim to shine further, brighter, whiter and more evenly. Acura, as most companies, seems to be taking a page out of Audi’s playbook by choosing to use this distinctive design as a brand element across their entire product line. This was evidenced by the cover that was used before the unveiling – it had cutouts so the headlamp appearance could be seen. The rest of the vehicle is pretty normal SUV fare, although I really like the DLO and the muscular rear haunches. And it sure seems like Acura wants to fix the beak as they continue to evolve it, but at what point do we say enough is enough? In all a solid effort that will continue to sell well (it is almost one third of all Acura sales) based more on the company’s reputation than the styling.
2014 Audi RS7
The Audi press conference was a study in contrasts as Scott Keough spent almost as much time talking about their record sales and 2 new TDi Clean Diesel models as Wolfgang Dürheimer did about their awesome new RS7. At least it uses cylinder deactivation to get 24mpg, phenomenal mileage for such a powerful car. Definitely my choice for the car at the show I would most like to drive to work. Unfortunately there aren’t many roads between home and the office where I could truly use the 560HP although I am sure that I would win every stoplight grand prix with the 3.9 second 0-60 sprint. The exterior of the RS7 differs only slightly from the standard A7, already a beautiful car. The lower front fascia is much more agressive, and the entire front end is swathed in high-gloss black or matte aluminum with an awesome new quattro script underneath the license frame. In addition the RS7 features some exclusive exterior colors including a matte Daytona Grey, new 20 and 21″ wheels, tinted headlamp lenses and a extending power spoiler at the rear.
2014 Audi QS5
Along with the new RS7, Lucs de Meo introduced a S version of the Q5, the new QS5 (see how they did that?). Again, there are only minimal changes from the standard Q5, the most noticeable is probably the 40mm lower stance. The SQ5 has a platinum grey grille with horizontal bars instead vertical bars on a standard Q5 and the high-gloss black color of the RS7. Aside from the mechanical changes and 354HP supercharged V6 the rest of the changes are limited to color and material differences.
BMW Concept 4-Series Coupe
Although not technically a new reveal, the 4-Series Concept was an instant hit in Detroit. Pictures do not do this car justice – it is at once both athletic and beautiful, with a character all its own. One thing for sure is that the design details are spectacular, I hope they make them into production; The hood overslam gap being used like an eyebrow, the lit appearance of the daytime running lamps in the headlights, the pedestal side view mirrors in satin aluminum with their aerodynamic wings, and the lower valence are all among the best details at the show. Aside from the car’s design I don’t quite understand the company’s decision to realign the model designations – can you imagine Chevrolet walking away from the Corvette name and brand? Perhaps the real reason this car is now known as the 4-Series has more to do with size, has the Coupe finally outgrown the 3-Series moniker? In fact, this iteration is now fully 5% bigger than the E36 we all know and fell in love with and is now actually longer than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
2014 Cadillac ELR
This car that ended up winning the Production Design of the Year from Eyes on Design was the Cadillac ELR. An interesting fact is that the people responsible for the design of this vehicle were not given the opportunity to present it to the press. That honor was bestowed upon Mark Adams who was appointed Design Director for Cadillac and Buick last summer. Thankfully the car matches the Converj Concept closer than the Volt production model mirrored the concept. Adams presented the ELR as being “specifically engineered for luxury coupe drivers” and “Art and Science personified”. While I am not quite sure about that, the ELR is a tidy package and something I would be happy to be seen in. The use of 20″ wheels helps the package appear sporting and stable and the flush grille is a nice take on the Cadillac new design DNA.
Ford Atlas Concept
There are many more details about the Atlas Concept over at Green Car Design, but the real story here is more about the strategy of the auto business. I can imagine that General Motors had an issue on their hands with the Corvette introduction at the Detroit show. The new pickups were also coming to market and showing them at the same time may have cut the press for both. It appears to me their solution was to introduce the new trucks in December and save Detroit for the Corvette. The problem with that strategy (if those decisions were actually made) is that it left a hole big enough to “drive a truck through” which is exactly what Ford did. Joe Hinrichs introducing the Atlas Concept accomplished two things; 1) the buzz was about Ford’s pickup and not GM’s and 2) the GM pickups look ultra-conservative and old by comparison. You can read a design review with Gordon Platto about the truck’s design on Ford’s media site here.
2014 Ford Transit
The last thing anyone expected at the Detroit show was a new full-sized van from anyone. Not that the Big 3 didn’t need one. The last full-sized van design from Chrysler ran from 1994 to 2003 basically unchanged and with the divorce from Mercedes they lost the Sprinter. The one from GM has run since 1996 with only a minor freshening in 2003. And Ford’s venerable E-Series/Econoline has been in production without major changes since 1992 – that’s 21 years of production. So Ford surprised everyone when Raj Nair rolled out the 2014 Transit family of vans. (OK, not everyone as industry insiders have been following the 8th generation Transit since its official intro last September). The design is typically European so it will be interesting to see how the market embraces the design change here in the States.
Honda Urban SUV Concept
Very few details were given about the Urban SUV Concept, either that or I don’t remember them- my press conference notes are filled with comments about teh Accord Plug-in and Honda’s Man Max, Machine Min Mantra. While the idea of B-Segment SUV’s is very popular right now (see Nissan Juke and Buick Encore) , this Fit-based concept . While the “vibrant character line” that runs up into the C-pillar was an innovative touch, the headlamp and grille was rather Cheshire Cat-like. And there is nothing to report about the interior or powertrain yet as the concept doesn’t happen to have one. A production version is expected to be shown in Japan later this year and a Fit-based SUV is coming to Honda’s new plant in Mexico in 2014.
Hyundai HCD14 Concept
My choice for the best concept at the show, the HCD-14 Concept could be hinting at the styling direction for future large Hyundai’s. If John Krafcik is to be believed (and there is no doubt he can be) Hyundai is in the middle of a “transformation from a value brand to a valuable brand” and this concept proves it. The silohouette is beautiful, reminiscent in a certain way of the Audi A7 and the heavy character line down the flanks belies the car’s length. Chris Chapmen took everyone through the design elements, commenting that “We instilled HCD-14 Genesis with a premium-sport 4-door coupe road presence.” According to the press release, one of the most interesting features of the car are the rear hinged back doors but during our brief visit to the Hyundai booth they were never opened.
2014 Infiniti Q50
I am still not sure Infiniti does not quite get the respect it deserves from consumers or the press – the applause when Johan de Nysschen revealed the new Q50 was what I would call “a smattering”. Compared to the overwrought design efforts of some of their competitors, the brand has developed some signature elements that readily identify their vehicles like the “double arch” grille and “crescent-cut C-pillar”. To that Infiniti has added a “dynamic arch silhouette” for their Q50. We think it is one of the more handsome mid-sized luxury vehicles. However, just like BMW, Infiniti has decided to saddle it with a new name. The G was always the best known and best selling of all the Infiniti models and it remains to be seen if a new name will benefit or hamper sales.
2014 JEEP Grand Cherokee
Mike Manley started the Jeep press conference by introducing Jeep’s new Badge of Honor program to an audience of journalists and a reserved front row that appeared to be full of Chinese executives from Guangzhou. The program offers apps and merit badges for completing various trails around the country – in my opinion one of the more brilliant brand-building programs ever. There is a whole review of the new diesel powertrain over at Green Car Design, suffice to say I think I have found my new race car tow vehicle. Outside the most noticable changes center around the grille and new LED headlamps which “defines Jeep® Grand Cherokee day or night”. Inside the Grand Cherokeeis a whole array of new color and material combinations that make this the most attractive SUV interior in my opinion. I am especially fond of the Indigo Blue and Brown which was “inspired by the blue-hued dark gray walls of Mount Vesuvius”. Other trim levels were inspired by places like Morocco and New Zealand. I guess a job with Chrysler’s Interior Design Team involves a ton of travel….where do I sign up? On a side note, Ralph Gilles, whose official title is now 20 words or 119 letters long (yes I counted) managed his entire presentation on the SRT Grand Cherokee without a teleprompter.
2014 JEEP Compass & Patriot
For 2014 the Compass was treated to “Updated Exterior Design, New Interior Choices and Benchmark Capability” and the Patriot gained “Improved Ride and Handling, Courtesy of a New Powertrain” as Chrysler and parent company Fiat continue to invest in their product resurgence.
Come back tomorrow for a report on the rest of the show and models K-Z