2013 NAIAS – The Best and Worst of the North American International Auto Show

I am going to start this post with a review of the new Corvette, easily the most controversial new car or concept at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.  You may ask how a car that has received so many accolades in the press and from the general public can be controversial and the answer is simple “to whom much is given, much is expected“.


IMG_2061IMG_2065IMG_2329Some people have had the hardest time coming to terms with the new Corvette.  The biggest question is why, as the outgoing Corvette was already one of the best performing cars in the world, and certainly among the best values among sports cars.  And with General Motor’s full support this one was bound to be much better.  So while the press has positive gushed about the car in public, why are there so many whispers in the background?

My personal feelings aside, discussions with other designers we know in the industry has brought mixed results.  One in particular stated it looked like “it had braces” (Full disclosure – my girlfriend has braces and I love them.  They will be coming off soon and I am not sure yet how I feel about that).  Another commented that the rear diffuser made it look “fat”  (ok, it is possible they meant phat but I didn’t ask).  The amount of vents were “too boy-racer” and then there were the comments about borrowed design elements such as Taillamps from a Malibu, Side Vents from a GT-R, Headlights from a F12 etc.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayLuckily I had the chance to see Kirk Bennion’s presentation at Autoweek’s Design Forum and I feel a lot better about the car.  Kirk spent a lot of time talking about the amount of effort they spent on performance and aerodynamics.  After receiving proposals from hundreds of designers across all GM Design Studios, 5 unique themes were aero tested in 1/3 scale.  After that 2 themes were chosen and the team continued to refine the shape.  Proportions were changed such that the roof was 12mm lower, 25mm in wheelbase was added, the hood was raised 30mm and so on.  In the end the Corvette is only 0.1 inch longer than a 911.

2014-Chevrolet-Corvette-032Internally the radiator was tipped forward to improve airflow and front end lift – the base model has less lift than the outgoing Z06.  The rear glass hatch was reduced in size to reduce weight.  All in an effort to introduce “more function into this car than ever before”.  The vents in the rear quarter panels were used to cool the heat exchangers for the rear transaxle and flow 8 cubic meters or air a minute (which explains the amount of vents – they are all about function).  And the rear end was designed so that people know “that was just the new Corvette that passed them” (which explains the phat rear).

2014 Chevrolet Corvette StingrayFinally the two themes were brought before upper management for production direction – and they chose a little of both (which I believe explains why some elements don’t seem to work well with each other).  In conclusion some may be disappointed but I doubt GM will have any problem selling every one they can produce.  The real question will be how long the design stays fresh, and in this question there are no experts – just guesses.  Now, if I can just get them to get rid of the rear quarter window that from the inside looks like an airplane window!

2014-Chevrolet-Corvette-033As far as the rest of the show, we spent some time with perennial favorite “The Stud” to find the best and the worst of the show.  For those who don’t know of “The Stud”, he is a current automotive designer who masquerades as our industry expert on all things design.  Read more here or read on to find what he liked and didn’t:


BEST STAND: BMW's 3D Video Screens    source: BMW AG

BEST STAND: BMW’s 3D Video Screens                                                                                            source: BMW AG

If BMW is the Ultimate Driving Machine then their booth at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show was the Ultimate Video Screen.  The uniquely cut multiple screens gave a 3D impression like nothing I had ever seen before.  I want one for my simulator setup at home!  The Stud wants to watch adult films on it.


WORST BOOTH: Acura, the NSX was unveiled BEHIND the press    source: Ingo Rautenberg

WORST BOOTH: Acura, the NSX was unveiled BEHIND the press                                      source: Ingo Rautenberg

While there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Acura booth, the general layout left one major question:  Why was the NSX unveiled BEHIND the assorted press in attendance?  Many of us watched the unveiling on the video screens in front of us – not unlike those of you who watched the press conference here.  The Stud’s comments?  “Dreadful”.


BEST SHIFTER: Chevrolet Corvette 7-speed    source: GM Media

BEST SHIFTER: Chevrolet Corvette 7-speed                                                                                 source: GM Media

In the category of “I Can’t Wait to Drive This” comes the new Corvette and its 7-speed shifter.  And I when I drive it I want to be going through the gears with the windows down….. in a tunnel….. that is long.  The Stud wants to revisit his Heel-and-toe exercises.



THEY FINALLY LISTENED: NASCAR with style                                                                                       source: AACS

Splitting my time as a child between Germany and the Carolinas I was raised with a starnge appreciation for both Sports Car Racing and NASCAR.  But that is NASCAR as in the days they actually raced cars that looked like cars culminating with awesome winged warriors.  While we will never, ever see that again, we are finally seeing cars that look like real cars – check out the character line down the side of this Fusion.  It is not much but at least it’s a start.  The Stud refused to comment on tin-top racing, saying only open-wheeled cars were real race cars.


BEST RACE CAR: Red Bull Formula 1    source: AACS

BEST RACE CAR: Red Bull Formula 1                                                                                                             source: AACS

F1 always wins – the question was Ferrari versus Red Bull.  Seeing as Red Bull won the championship this past season, we figured it only fair to hand them this win as well.


WORST HEADLAMPS: 2014 Lexus IS-F    source: AACS

WORST HEADLAMPS: 2014 Lexus IS-F                                                                                                    source: AACS

Lexus calls their new DRL’s “independent L-shaped”, we call them over-designed.  This is one of those cases where the desire to be different went awry.  The Stud said they reminded him of gas station sushi, like this commercial.


BEST HEADLAMPS: BMW 4-Series      source: BMW AG

BEST HEADLAMPS: BMW 4-Series                                                                                                         source: BMW AG

While the Audi RS7 would normally win the best headlamps at the show hands down, they are not really a new design as the car has been on sale for a while.  So, in keeping with the idea of handing out awards for the new cars the winner is the BMW 4-Series.  Both The Stud and I loved the lit appearance that is unlike anything else on the road.  Don’t sell this little detail short, at this point finding a unique lit appearance is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.


MOST IGNORED: Chevrolet Silverado - GMC Sierra (tie)   source: GM MEdia

MOST IGNORED: Chevrolet Silverado – GMC Sierra (tie)                                                           source: GM MEdia

We are not sure if the lack of attention the new Sierra and Silverado achieved was due to the rather modest redesign or the difficult spot GM was in having to introduce a new pickup and the new Corvette within a few weeks of each other.  The root cause doesn’t really matter as the new GM pickup’s were widely ignored.  As The Stud mentioned when reviewing the details of the design changes “Why Bother!”


LEAST GREEN VEHICLE: VL Automotive Destino    source: VL Automotive

LEAST GREEN VEHICLE: VL Automotive Destino                                                                        source: VL Automotive

What could be less green than a hulking V8 performance car?  How about taking a beautiful hybrid and removing all the batteries and hybrid powertrain and replacing it with a 638HP V8?  Sacriledge!  It will probably cause CARB to have nightmares.   But at least they are shipping the drivetrains back to Fisker to use until the A123 battery issue is resolved.  The Stud is still speechless – he wants one!


BEST GREEN VEHICLE: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel      source: Chrysler

BEST GREEN VEHICLE: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel                                                             source: Chrysler

This was probably the hardest choice of all the awards as the VW CrossBlue Concept was an awesome contender as was the Cadillac ELR.  But the fact that you can buy a diesel JEEP this year gives the award to the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee!  And we have always been a Diesel family.



BEST PRODUCT SPECIALIST: Maserati                                                                                                           source: AACS

This was not just a matter of attractiveness (Miss America versus Miss USA arguments here).  Product Specialists are not supposed to be just nice to look at, they also need to know their product and they need to have a certain approachable-ness.  Winner hands down is Maserati!  There was no comment from The Stud as we believe he is still stalking this one!


BIGGEST SURPRISE: James Bond's Aston Martin DB5    source: AACS

BIGGEST SURPRISE: James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 source: AACS

Aston. Martin.  DB5. Bond, James Bond.


BEST SMELL: Maserati Quattroporte     source: AACS

BEST SMELL: Maserati Quattroporte                                                                                                              source: AACS

The best part of attending the show during press days is the fact you can climb over ropes and get the product specialists to unlock cars and let you in.  I don’t know how the Italians do it but the Maserati had the most unbelievable smelling leather at the show.

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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1 Response to 2013 NAIAS – The Best and Worst of the North American International Auto Show

  1. Pingback: Has the Mojo Returned? NAIAS 2014 A-K | thesupplierblog

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