These days the mention of the word brings to mind a postindustrial landscape of boarded-up homes, empty storefronts and high rates of crime and unemployment. Once known as the “Arsenal of Democracy” for its role in building the machines that helped the Allies beat the Axis during World War II, followed by the postwar car culture that made Detroit the focal point of the global automotive industry for decades, the city has fallen on hard times, culminating in the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history this past summer.
But for a couple of weeks this month, the fiscal crisis will take a backseat to the 2014 North American International Auto Show, the annual automotive showcase that has taken place every year in Motor City since 1957. Detroit might no longer be the unchallenged leader of auto manufacturing, but it’s still home base for the world’s second-largest auto company, General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM) has nine automotive manufacturing plants in or near its metro area, and it hosts one of the most important automotive expos in the world. This year's event opens to the press and industry executives on Monday and to the public Jan. 18-26.
So what can we expect from this year’s expo?
Attendees will be able to get an up-close look at the 2015 Ford Mustang GT, which made its global public debut last month in New York on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” They will have a chance to ogle a bevy of other 2015 models, including the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (620 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque), the Audi Q3 compact crossover (available in all-wheel drive), the Porsche 911 Targa (which will bring back the classic body style of the 1960s-era Targa) and the all-new GMC Canyon midsized pickup truck.
Of particular note will be the unveiling by Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) of a weight-saving, aluminum-frame version of its F-150 pickup. It’s a significant departure for the most popular vehicle in the U.S. and one that could herald a future trend of leaner and lighter trucks.
“Certainly the big event will be the F-150, especially given the fact that it has such a high percentage of aluminum, which is kind of new to the industry,” said Larry Dominique, president of ALG Inc., the lease-residual forecasting arm of TrueCar.com. “It’s going to be interesting to see what they actually do because the challenge in the past with working with aluminum was hemming, on the door and things like that.” Hemming is a manufacturing process in which the edge of a sheet of metal is folded onto itself or another sheet, similar to the hemming used in tailoring. Steel is easier to hem than aluminum due to its more-flexible quality.
Dominique believes that Ford will use a much higher percentage of aluminum, but that may affect insurance rates since aluminum is more expensive to work with.
Ford is making its most profitable vehicle lighter in order to help meet the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that require auto manufacturers to have an average of 54.5 miles per gallon over their entire product line by 2025. To meet that benchmark, manufacturers are tackling fuel efficiency across their fleets, from their heavier, bigger gas guzzlers to their smaller hybrid compacts. The next-generation F-150 is expected to be about 700 to 750 pounds lighter.
How much that helps fuel economy has yet to be seen, but Dominique – a former vice president of Nissan North America who lead the team that launched Nissan’s Titan truck and Armada SUV in the early 2000s – says the fuel saving would be about 2 miles per gallon based on that weight reduction alone. Further fuel economy will have to come from more efficient engineering, which Ford has in its turbocharged EcoBoost engines.
The Chrysler 200 compact executive car that will be presented at the expo is an important car for Chrysler Group LLC, which is starving for a fresh offer for the brand. Photos leaked this week show a sleek four-door sedan and a radically updated center console. The price has already been announced: $21,700 with a $995 destination fee. The Alfa Romeo-underpinned 200 will head to Europe later as a Lancia and will probably show up in at the auto show in Geneva later this year.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis midsized luxury car is Hyundai Motors' bid to boost volume sales and transaction prices in the luxury segment. Hyundai's U.S. sales grew by a lackluster 2.5 percent last year and sales of its popular Sonata full-sized sedan saw a nearly 12 percent drop in 2013. Hyundai has probably embarked on a multiyear product refreshment cycle, starting with the Genesis. The exterior style is certainly eye-pleasing, and the vehicle comes with a V8 option and is resplendent with dashboard gadgetry and connectivity.
In all, the Detroit Auto Show will offer the public 71 new models to ponder, 11 more than were displayed last year, not including the ever-popular concept vehicles, super-luxury models and high-performance street racers. Last year, nearly 800,000 people visited Detroit’s COBO Center, the highest attendance since 2004. The event rakes in about $365 million for Metro Detroit every year, according to the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.
Steve Bruyn, CEO of Foresight Research, a Rochester, Mich.-based market research firm that specializes in the automotive and marine industries, said the Detroit Auto Show draws the highest percentage of local public visitors than any other automotive industry event. According to Foresight surveys of public visitors conducted at prior Detroit shows, 20 percent of local Detroit metro-area households have at least one family member that attends the event.
“That’s higher than any other auto show, even Los Angeles and Chicago,” Bruyn said, adding, “53 percent of attendees said they were in the market to buy a car and plan to make a car purchase in the next 12 months.”
And because most visitors to the show are from metro-area Detroit or the surrounding region, local dealers say, sales are boosted in the wake of the event.
“Though NAIAS is not a 'selling show', sales do increase significantly in the weeks following the show,” said Bob Shuman, a third-generation auto dealer in Walled Lake, Mich., about 30 miles northwest of Detroit, and this year’s expo’s chairman.
Detroit has a long haul ahead of it before it can regain some economic stability, but it would be worse off without this annual event that offers a much-needed economic boost, some extra cash for the approximately 2,000 locals that are employed before, during and after the event, and a nice break from the usual attention outsiders pay to the city that has seen better days.
Here’s a list of the 2015 models and concept cars that will be in the spotlight in Detroit this week:
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Corvette C7.R race car that will participate in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race on Jan. 23
2015 Chrysler 200
2015 Acura TLX Protoype
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2015 Ford Mustang GT
2015 Ford F-150
2015 GMC Canyon
2015 Hyundai Genesis
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe
2015 Porsche 911 Targa
2015 Porsche Macan
2015 Audi Q3
2015 BMW M3 Sedan
2015 BMW M4 Coupe
2015 Honda Fit
2015 Subaru WRX STI
2015 Lexus RC F
2015 Volkswagen Golf R
2015 BMW i3 electric car
Nissan Maxima Sports Sedan
KIA GT4 Stinger
KIA “2 Plus 2”
Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge
Volkswagen Beetle Dune
Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion
Audi "new show car," which may be the preview of the next Q1
Volvo XC coupe
MINI Cooper John Cooper Works