For the first time in years, the North American International Auto Show, which begins this week, will not spotlight energy efficient plug-ins and hybrids. Rather, with the exception of a peek at Chevrolet’s planned all-electric sedan, this year’s Detroit auto show is all about brawn and muscle.
"This year’s North American International Auto Show is going to feel very retro, because it’s going to feature a series of big, brash, unapologetic concept cars and production models," Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said in an email.
From Honda’s return to high-performance sports cars with its new NSX to Ford’s beefy new Raptor F-150 off-road pickup, many of the 40 global debuts at Detroit’s downtown Cobo Center are about showing off what the automotive industry can do, despite increasing pressure to lower fuel consumption and emissions.
"It may be a coincidence that gas prices are so low right now, but it sets the stage for Detroit for big vehicles and sports cars,” Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com, told Detroit Free Press. “This is the least green show in years."
The winners of the 2015 North American Car And Truck/Utility Of The Year Awards will be announced early Monday, followed by a series of debut announcements from more than a dozen major automakers. The expo opens to the public Saturday, and more than a million people are expected to pass through the exhibits during the show's nine-day run.
Here are some of the highlights.
Volkswagen’s Golf/GTI Hot Hatch,
Chevrolet’s Colorado Up For Awards
[Update: Click here to read who won.]
Finalists for the annual best-of are the 2015 Ford Mustang pony car, praised for its independent rear suspension, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan, considered a much-improved version compared to its predecessors, and the 2015 Volkswagen Golf/GTI, the latest version of the world’s first hot hatch.
The 2015 North American Truck/Utility Of The Year Finalists are the Chevrolet Colorado, General Motors’ first new mid-sized pickup truck in years that’s received kudos for being both quiet and solid compared to previous models, the aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 pickup truck and the Lincoln MKC compact crossover, which is essentially a lower and wider luxury version of the Ford Escape.
The vehicles are judged by dozens of automotive writers and reviewers from around the world, but winners tend to lean toward American cars. Foreign winners have included the Mazda CX-9 full-size crossover in 2008, the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck in 2006 and the Toyota Prius in 2004. The Hyundai Genesis won in 2009.
Winners for 2014 were the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the Chevrolet Silverado. In 2013, the Cadillac CTS and Ram 1500 pickup truck took the crowns.
Honda’s Return To High Performance
[Update: Read more about the new NSX here.]
After a 10-year hiatus, Honda is poised to unveil its production-ready Acura NSX, Honda’s critically acclaimed (but expensive-to-produce) high-performance sports car. After 15 years, the Japanese automaker discontinued the car in 2005 because it did not meet more stringent U.S. emissions standards.
The new NSX, which debuted at the 2012 Detroit auto show as a concept car, meets new standards in part thanks to its hybrid V-6 drivetrain system that is said to boast nearly 400 horsepower. High-performance cars are increasingly adopting hybrid drivetrains - like the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder and the 2015 BMW i8 - not just to meet regulatory standards, but also because electric motors provide maximum torque from zero unlike gas engines that have to ramp up. Electric motors enable sports cars to reach maximum speed faster.
Chevrolet’s Tesla Model 3 Challenger
[Update: Click here for more details.]
The most important green car to appear at this year’s show is the Chevrolet Bolt, General Motors’ answer to Tesla Motors’ planned Model 3, sub-$40,000 electric car. The Bolt concept car is the first peek at GM’s effort to create the first $30,000 all-electric car with a range topping 200 miles per charge.
GM isn’t confirming many details, but the company has been working for years to develop an electric car and to extend the range of its plug-in hybrid, the Volt, the latest model of which can travel only 38 miles on battery power alone before switching to gasoline. The next Volt will see that range topping 40 miles.
Currently, the Tesla Model S is the only electric car that can travel more than 200 miles per charge. GM wants the Bolt out by 2017, the same year Tesla says it will have a sub-$40,000 electric car with a similar range. Electric car demand is still extremely low, representing less than 1 percent of total new-car sales in most countries. If demand rises, Tesla could find itself competing with big companies that have much deeper research and development pockets, greater manufacturing capabilities and well-established global marketing and dealership networks.
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt will also appear in Detroit this week. Expect significant improvements in addition to longer electric-only driving range.
Ford's Brawny Debuts
[Update: Ford reveals GT supercar.]
Ford will be showcasing its entire existing product line at the show, including a new version of its 2016 F-150 Raptor, Ford’s specialty off-road pickup truck, and the Shelby GT350R, the company’s answer to the Chevrolet Camaro Z28.
Autoweek, quoting sources last month, reported the company also plans to unveil a successor to its GT sports car Monday. Ford has said it will participate next year in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans racing competition.
Last year was about the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150; this year appears to be about Ford performance cars. The company might also unveil the 2016 Focus RS super hatch -- the company’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf R, which will be sold outside of Europe for the first time.
After A Decade, Toyota Has A New Tacoma
[Update: Read more details about the 2016 Tacoma unveil here.]
The mid-size pickup market has been the focus of GM’s attention with its recently released Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, but Toyota essentially owns the global market for this segment with its Hilux. Now, the world’s largest automaker will unveil the first all-new version of the Tacoma, which is essentially a fancier Hilux for the North American market.
Toyota has been secretive about the specs, but the 2016 Tacoma will surely include more dashboard technology and new engineering to go with its new exterior design. The company is scheduled to release full specs Monday.
Cadillac CTS-V: A Corvette Under The Hood
General Motors will release the most powerful Cadillac ever this week. The exterior has the stealth-fighter-jet like design cues of recent Caddies, but beneath the vented carbon-fiber hood is the same stuff powering the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
More four-door sports car than sedan, the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V boasts 640 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque, less than the lighter Corvette but a leap from other Cadillac offerings.
U.S. Cadillac sales were down by nearly 7 percent last year -- only the Escalade saw a jump in sales -- but GM is hoping for a rebound in 2015 for Caddy sedans. The company is relocating Cadillac’s headquarters to downtown Manhattan, pushing it as a global luxury brand. This year will be critical in determining how its plan to go after German and Japanese luxury brands is working.
Lexus Flexes Muscle With V8 GS F
Toyota is also unveiling sporty luxury in Detroit. Accompanying its new Tacoma pickup truck is a twin turbocharged 467 horsepower 2016 Lexus GS F fast luxury sedan.
Based on the Lexus GS 350 F Sport, the GS F has a more refined four-door package for the high-performance Lexus F line. The GS F is also tweaked under the hood with a naturally aspirated 5 liter V8 engine that churns out 389 pound-feet of torque.
The car will come with Toyota’s Torque vectoring differential, providing two additional handling modes in addition to standard. Drivers can switch from “slalom” for more nimble steering response for curvy roads to “track” for improved control at consistent higher speeds.