Auto Industry

Detroit auto show ends 30-year run in January with fast cars, tough trucks

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

DETROIT—The 30th — and last, in its current iteration — North American International Auto Show (a.k.a. the Detroit auto show) opened  its doors to the public Saturday with the Big Three and other North American automakers present and many offshore (mostly German) manufacturers missing.

In five short years, the Detroit show has gone from being the most important auto show on the continent to almost an also-ran, primarily because of the technological revolution that has enveloped the industry and resulted in automakers making their major announcements at an electronics show in Las Vegas instead of a car show in Motor City.

As a result, the NAIAS is going to shift dates and focus in 2020. Instead of a 10-day run in a downtown convention centre in frigid January, it will become a community festival in warmer June that will stretch over several weekends. Fingers are crossed that it will help Detroit return to its former prominence.

This story originally was published in Toronto Star Wheels on April 5, 2019

Meantime, it is not as if the Cobo Center is deserted. Nearly 30 OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers, as the insiders call them) have vehicles on display and tire companies and racing series also have a presence. IndyCar, for instance, used one of the media preview days earlier this week to announce its new title sponsor: NTT, a Japanese information technology and communications company.

But the major focus of the show, as usual, was cars and trucks. In what might have been a nod to the Big Iron and Huge Horsepower heritage that made Detroit automobile manufacturing great (or else the automakers know something that is going against the grain but don’t want to talk about it — yet), the unveilings on the first of the two media preview days were, well, revealing.

Ford, Toyota, Lexus, Subaru, Ram, Kia and Hyundai all introduced fossil-fuel powered vehicles that were capable of making the ground shake if they’d all been let loose. Most of the cars and trucks that were trotted out were as far removed from electrification and autonomy as was possible.

And the hundreds of auto executives, marketers, public-relations practitioners, journalists and special guests were all in awe of the thunder-and-lightning creations put on display.

Let’s go from start to finish on the first of those two media preview days.

The first big news of the show came last Monday at 8 a.m. when the North American Car, Utility Vehicle and Truck of the Year were unveiled. This year’s winners were the Genesis G70 (car), the Hyundai Kona/Kona EV (UV) and the Ram 1500 (truck) and my colleague, Jim Kenzie, goes into the bells and whistles of each in another story.

But, for the record, the Genesis beat out the Honda Insight and the Volvo S60/V60 for Car of the Year, the Hyundai defeated the Acura RDX and the Jaguar I-Pace in the UV category and the Ram was voted best truck over the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and the GMC Sierra 1500.

As I have written previously, they should get rid of the Utility Vehicle category unless they restrict it to automobiles the size of the Lincoln Navigator, which lets you go to Ikea and buy a bookcase. The three vehicles in this category this year might have been able to fit a kitchen chair through the hatch, but that would have been about it. It is just silly to call them utility vehicles.

As is tradition in Detroit, Ford kicked off the press conferences after the Car of the Year announcement and took the opportunity to introduce four vehicles to the assembled media, one of which was a monster.

After rolling out their new Ford Police Interceptor, the Detroit icon introduced the new Explorer ST and the Explorer Hybrid. The ST is, according to the company, the most powerful Explorer ever manufactured with a specially tuned 3.0-litre EcoBoost engine projected to make 400 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque. It can reach a targeted top track speed of 230 km/h.

The all-new Explorer Hybrid is an SUV designed to offer performance and capability in a fuel-efficient package. Its 3.3-litre hybrid engine produces 318 system horsepower combined.

What the assembled throng was waiting for, however, was the arrival of the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500, the most powerful street-legal Ford ever manufactured with a supercharged 5.2-litre V8 producing more than 700 horsepower.

The car is capable of mid-three-second 0-100 km/h and sub-11-second quarter-miles. The Shelby GT500 features the best Mustang track times, the best cornering and the largest brakes of any domestic sports coupe thanks to tech transfers from the Ford GT and Mustang GT4 racing programs.

For the information of readers wondering about how realistic a car like this is, the media were not particularly interested in the hybrid, but mobbed company chairman William Clay (Bill) Ford Jr., who quickly found himself pressed right up against the Mustang.

It’s always interesting to see people’s reactions to loud, ultra-powerful, gas-guzzling monsters; cars that growl when you fire them up. When you put them up beside an EV, it’s no contest.

Moving on, the 2019 Ram heavy duty pickup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles says, is the best riding, handling and towing vehicle ever made, with an emphasis on comfort and confidence. The standard 6.4-litre HEMI V8 power with cylinder deactivation and Variable Cam Timing (VCT) delivers class-leading 410 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque.

But there’s more. The new, class-exclusive, TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic for the HEMI brings shift refinement not seen in heavy-duty trucks. It has a towing capacity of 35,100 pounds and a payload capacity of 7,680 pounds. To balance all this off, active noise cancellation, anti-vibration devices and acoustic glass work to make this the quietest cabin yet.

Wow. To say this truck is a beast would be an understatement. And you should also get a load of the 2018 GMC Sierra 2500HD all-terrain X all-mountain concept, which wasn’t introduced but is on display. You’d want to stay out of the way of that boy.

Meantime, the fifth-generation Toyota GR Supra, the first global Toyota GAZOO Racing model, made its world debut at the Detroit show, making sports car enthusiasts very happy indeed.

While there is a connection to Toyota’s 1967 2000 GT and 1993-2002 Supra in design and mechanical configuration, the 2020 Supra is a forward-looking sports car with a cutting-edge powertrain, chassis and multimedia technology. It will be powered by a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine.

The 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbo six will produce 335 hp and 365 lb.-ft. of torque and will be teamed with a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Toyota projects 0-100 km/h acceleration in 4.1 seconds.

Lexus, whose brand name is the same age as the Detroit auto show – 30 – unveiled its 2020 Lexus RC F and RC F Track. The Track Edition boasts improved aerodynamics, reduced weight, a re-tuned suspension and enhanced styling, which — the company says – takes the RC F to a new level of performance.

Subaru had one of its “S” models on display in North America for the first time. Subaru Tecnica International (STI), a subsidiary of Subaru Corp., introduced the limited edition Subaru STI S209 which, with its 341-horsepower, 2.5-litre Boxer engine, is the most powerful model the Japanese automaker has ever offered to consumers on this side of the Atlantic.

Kia introduced the media to the Telluride SUV, which has been designed specifically for the United States and is the biggest vehicle ever built by the Korean manufacturer. It has seating for eight and is powered by a 291-hp, 3.8-litre V6. Whew.

Hyundai brought two hatches to Detroit — one for the road and the other for the track. The one to doll up and enter in the Canadian Touring Car Championship and race at famous tracks in Ontario and Quebec like Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Le Circuit Mont Tremblant can only be purchased from Bryan Herta Autosport in Indianapolis. Take your platinum card. The one to drive on the street is significantly cheaper. Ask your dealer.

Volkswagen unveiled its new 2020 Passat and it has more interior space and creature comforts. It also boasts upgraded technology and driver assistance features.

Volkswagen also made an announcement of significance. It said it would create 1,000 new jobs in Tennessee by making a manufacturing facility in Chattanooga its electric car centre.

Volkswagen didn’t stop there. On Tuesday morning, VW and Ford announced they had reached agreement on a working relationship. They would partner initially on the manufacture of commercial vans and mid-size pickups and then continue reviewing opportunities to cooperate on electrification and driverless technology, the Detroit Free Press reported.

While Infiniti’s new all-electric QX luxury car developed a problem before it could appear on the stage — the company said it hoped to have it on display by the weekend when the public show opens — the Nissan electric/autonomous concept was front-and-centre. Called the Nissan IMs concept by Nissan Intelligent Mobility, it has the height of a crossover, the look of a sports car and is a pure electric. It is also an autonomous (self-driving) car. It is a great concept but unlikely to ever see the light of day. Elsewhere in this section, Jim Kenzie reports more on Infiniti and Nissan.

Meantime, Cadillac jumped the gun last Sunday night by unveiling the new XT6, a three-row SUV. It also took the opportunity to tell reporters that it doesn’t intend to be left behind in the electric car race and announced that it was working on a new Cadillac EV, although no name or other details were revealed.

GM CEO Mary Barra said that Cadillac would lead the company in the development of electric cars.

Finally, Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited the Detroit show to meet GM officials about future plans they had to reduce manufacturing in the province – other than the Oshawa car factory – and was told they didn’t have any.

There was more good news from FCA Canada president and CEO Reid Bigland, who said the company plans to continue manufacturing the Pacifica minivan in Windsor and the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger and Challenger in Brampton.

“A challenge that both the Brampton and Windsor plants have is the passenger car segments continue to be under a tremendous amount of pressure and the minivan segment is under a lot of pressure as well,” he told the Windsor Star.

“But in spite of that, we’ve been able to keep those two plants running at a pretty good clip and, all going well, we’ll continue to do so in the future.”