Detroit, Michigan – Muscle cars, electric vehicles, plant announcements, and a crossover – Detroit’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) may be having its last January show ever, but it’s going out with some news.
Next year, NAIAS moves to June as the show deals with falling interest from automakers that have chosen the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the best venue for new technology launches that used to happen in Detroit.
Ford’s press conference was the most indicative of that change. Company officials spent 20 minutes talking about autonomous driving and the need to focus on the future of mobility before showing off three variants on the 2020 Explorer that made its debut earlier this month at CES. Bigger excitement came from the unveiling of a fun, low-volume, specialty vehicle.
The 2020 Shelby GT500 Mustang features a 5L engine and massive supercharger that combine for more than 700hp. As Ford President of Global Markets Jim Farley put it, “It's time to embarrass some super cars at a Ford price.”
The Shelby name is iconic in the Mustang world, and the new vehicle promises huge performance numbers for the small number of people who will have a chance to buy one. Farley notes that the car has the same amount of power as Ford’s NASCAR Mustangs but comes in a street-legal package.
Toyota unveiled the 2020 Supra sports car. CEO Akio Toyoda drove the car onstage and shared stories about his personal love of the small sport car that the company stopped selling in the U.S. in 1998. Toyoda earned his master driver status, training on a Supra at Germany's Nurburgring race track, but he says he always felt self conscious about driving an old model when looking at the new Porche and Audi vehicles there.
When Toyota designers showed off the concept for the vehicle that would become the Supra, he said they were very clever to get it into the Gran Turismo 6 video game so he could drive it virtually. He fell in love with the design and approved it for production.
In the truck business, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) broke a power barrier, boasting 1,000 lb-ft of torque in the upcoming Ram 3500 pickup/commercial truck. David Goggin, marketing communications director for Cummins Inc. says the 6.7L diesel engine producing that slab of power isn't radically different from the engine it replaces.
But, Cummins swapped a gray-iron engine block for compacted graphite iron (CGI), a tough-to-cut metal that allowed higher boost pressures in the engine's cylinders. Upgrading to that tough material required machining center upgrades in Columbus, Indiana, but Goggins says the results were worth it. The engine also features a tougher iron crankshaft, improvements to turbochargers, and several other upgrades that led to the power boost. Thanks to the CGI material, it's also 60 lb lighter than the model it replaces.
In manufacturing news, Volkswagen announced plans to invest $800 million to its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to add 1,000 jobs there making electric cars by 2022. The plant now makes the Passat sedan and Atlas SUV, but it will make an electric crossover in a few years. The company plans to start building the ID Crozz crossover in Germany next year and transition it to Tennessee once sales have begun.
"The U.S. is one of the most important locations for us and producing electric cars in Chattanooga is a key part of our growth strategy in North America," says Dr. Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen AG. "The management team, led by Scott Keogh, is committed to continuing to increase our market share in the coming years. Together with our ongoing investments and this increase in local production, we are strengthening the foundation for sustainable growth of the Volkswagen brand in the US."
VW also showed off a new version of the Passat. Like most cars, it is not selling well as consumers are opting for crossover and SUVs, but the automaker considers it core to its lineup.
Nissan displayed one of the show's few concept cars. The IMs isn't set for production, but it offers a look at what designers think cars of the future might look like. The IMs can be driven by a person or autonomous, and front seats can face forward or swivel to the sides or rear.
Nissan Electric Vehicles Design Chief Giovanny Aroba says features such as a 3D-printed lattice structure that replaces traditional heating vents on the instrument panel are playful looks into how technology could influence future vehicle designs.
"This is a serious look into what sorts of vehicles we expect to be on the market in the very near future," Aroba says. He adds that Nissan expects some versions of autonomous or cars that have fully autonomous modes to be available by 2022 or soon after.
Like versions of Ford's Lincoln Continental, the IMs features suicide doors, making it easier for rear-seat drivers to enter the car.
One last launch of the day was Kia's Telluride. Keeping with the company's traditional of naming vehicles after Western U.S. cities (Tucson, Santa Fe), the Telluride is a mid-sized SUV from a brand that had flat sales last year and declines in 2017 because of its car-heavy lineup.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.