For the past couple of years, the decay of Detroit has cast a pall over the North American International Motor the city traditionally hosts, playing right into the hands of its more glamorous motor show cousins in Los Angeles and New York. However, fuelled by a more upbeat US auto industry, this year’s Detroit Motor Show reflected a return to form. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
It would seem that, after years in the doldrums, the US automotive industry has found some momentum again. Sales are up, balance sheets look better, and a raft of new and exciting new models are due for arrival on showroom floors.
The Big Three – Ford, General and Motors and Chrysler – all unveiled important newcomers at Detroit’s intimate Cobo Centre in downtown Detroit, giving the home crowd plenty to boast about.
But major automakers from Japan, Europe and Korea prevented it the show from becoming a Stars And Stripes benefit, revealing sufficiently important new models of their own to underscore the Detroit expo’s continued global significance.
At the Cobo Centre, the biggest stages belong to the Big Three, and Ford’s sprawling display was no exception. From a US perspective, pride of place went to the all-new Ford F150 pick-up – or bakkie, as they’re called in the South African vernacular.
Not that you’d want to call the F150 a bakkie: it’s big enough to be classified as a small truck and on SA roads, your code B passenger car licence isn’t good enough: you need a code C1. In the US, it’s one of the Blue Oval’s all-time best-selling nameplates.
But there are more compelling reasons than size for the Ford F150’s importance: it features an aluminium body on a steel frame to save weight, and in addition to V8 power, there’s also a choice of V6 engines, with Ford promising V8 power with V6 economy. There’s even a 360-degree camera to make parking the beast easier …
Much more compact, and also relevant to SA fans, is the debut of the all-new Ford Mustang – a model that has epitomised the America muscle car genre for five decades. The 2015 Mustang will be offered in coupé and convertible forms, and will be built in left-hand drive and right-hand drive, opening the door to availability in SA for the first time in many years.
Detroit was a big show for General Motors – and not just because of the size of The General’s stand in the Cobo Centre. In an historic first, its Chevrolet brand won both the car and the truck (read bakkie) categories of the North American Car of the Year Awards with the Corvette C7 Stingray sports car and the Silverado truck.
The Corvette is another quintessential America sports car, and also represented one of the most significant debuts in Detroit. In Corvette Z-06 form, it now produces 465kW and an astonishing 942Nm of torque from its 6.2-litre supercharged V8. It sprints from 0-100km/h in well under 4sec, and has a claimed to speed of 328km/h.
With Italian auto giant Fiat confirming the purchase of the remaining shares in Chrysler only weeks before the Detroit expo, it came as no surprise that the most Eurocentric of debuts from an US auto maker should be the mid-sized Chrysler 200C sedan. And it’s also not surprising that the US media didn’t like it much, considering that it’s based on Alfa Giulietta mechanicals.
That said, the 200C may finally be the American car that gains mainstream acceptance in Europe – ironic, since both Fiat and Alfa have struggled in the midsize segment. However, Chrysler will be hoping that the 200C’s promise of finesse and efficiency will also woo US buyers, although in bigger-is-better land, that’s not very likely.
Audi’s Allroad Shooting Brake concept is one of those strange machines that is unlikely to become a production reality as is, but rather acts as a precursor to more relevant and viable future production models. In this instance, it provides some clues to the all-new TT Coupé, which should make its official debut in March at the Geneva Motor Show. The interior is very much TT, as is the two-door coupé layout. But the show car’s 300kW hybrid-electric drivetrain won’t be carried over just yet.
BMW’s big news in Detroit was the world debut of the M3 sedan and M4 coupé. The two cars were extensively previewed ahead of the show, and offered no surprises. But that doesn’t make them any less impressive: twin-turbo six-cylinder power, rear-wheel drive, and still the option of a good old manual gearbox. With 317kW and extensive weight saving measures, the zero to 100km/h sprint is in the low 4sec bracket, with racy road manners to match.
It’s called the Honda Fit in the US, but for South Africans, the significance of the new Fit’s global premiere in Detroit is that it’s sold under the Honda Jazz moniker locally. Longer and even better packaged than the current model, the Jazz will retain its Magic Seat rear seating system, but is set to offer an all-new, efficiency-focussed engine range, as well as a hybrid. We’re hoping for a local debut towards the end of this year, or early 2015.
Still think Korean brands build boring, conservative cars? Kia would like you to think otherwise. For now, the GT4 Stinger is just a concept, but its shape and execution look too good to remain a design study. Even more interesting is that the drivetrain features rear-wheel drive, and a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine with around 235kW on offer. Meant to epitomise simple, affordable and above all exciting motoring, we’re betting on a production version by 2016.
Opting for a normally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine when the trend favours smaller, force-induced powerplants might raise some eyebrows, but perhaps the Lexus RC-F is hardly old-school: its high-tech engine promises both power and performance, and its high-revving nature will add welcome character (and aural pleasure). Max power of 335kW means it also has more muscle than the new BMW M4, which is likely to be its closest rival. Not everybody will like the RC-F’s samurai styling, though.
It’s interesting that Mercedes-Benz chose Detroit as the venue for the world debut of the new C-class. Could it be that the German marque sees demand for compact executive sedans soaring in the US, where ‘downsizing’ isn’t exactly a recognised concept? The new C draws on some of the technologies pioneered by the new S-class, and looks sleeker and swoopier than its predecessor: predictably, it’s also larger, and more spacious. Expect a slew of efficient turbo petrol and turbodiesel engines, with an AMG version due for reveal in Geneva just two months from now. The C-class is also built in South Africa, and it should be in local showrooms by mid-year.
The all-new, third-generation Mini since BMW took over the British marque made its first motor show appearance in Detroit. Admittedly, it’s not really the ideal forum for a subcompact model, but Mini is betting on the car’s quirkiness and its fashion appeal to woo a growing US market. Dubbed a concept, but clearly close to production, the Mini John Cooper Works Concept confirmed that the new Mini range will retain these JCW-badged high-performance models. There’s no word on output or performance figures, though.
The low-slung, sporty sedan concept that Nissan unveiled in the Cobo Centre may be a flight of fantasy, but the Japanese auto maker claims that the shape and dimensions of its Nissan Sports Sedan concept could be a precursor to the next-generation Maxima. The concept shares some styling traits with the earlier Resonance concept, which hints at the next Murano SUV, which is apt considering that Maxima and Murano share similar underpinnings. But somehow, we can’t see the new Maxima morphing into the emotive, athletic car suggested by the concept.
At Porsche, the 911 Targa 4 returns with a removable roof for the first time since the 964 era. Based on the current-generation, 991-Series Carrera 4 and 4S, the Targa features the archetypal wide, flat rear roll bar, emphatically curved rear screen, and a removable roof panel above the driving seats. However, the panel is electrically operated, allowing automatic stowage behind the rear seats at the push of a button. Mechanical specs are identical to the hardtop Carrera 4 and 4S, with all-wheel drive, a PDK dual-clutch gearbox and a flat-six powerplant rated at 257kW in the case of the Targa 4, and 294kW for the Targa 4S. Deliveries in SA start in May.
Could this be the next Supra? The Toyota FT-1 looks spectacular, as a true concept car should, but it’s design appears too fantastic, too exotic, to be taken seriously. The designation is short for ‘Future Toyota’, and according to the Japanese auto maker, it heralds a new focus on cars created with passion, and delivering an emotive driving experience. Thus, could the FT-1 be a sign of things to come? That’s what Toyota seems to be suggesting – and if so, a toned-down version of the FT-1 could well end up as the next Supra, after all.
The current XC90 must surely rate as one of Volvo’s most successful cars ever, but despite sustained sales, the big SUV is very long in the tooth. The XC Concept is the Scandinavian marque’s first hint at what’s to come when it finally launches an XC90 replacement. Volvo’s compact force-fed petrol and diesel engines will provide the muscle, while intelligent all-wheel drive will be standard. Expect a hybrid version, while the sleek, interior design, revealed in its final form at Detroit, is a particular highlight.
The drawcard on VW’s Detroit stand was the new Beetle Dune concept. As the name suggests, the concept is based on the current Beetle, but with some SUV-style add-ons to create a more rugged appearance. Wider front and rear tracks, wheel arch extensions and bigger wheels create a wide, muscular stance, while skid rails and scuff plates add some off-road cred. A 155kW 2.0-litre turbo engine provides ample urge, while a rear screen-mounted rack boosts practicality. VW says the concept could easily become a production reality. Could that mean the pending arrival of a VW Cross Beetle? DM
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved