Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 NAIAS Review

Alexander Carabitses

After previewing most of the debuts from Detroit a few weeks ago, I will share my overall reaction to the show, while also highlighting some of the positives and negatives, enjoy...

Beginning with the positives, I'll say that by far the best debut out of Detroit was the Buick Avista Concept.  This vehicle is a RWD performance coupe that, like the stunning Avenir from last year, will never get built because of a possible price and market overlap with the Cadillac ATS Coupe and Chevy Camaro.  None the less, it is a fantastic looking car that I can't wait to see in person.  The Lexus LC 500 also proved to be a showstopper.  It has power and performance, but even if it didn't, the design would be enough to win people over.  In terms of luxury cars, I'm going to call the Continental from Lincoln a home run, given that the brand does not want this new sedan to be a flashy competitor to the Germans; it is also a massive improvement over its predecessor, the MKS.  The Chrysler Pacifica, GMC Acadia, Infiniti Q60, and Honda Ridgeline are also massive improvements over their predecessors, with Infiniti and Chrysler hoping that impressive design will win over new customers (and in the case of Chrysler, resurrect a dying segment).  Honda should be, and is proud of the new Ridgeline, particularly because the vehicle looks to be better in every way. If Honda can keep the price down, the new Ridgeline should be able to make up for the crappy first-gen model, as it will attract a unique type of pickup truck buyer, one that only Honda can breed. GMC knocked it out of the park with the new Acadia, mostly because the vehicle weighs 700 pounds less than its predecessor; it is also important to note that the Acadia is now classified as a midsize crossover, as it is smaller than its predecessor.

(Image credited to Buick)

(Image credited to Lexus)

(Image credited to GMC)

(Image credited to Honda)

(Image credited to Infiniti)

(Image credited to Chrysler)

(Image credited to Lincoln)

Before I move on, I also want to give Kia and Acura a shoutout for their concepts, as both the Telluride and the Precision signal great things for the design language of their respective brands.

(Image credited to Kia)

(Image credited to Acura)

On the other end of the spectrum, there were many disappointments. I'll begin with the fact that Ford, Chevrolet, and FCA were allocated to less floor space, meaning that their displays were utter crap compared to previous years.  It certainly wasn't a hometown hero's welcome.  It also didn't help that in the case of Ford, the automaker debuted little more than a refreshed Fusion that, although being launched with two new trim levels- Sport and Platinum- hasn't changed very much, minus a few hardly noticeable design tweaks.  It is not a bad car, but a step down from where Ford was at this show a year ago.  Ford also launched a crew cab version of the F150 Raptor, to little fanfare.  In fact, Ford's vehicle launches were so minor that they only encompassed 5-7 minutes of Ford's annual 30 minute press conference at the Joe Luis Arena.  Ford was quick to respond to my request of incorporating connected car news into large scale auto shows to keep them on the map.  Unfortunately, they did this exactly one week after CES, a show where they already announced most of what was said in Detroit.

(Image credited to Ford)

Meanwhile, Chevrolet showed the Cruze Hatchback and the Bolt (again).  In Chevy's defense, the brand did mention all of the information on the vehicle that wasn't mention at CES; it was basically an all new debut.  The rumored debut of the Camaro ZL1 unfortunately did not take place.

Another big negative was Toyota's lack of a new vehicle launch at the show.  The brand did have some concepts that it brought over from Tokyo, as well as a Mirai with solar panels or satellite or something like that on the roof.  This move was surprising from Toyota, as they could have easily launched the new Prius Plug-in, which many people have already seen leaked sketches of... anything to get them through the damn auto show.

Finally, I have a huge beef with Volkswagen.  From what I've read, they spent a lot of time catching flack for dieselgate.  The simple solution to all of this was to launch the piece of crap in this picture below.  It's called the Tiguan GTE Active Concept, and is the next in a long line of concepts that VW will never build, but revealed anyway because they had nothing else to show.  The vehicle itself is laughable with those big wheels and body cladding.  Now Volkswagen thinks it is Jeep, and in their mind, this is their answer to the Trailhawk version of the new compact Jeep that will debut in New York.  Showing a vehicle like this to "preview" the next Tiguan is a dumb idea.  For starters, we all know that the new Tiguan looks like because it debuted in Frankfurt.  Those who don't know (i.e. most consumers) will know very soon, as VW will probably pick New York to debut the new crossover.  This, in my mind, it the dumbest and the most pathetic thing I have ever seen a German auto maker launch at the Detroit auto show in my lifetime.

(Image credited to Volkswagen)

After last years initial excitement and long term disappointment, what I saw this year was a mixed bag of results, with a nice balance of show stopping sports cars and important production car launches.

In my mind I think that is what made the 2016 NAIAS better than the 2015 NAIAS, important production car launches.  I admit sport cars and concept cars are memorable, but if they make up an entire auto show, joined by a few sport trim levels of existing vehicles, my only reaction is "Well the car companies have a lot of money and free time on their hands if they are doing this, so the industry is healthy."  However, if a consumer walks into the show and all they see on the turn tables are these concept cars and sports cars that they can never afford, they are almost blinded, and suddenly they feel forgotten and unimportant in this storm of car companies simply showing off in front of the media and in front of one-another.  On top of that, most of the production cars that did debut last year began hitting showrooms around the time of this writing: January 2016.  This was a stupid decision that has thankfully been addressed, as the Lexus LC in the only vehicle going on sale next year, with other models going on sale as early as two months from now.

My point in all of this is that customers are the driving force of the auto industry, so having an auto show that hardly features any debuts geared towards them, debuts that are acessable to many, is a huge mistake.  There his a need for vehicle launches like the Chrysler Pacifica, the Ford Fusion, the Honda Ridgeline, and the GMC Acadia.  These are vehicles that customers can identify with and make an investment in; very few people can make an investment in a Ford GT or Acura NSX.  Plus, vehicles like the new Mercedes E Class, the BMW M2, the Audi Allroad, and the Volvo S90 are also important vehicles, as they serve the same purpose to a luxury car buyer that the facelifted Kia Forte serves to the mainstream car buyer.

While as an enthusiast I love exotic cars, sports cars, and concepts cars, I know that there is a need for core vehicle launches.  This year Detroit delivered for enthusiasts and consumers alike, and when an auto show does this with a wide range of debuts, in my mind it is successful.  Also, when an auto show features debuts that answer or raise questions, such as "Can the Chrysler Pacifica resurrect a dying segment?" or "Honda really screwed up on the previous generation Ridgeline, so it will be interesting to see if they got it right this time", an auto show is also successful.

That wraps up my thoughts on the 2016 NAIAS.  It is hard to believe that another Detroit show has come and gone so quickly, but thankfully there are a lot of other topics to cover, starting with my review of the 2016 New England International Auto Show.  That post will be up soon; until then, thanks for reading and have a good week.

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