Industry Looks for Sales-Pumping Buzz from Detroit Auto ShowBy Bill Visnic January 7, 2011
"Somber" might best describe the atmosphere of the past two Detroit auto shows, the international auto show that opens and often sets the tone for the new year.
Automakers aren't prepping for a re-visit of the rollicking Detroit-show days when the industry was booming along at 16 million-plus sales, SUVs were smashing through plate-glass walls and cattle were driven on downtown-Detroit's Jefferson Avenue, but the 11-percent U.S. sales rebound in 2010 is enough to maybe lift the cloud that's hung over the domestic automakers' hometown auto show.
At least a bit.
There will be a measure of the old-school hoopla. General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Porsche is back. Heck, the Green Hornet's car is making an appearance, and that's cool enough.
But showgoers expecting a raft of major new products and torrid concept cars are in for relatively slim pickings compared with the some of the more freewheeling editions of the Detroit confab. There's still a prevailing austerity, after all, from automakers licking the wounds of a two-year recession.
Here, in no particular order, are most of the more significant vehicle introductions slated for the 2011 Detroit auto show:The domestic contingent - not to mention many of the import makers - will slug it out at mostly in the small-vehicle trenches.
Chevrolet's Sonic, hatch and sedan, replaces the current Aveo subcompact with a name Chevy planners believe will better resonate with consumers, but potential for not particularly favorable connections abounds.
GM's Buick division chips in with the Verano, a "Quiet Tuned" compact sedan derived from the Delta II front-drive platform introduced last year for the all-new Chevrolet Cruze.
But the Verano upsizes in the engine bay with a standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder (177 horsepower/170 lb.-ft.) rather than the Cruze's dinkier 1.8-liter/1.4-liter turbo choices. The car's somewhat smaller and hundreds of pounds lighter than Buick's pudgy Regal, which uses the same engine, so the Verano's likely to present slightly more urgent acceleration.
Ford Motor Co.'s floating the idea of a compact minivan with the U.S. unveiling of the C-Max, a high-roofed mini-people-mover than can seat up to seven, though heaven only knows why. But engine fanatics anxious to get their right foot into Ford's promising-on-paper Ecoboost 1.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder will find their first chance with the C-Max. Another first for the C-Max: a hands-free hatchback opening feature. Wave a foot under the rear bumper, the hatch, she pops open.
And although it's been seen all over for a year, Ford also will display the soon-to-be in showrooms 2012 Focus, a car that should make GM, Honda and Toyota immensely afraid.
Not to be undersold is the Chrysler Group LLC's 2012 Fiat 500, the fuel-sipping subcompact that will be sold at some 130 Chrysler dealers, although Chrysler's promised on-sale timing has fluctuated.
The 500, the first Fiat-badged car on sale here since 1983, will first be sold in 2-door hatchback and convertible body styles and is the first car in the U.S. market to use Fiat's ultra-efficient and high specific-output Multiair 1.4-liter 4-cylinder.
All these can step aside, though, for the Detroit show's most critical small-car unveiling, Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s all-new Civic - to be seen at the show as a concept car.
Honda delayed by a year the development of the new Civic in a move that was widely believed to address stylistic, size and performance inadequacies. With a number of uncharacteristically lackluster recent launches, the new-generation Civic is a franchise model Honda can scarce afford to foul up. Always close-mouthed Honda had leaked nothing of substance at press time, so it was difficult to say if the company had any groundbreaking innovations baked in for the latest iteration of its popular compact car.
Hyundai, currently known as the chief thorn in the side of the Japanese automakers, is slated to unveil a production version of its long-teased Veloster, a sporty compact hatchback with a direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, a dual-clutch automated manual transmission and a purported youth-baiting low price. Hyundai still refused to say whether the long-used Veloster name will stick for production.
Hyundai also planned to show a cubist concept car sized for urban use and also targeting young buyers (don't they all?) called the Curb. Design is from Hyundai's California studio, but the brand might do well to study the sales performance of the Japanese "box" youth cars of the past few years.
More Major Metal
The 2012 Detroit auto show won't be just about small cars, of course. Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all have significant metal to show.
For Volkswagen, the stakes are getting serious as the company continues on its stated path to becoming the world's largest automaker by 2018. The road goes right through Chattanooga, Tennessee, the plant that this year begins producing an all-new midsize sedan - VW still is calling it "New Midsize Sedan," or NMS - to replace the Passat.
The NMS has a serious job description: go head-to-head in the big-volume family-sedan segment with some of the industry's most established and beloved nameplates, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu. And yes, the market-share bandit of the new decade, Hyundai Sonata.
The NMS is larger and fronts more interior space than the Passat, a Germany-centric model that's been perceived as egotistically priced and has never quite clicked with American buyers -Volkswagen insists the NMS's size and style and pricing will change all that. Most VW faithful are standing by, hoping the cheapness bug that bit the recently released new Jetta hasn't infested VW's crucial new midsize sedan.
Toyota Motor Corp. is ready to test the reach of its Prius franchise with a tall-roofed people-mover version that may be sized and conceptually similar to Ford's C-Max, but using Toyota's renowned Hybrid Synergy Drive technology to radically boost fuel efficiency. This MPV represents what is speculated to be the second of a potential "family" of Prius vehicles leveraging the name that has become synonymous with "hybrid." Toyota has not distributed photos of the new Prius yet but Edmunds' InsideLine.com has posted a number of spy photos of the bigger Prius.
Chrysler has facelifted the once-thriving 300 rear-drive fullsize sedan, as well as hiked up the quality and design of the big car's interior. It's another of what has come to be known as "Chryslerizing" in Detroit - a quick but thorough fix-up of an aging model that extends beyond the traditional "facelift" while a more thoroughly re-engineering is under way.
Chrysler has been open about its need to buy time in this fashion until wholly new models - engineered mostly by Fiat - can begin come to market in force later this year and in 2012. If the 300's interior makeover, in particular, is as thorough and seemingly oblivious to the accountants' scrutiny as some of Chrysler's other interior facelifts, the revision could provide a profitable new lease on life for the car that helped Chrysler hold on as it was serially mismanaged in the latter half of the previous decade.
Ford has a major play on its hands with a concept version of what will become the next-generation Escape, Ford's ubiquitous compact crossover that is long in the tooth but has remained as steady strong seller. Few details were known at press time, but Ford likely has some fuel-saving tech tricks up its sleeve for this high-volume player.
BMW is showing a smoking 335-horsepower Motorsports, or "M" version of the compact 1-Series coupe, though it's slicing the sausage thinly, considering the company already has a 300-horse engine available for the unlovely 1-Series and the projected $45,000 price tag for the new 1-Series M Coupe shan't be much help in attracting the younger buyers BMW insinuates will be enticed by the chance to get into a hallowed M car for less money.
Mercedes-Benz is de-sheeting the facelifted version of its entry-level C-Class, which also is powered by new engines that include a 1.8-liter direct-injected and twin-turbocharged 4-cylinder that churns out a rather rousing 201 horsepower. So as not to frighten potential U.S. buyers with numbers on the decklid that are uncouthly small, the 1.8-liter car is badged C250. The car reportedly will be shown to media offsite and not at the main showfloor at Cobo Center.
Mercedes has another significant introduction in Detroit, a diesel-powered variant of its flagship S-Class sedan. The S350 Bluetec is the first time a U.S.-spec S-Class has had a diesel engine since 1996. The new-generation S350 Bluetec comes standard with Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive.
1 - Detroit's Cobo Center is ready for the North American International Auto Show. (Photo by NAIAS)
2 - Chevrolet Sonic (Photo by General Motors)
3 - Buick Verano (Photo by General Motors)
4 - Ford C-Max (Photo by Ford)
5 - Fiat 500 (Photo by Fiat)
6 - Honda Civic concept (Sketch by Honda)
7 - Hyundai Veloster (Teaser photo by Hyundai)
8 - Hyundai Curb (Teaser photo by Hyundai)
9/10 - Volkswagen NMS - New Midsize Sedan (Sketches by Volkswagen)
11 - Chrysler 300 (Photo by Chrysler)
12 - Ford Escape concept (Photo by Ford)
13 - BMW 1 Series M coupe (Photo by BMW)
14 - Mercedes-Benz C-Class (Photo by Mercedes-Benz)