NAIAS Caps ‘Amazing Turnaround’

“We’re expecting the auto show to be a pretty big party, with lots of pats on the back and deservedly so,” one auto analyst says, while cautioning: “We shouldn’t get too fat and happy.”

Tom Murphy, Managing Editor

January 10, 2011

5 Min Read
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Special Coverage

North American Int’l Auto Show

DETROIT – In deference to those who believe Sunday should be for rest, organizers of the North American International Auto Show decided a few years ago the schedule for press conferences should be limited to Monday and Tuesday.

Judging by this year’s jam-packed schedule, the committee might need to reconsider: The grid today calls for 22 press conferences between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the annual confab held in the downtown Cobo Center here.

A crowded news schedule means auto makers have a lot to say, and that’s a positive sign for an industry that has taken its lumps.

“We’re expecting the auto show to be a pretty big party, with lots of pats on the back, and deservedly so,” Paul McCarthy, automotive transaction services strategy leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, says at a pre-event media roundtable in Detroit.

“We’ve executed an amazing turnaround,” McCarthy says. “A century after the Model T, we still definitely have some growth in this industry.”

The first auto maker press conference is hosted by an OEM that has skipped the NAIAS the past three years: Porsche A, which is unveiling the 918 RSR that represents Porsche’s bid to remain true to its high-performance pedigree while embracing the need for greater fuel efficiency.

The 2-seat mid-engine 918 RSR coupe borrows some technology and design cues from the 911 GT3 R hybrid and 918 Spyder, distilled in a modern, innovative super sports car.

This concept version employs a light, stiff carbon fiber-reinforced plastic monocoque and a direct-injection V-8 rated at 563 hp at 10,300 rpm. Electric motors on the two front wheels each contribute 75 kW (10-hp), for a peak drive power of 767 hp.

Porsche 918 RSR motor sports version of 918 Spyder concept.

Fellow German auto maker BMW AG promises two world premieres, the 1-Series M Coupe and 650i convertible. The newest M model will be powered by a 3.0L I-6 with twin-turbochargers and features a specifically turned version of the current M3’s aluminum suspension.

The 1-Series M also has a substantially widened track and a metal roof panel that weighs 35 lbs. (15.9 kg) less than the moon roof in the standard 1-Series. Reducing weight at the tallest point of the vehicle lowers the car’s center of gravity to improve vehicle dynamics.

The 650i convertible features a classic soft-top roof, with flying-buttress design. It is powered by BMW’s 4.4L turbocharged V-8 that makes 400 hp and 450 lb.-ft. (610 Nm) of torque, running through an 8-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

On the domestic front, Chrysler Group LLC unveils its redesigned ’11 300 fullsize sedan, which sports an all-new grille, more steeply raked windshield and jewel-like taillamps. The rear decklid features a lip spoiler to accentuate the brand’s redesigned badge.

The new 300 benefits from interior upgrades that include wider use of soft-touch materials and a new corporate steering wheel.

Despite the don’t-mess-with-success business credo, Chrysler is compelled to make some changes, having made few since the rear-wheel-drive car launched in 2004. It was named North American Car of the Year in 2005.

Chrysler has two finalists in this year’s North American Truck of the Year competition, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs. They square off against the Ford Explorer SUV for top honors.

On the car side of the competition, the finalists are the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Sonata.

The winners will be announced today at the show.

Toyota Motor Corp., still coping with the recall of millions of vehicles, has few new products to show in Detroit. A “Prius Zone” will play up the success of the hybrid-electric fuel sipper as a potential sub-brand for Toyota. A Prius concept vehicle and a plug-in version will be unveiled as well.

In addition, Toyota pays tribute to the humorous “Swagger Wagon” video that has drawn more than 8 million views on YouTube. The video features a young mom and balding father rapping to an urban vibe about the coolness of their Sienna minivan.

C-Max Energi Ford’s first production PHEV.

The ultimate “Swagger Wagon,” a modified Sienna from the 2010 Specialty Equipment Market Assn. Show last fall in Las Vegas, will be displayed in Detroit.

Ford Motor Co. will feature a Focus electric vehicle, which launches in North America later this year, as well as the C-Max Energi cross/utility vehicle, its first plug-in hybrid. Based on the same underpinnings as the new global Ford Focus, the 5-passenger Energi is aimed at young families wanting flexibility, technology and fuel economy.

The vehicle goes on sale next year and is expected to have a combined gasoline/electric range of 500 miles (800 km).

The Energi’s Atkinson-cycle 2.0L 4-cyl. internal-combustion engine, paired with a permanent- magnet electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery, is expected to garner the Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle status, Ford says.

Also at the Ford stand will be the C-Max Hybrid, a vehicle the auto maker says will boast better fuel economy than the Fusion Hybrid, which achieves 41 mpg (5.7 L/100 km) in the city.

General Motors Co. unveils the new-for-’12 Chevrolet Sonic. It is the most substantial and first homegrown subcompact car from the auto maker. Production of the sedan and 5-door model, which will replace the Korean-built Aveo at the lowest rung of GM’s vehicle portfolio, begins later this year at the auto maker’s Orion Twp., MI, assembly plant.

Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. promises to take the wraps off a 3-door sporty coupe that goes on sale mid-year, as well as an urban concept vehicle.

Despite the anticipated upbeat mood on the show floor, analyst McCarthy offers an alternative view. He calls attention to the industry’s cyclicality, which historically allows good times to last between five and seven years.

“Happy days are here again, but, frankly, we shouldn’t get too fat and happy. The competition is going to be very brutal out there,” he says.

“Let’s be honest as we pat ourselves on the back about our improved financials. Strong recoveries are not due to our brilliance as an industry; it’s due to the cycle. The challenge, of course, is how to escape the pattern.”

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About the Author(s)

Tom Murphy

Managing Editor, Informa/WardsAuto

Tom Murphy test drives cars throughout the year and focuses on powertrain and interior technology. He leads selection of the Wards 10 Best Engines, Wards 10 Best Interiors and Wards 10 Best UX competitions. Tom grills year-round, never leaves home without a guitar pick and aspires to own a Jaguar E-Type someday.

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