Taking place in Motor City, the North American International Auto Show (or Detroit Auto Show, for short) is arguably the most influential car showcase in North America, if not the world. It’s also the first auto show each calendar year, which helps it to set the tone for what’s to come in the world of cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles for the next 12 months. This year is proving to be no exception. The Detroit Auto Show is proving itself to be jam packed with a number of surprises and newsworthy announcements. Here are 10 of the biggest surprises coming out of this year’s showcase, along with a few mentions of things we hope get announced as the week progresses.
10. Kia Takes on BMW and Audi
If you don’t immediately think of Kia as a company that produces luxury vehicles, you are not alone. The Kia brand, to date, has mostly been known for making affordable branded vehicles such as the Sportage and Sorento SUVs, or the Sedona minivan. But in Detroit this week, Kia is announcing plans to go upscale and begin producing a luxury car designed to compete directly against the vaunted BMW and Audi nameplates. Called the Stinger, Kia’s new vehicle is a rear wheel drive sedan that has a four cylinder engine capable of producing 255 horsepower and 260 pounds of torque. It’s also available with a V6 engine. The Stinger also boasts a tricked out interior and stylish body. Whether it will succeed in taking business away from BMW and Audi remains to be seen, but we are intrigued by Kia’s lofty ambitions.
9. Ford Launches a Redesigned F-150
Ford’s F-150 pick-up truck has been one of its bestselling and most highly praised vehicles for more than 15 years now. You could argue that the F-150 is synonymous with Ford’s truck division. The company certainly spends a good deal of money advertising the hard working pick-up. At the Detroit Auto Show, the company plans to make the F-150 the centerpiece of its auto show announcements, unveiling a 2018 model of the truck that is loaded with new and advanced technology, including a standard built-in WiFi hotspot and cameras that measure the distance between the truck and other vehicles. The newest version of the F-150 pick-up also contains a three liter power stroke, V6 turbo diesel and enhanced V6 and V8 gas engines, as well as adaptive cruise control, a B&O Play audio system with high-end speakers and advanced trailer-tow technology. Early reviews from critics have been overwhelmingly positive.
8. Chevy Finally Redesigns the Traverse
Chevrolet introduced a redesigned Traverse SUV in Detroit – the first time the crossover SUV has been fully redesigned since it was first introduced in 2009. Going on sale in 2018, the Traverse builds on and shares many similar traits to its cousins, the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia. Although the revamped Traverse has not been downsized — the eight seat, three row SUV boasts segment-leading cargo space of 98.5 cubic feet, ample third row legroom, and a powerful V-6 engine that has a nine speed automatic transmission that is expected to produce 10 percent more horsepower than the outgoing model. The new, redesigned engine should also deliver up to 25 miles per gallon of highway driving and has a 5,000-pound towing capacity and standard front-wheel drive. Not too shabby for the popular and reliable Traverse.
7. Investments in U.S. Vehicle Manufacturing
The Donald Trump presidency has yet to officially start, but the U.S. automotive sector seems to be following the president-elect’s command to invest in manufacturing within America. After years of moving production to cheaper locations like Mexico and China, several automakers announced in Detroit that they will make substantial investments to build up their manufacturing capacity in on U.S. soil. Notably, Fiat Chrysler said that it will invest $1 billion to upgrade its plants in Warren and Toledo, Ohio to produce new Jeep vehicles – generating 2,000 new jobs in the process. Additionally, Ford said it is looking at refurbishing some of its older U.S.-based plants so that it can manufacture a new generation of SUVs (more on that below). These investments are good news for the American auto sector. Could Donald Trump actually be good for manufacturing, jobs and the economy as a whole? We’ll see.
— FCA-North America (@FiatChrysler_NA) January 8, 2017
6. Chevy Bolt Wins Car of the Year
The Chevy Bolt has been named the “Car of the Year” for 2017 in Detroit. An all-electric vehicle, the Bolt is not a sexy choice for the prestigious Car of the Year honor. Rather it’s more of a practical choice to award the compact and efficient Bolt with the top trophy. Indeed, the Bolt was up against the sexier and hipper Genesis G90 and the Volvo S90 for the prize. But in the end, judges opted to focus more on performance and efficiency than on curb appeal this year. The awarding of the Chevy Bolt is also seen as a vote of confidence for the electric vehicle revolution that automotive manufacturers are pushing. With most car makers around the world are moving more and more into electric vehicles, it make sense to hype them and push them as hard as possible onto the car buying public. And the Chevy Bolt certainly is one of the top electric vehicles that people can purchase today.
5. Ford Announced Plans to Bring Back the Bronco
It’s been over 20 years since it went extinct, but Ford announced in Detroit that it plans to bring back its once popular Bronco. With gas prices hovering at recent lows, Ford says it feels that now is a good time to bring back the Bronco, an early pick-up truck/SUV hybrid that the company manufactured from 1966 to 1996, and which was popularly known then as a Multi-Purpose Vehicle, or MPV. Ford CEO Mark Fields said that the Bronco will be back in automotive dealerships by 2020, and that the company is betting the public will be happy to see the vehicle again, adding that the new model will be positioned as a “rugged SUV.” Of course, a white version of the iconic Bronco was immortalized on national TV in 1995 as O.J. Simpson’s getaway vehicle of choice, which led a parade of L.A.P.D cars down a freeway as the world watched transfixed on CNN. Here’s hoping gas prices are still low in 2020 when the Bronco rides again.
4. New Honda Odyssey Minivan is Announced
The minivan segment had been on a steady decline in recent years, though sales did rise 8 percent last year – marking the first increase in nearly a decade. Hoping to ride the current upswing, Honda unveiled a brand new version of its Odyssey minivan, long a critical darling in the vehicle segment. As millennials age and begin to have families of their own, Honda has given a new generation of its Odyssey minivan that is aggressively overhauled and features technology likely to appeal to people who grew up connected to the internet. These include bluetooth headphones that can be overridden by the van’s driver, as well as rear seats that slide from side-to-side, making multiple storage configurations fluid and easy, and a 360-degree camera system for the rear seats so that the driver can see what the kids are up to in the back. While still a minivan, the Odyssey looks to be a technological improvement on the trusted people mover.
3. Nissan Bets on Small SUVs
Nissan is expected to continue their push into the SUV market with its debut of a new small SUV designed specifically for the U.S. market, as well as a redesigned QX50 compact sport utility vehicle for its luxury Infiniti brand. While some automakers such as Ford are moving back towards larger SUVs that cost more to fill up the tank, Nissan is moving more towards smaller SUVs, betting that consumers like the style but don’t want to spend a fortune at the gas station. There are even rumors that one of Nissan’s SUVs may be an all-electric vehicle, which could prove to be a game changer for the segment, if true. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case. But one thing remains clear – the crossover and compact SUV market is not disappearing anytime soon. This continues to be a very popular car market with the general public.
2. Volkswagen Goes Out on a Limb With New Microbus
Remember those old Volkswagen vans from the 1960s? The ones that you often saw parked by a beach in surfing movies? They usually had curtains on the side windows and were often referred to, for good reason, as “shaggin’ wagons.” Well, Volkswagen is aiming to bring back its once popular old style van, putting a contemporary spin on the vehicle as it did when the company relaunched its legendary Beetle more than a decade ago. Volkswagen is planning to unveil a concept for what it’s calling a Microbus. The new van is a sleek looking update on the classic VW van, that has the added twist of being an all-electric vehicle that produces zero emissions, has the potential to be completely self-driving, and boasts an augmented reality display panel. If all that weren’t enough, the new van has a 369-horsepower engine and all-wheel drive. In a news release, Volkswagen said the Microbus “forges links between the origins of the Volkswagen brand and its electrifying future.”
1. Google Pushes Envelope Further on Self-Driving Vehicles
You’ve likely heard that Google is developing a self-driving car. Their engineers are hard at work on a concept for a completely autonomous vehicle. But Google surprised many people at the launch of this year’s auto show by unveiling a Chrysler Pacifica minivan that is equipped with sensors for autonomous driving, developed by Waymo, their self-driving car company under the Alphabet brand. It was the first hint that the automotive industry may be looking at outfitting, or retrofitting, existing vehicles to convert them to self-driving ones with autonomous capabilities. John Krafcik, who runs Google’s autonomous car division, noted at the Detroit Auto Show that the cost of sensors is falling, and so is the amount of time it takes for Google to rack up test miles on its self-driving prototypes. He further added that the goal of bringing autonomous driving technology to millions of people is likely closer than expected. Google plans to begin testing a fleet of the self-driving minivans on public roads in California and Arizona starting in February 2017.