The Motor City's hometown car companies aren't roaring. Not yet. Perhaps not ever, at least to the extent Ford, General Motors and Chrysler once were. They are rumbling, though, and the rest of the world knows it – and the rest of the world seems generally content to let Motor City take most of the big bows at the hometown car show.
That's the biggest takeaway from this year's 2013 North American International Auto Show. The name is pretentious, without a doubt. This is really the Detroit auto show in Cobo Hall and it's where the Detroit Three did quite a nice job of strutting their stuff during two media preview days leading up to the show's opening to the public this week.
GM came into the show just weeks after buying back another large chunk of stock once held by the U.S. Government. The plan is to buy back the rest within 12 to 18 months, which coincidentally is about the point in time when GM's top brass have been saying we're to judge the success or failure of GM's return from bankruptcy.
Essentially, said North American president Mark Reuss, GM will have turned over its entire product line by mid-2014. Then GM can get into a regular cadence of churning over its models faster and with greater resonance both in the sales numbers and at the bottom line.
As perhaps a sign of confidence, GM's Chevrolet division unwrapped the seventh-generation Corvette super sports car and did so with a reach into the past to resurrect the Stingray name. The new 'Vette – er, Stingray – is a monstrously impressive piece of engineering, one capable of 0-60 mph in under four seconds.
The car is also a technological tour de force. The new 6.2-litre V-8 has direct fuel injection and the body structure uses carbon fibre to reduce weight. Reuss said this new 'Vette won't, however, roar away from its role as an affordable super sports car capable of out-gunning the Porsche 911 Carreras and Audi R8s of the world. Despite all the advancements, look for a price starting in the mid-$70,000 or so. We'll know for sure when GM announces pricing later this year.
What was somewhat odd is this: this Stingray certainly is a halo car designed to cast a positive light on all Chevy and even GM products. But the money-makers are GM's pickups, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. All-new versions of both were also on hand, but they weren't news: GM chose to unwrap them just before the Christmas break. No, the star of GM's show – perhaps the star of the Detroit show – was the Stingray.
Ford, however, would beg to differ. There, the emerging Lincoln Motor Co. stole much of the limelight from a concept version of Ford's big moneymaker, the F-150. The Lincoln MKC concept, said Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing boss and the new head of Lincoln, will become a production model and it will make some noise in the luxury compact crossover segment. The MKC evoke a bit of the styling we've already seen on the Land Rover Evoque, which by the way will be a direct competitor. The interior is brilliant and that's perhaps more important, said Farley.
Regardless, Lincoln is just a work in progress. And yes, Farley knows he needs to move fast with Lincoln. "My bosses are impatient," he said. So, too, is he, added Farley.
And then there was Chrysler. Three years ago, many were far from convinced that the smallest and financially weakest of Detroit's Three would survive at all. That's no longer the case. The new Ram pickup is off to a great start and, like pickups at GM and Ford, the Ram is a major cash cow. It's winning awards and the wallets of buyers.
Just as interesting, though, is the news from Chrysler's Jeep brand. Jeep is emerging as arguably Chrysler's most important brand. Last year, global sales of Jeep topped 700,000, said Jeep's brand boss Jim Morrison, a Canadian who still commutes to the company's Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters from his home in Windsor, Ont. Jeep sales that top a million are not impossible. Jeep, after all, is expanding aggressively into markets that matter – China first among them.
Here in Detroit, the big Jeep product news was the 2014 Grand Cherokee. It will soon get a 3.0-litre diesel from Chrysler parent, Fiat of Italy. And the Grand Cherokee will also be sold with two V-8s, one a high-performance monster that will power an SRT Grand Cherokee. And the 3.0-litre V-6 will continue. The Grand Cherokee more than anything needs a diesel and Morrison was happy to point out that the one here is better than anything the former Chrysler owners from Germany, Daimler, have to offer. Bold words.
Of course, the Detroit show was not exclusively about Detroit car companies. Nissan's Infiniti brand, for instance, unveiled the Q50, which later this year will be the replacement for the current G37. The Q50 will arrive in both gasoline and gasoline-electric hybrid form.
And it also heralds a new naming strategy for Infiniti: starting with the Q50, all Infiniti cars will be "Q" and a number, following in the Q50 pattern. Crossovers and SUVs, meanwhile, will be QX-somethings. There is much more to come from Infiniti than just a new car and some new names, too. Nissan is serious about turning its luxury brand into a global player, and a highly profitable one.
Over at Honda, an Urban Crossover Concept shown here will eventually become a real production crossover positioned below the current Honda CR-V – both in terms of size and pricing. Toyota showed a "concept" version of the Corolla compact called the Furia, a four-door painted in a bold gold/orange hue. Audi showed the RS7, a high-performance version of the A7, and it was just more evidence that Volkswagen's high-volume premium brand is capable of churning out a seemingly endless array of new models and derivative of current models.
At BMW, the redesigned 3-Series coupe is getting a new name, the 4-Series. Acura showed a near-production version of the 2014 MDX mid-sized crossover and Cadillac unveiled the 2014 ELR, which uses GM's Voltec plug-in hybrid powertrain from the Chevy Volt, Aside from the F-Series concept teaser, Ford also introduced its new Transit commercial van family. Yes, the E-Series van is giving way to a modern Transit offered in three roof heights, two wheelbases and three engines, including a 3.5-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, a 3.7-litre V-6 and a 3.2-litre Power Stroke five-cylinder diesel. This wasn't a very sexy unveiling, but extremely important.
Toyota's Lexus luxury division showed its redesigned 2014 IS sedan, which shares its underpinnings and 3.5-litre V-6 engine with the larger GS sedan. There will also be an entry-level 2.5-litre V-6.
Oh, and Mercedes-Benz not only had freshened versions of its entire E-Class line, but more importantly for Canada we saw the 2014 CLA, a front-wheel-drive compact sedan with coupe-like styling and a price tag expected in the very low $30,000s. There will also be an all-wheel-drive CLS.
And not to be forgotten, Nissan's 2014 Versa hatchback is exactly what the brand needs in the entry point and will be welcomed by dealers and expect buyer alike.
So yes, Detroit in 2013 was an auto show with an assortment of interesting new models and concepts from many of the world's auto makers. But at its core, this was the Detroit auto show for Detroit's auto makers. They're real, they're financially stable and they all have grand plans.
For a photo gallery from the Detroit auto show, click here.