DETROIT—Once upon a time, the North American International Auto Show was a mighty thing indeed. The American auto industry ruled the world, and this was their home event with all the bells and whistles that implies. But the world has changed. For one thing, people can and do use the Internet to work out what car they're going to buy. And with the LA Auto Show, CES, and NAIAS in such close proximity to each other on the calendar, there just aren't enough new things to fill all three events. The take-home impression from NAIAS this year—hot on the heels of a mediocre CES—was of a lackluster performance with little in the way to stop one in their tracks.
Ford opened the events at the Cobo Center with a trio of new models that we covered early in the week. Mercedes-Benz had a new G-Class that looks almost identical to the 1979 model, an example of which could be seen embedded in synthetic amber outside the front doors. By midweek this nearly-50 ton act of corporate whimsy was roped off, riven by cracks thanks to the sub-freezing temperatures. BMW gave the i8 hybrid a mid-life bump, and Audi showed its new A7 on this continent for the first time.
Lamborghini also revealed its new SUV, but off-site, and visitors to the Cobo Center won't see the Urus on display. Nor will they see anything from Jaguar, Land Rover, or Porsche, or much from Volvo for that matter. But in the gallery above and the text below, I'll take a look at some of the other highlights from Detroit.
Trucks and SUVs
NAIAS has become a show for new truck and SUV reveals, and 2018 had a couple of important ones. The Ram 1500 certainly generated the most buzz among attendees I spoke to. Weight reduction was a priority, with 100lbs (45kg) taken out of the frame alone it's 225lbs (102kg) lighter overall. Heavier loads are possible, too: you can now carry up to 2,300lbs (1,044kg) and tow 12,750lbs (5,783kg) loads. And the Ram 1500 is now a 48v mild hybrid—eTorque in Ram-speak.
Chevrolet's Silverado has also been on a weight loss program, dropping an impressive 450lbs (204kg) compared to the outgoing model. Some of this is through greater use of aluminum, which somewhat takes the wind out of Chevy's recent ad campaign throwing shade on their rivals for using the metal. For reasons not entirely apparent to this truck philistine, the Silverado didn't meet with quite the same approval as its rival from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA also used the Detroit show to debut the 2019 Jeep Cherokee. Those horrible narrow headlights of the fifth-generation Cherokee are no more, making for a much more handsome SUV. That's praise that probably won't be heaped upon BMW's new X2. BMW says the X2 is actually a Sports Activity Coupe, and the BMW logo on the C-pillar is meant to call back to the 3.0 CS coupe of the 1970s. If you say so, BMW…
Kia and Volkswagen both brought new compact sedans to Detroit, in the shapes of the new Forte and Jetta. Kia says it's brought the styling of the Stinger to its smaller car, along with a suite of advanced driver assists. It ought to be a little more frugal than the outgoing Forte, in part thanks to Kia's new Intelligent Variable Transmission. Kia says this transmission avoids the runner-band feeling of other continuously variable transmissions, and is a lot quieter than as well.
The new Jetta is built on VW Group's MQB architecture, like the Mk 7 Golf. So expect all the same technology and features as those cars, but with a trunk instead of a hatchback. The big question is whether it will find buyers; one look in any comment thread here that involves VW is all it takes to realize that many people have not forgiven it for getting caught lying about diesel emissions. Perhaps that's a big reason for the new Jetta going on sale for less money—it starts at $18,545—than the old model?
Hyundai brought the new Veloster hatchback to Detroit. This will be available in both regular, Turbo, and N spec, each sportier than the last. (Think of N as Hyundai's version of M or AMG.) The company also brought along a very neat "Hot Wheels"-like Veloster which we're told will play a "significant" role in the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp movie.
Concepts and Curios
Things weren't even that exciting on the concept car front. Chinese brand GAC Motor brought along the Enverge—despite the name this isn't the merger of a pair of tech publications. My abiding memories of this concept were the big dihedral doors and the way the wheel trims were illuminated from within.
Lexus showed off a concept called the LF-1 Limitless. It imagines a future flagship Lexus SUV, using design language that Lexus describes as "molten katana." Infiniti also featured a concept flagship, this time a sedan called the Q Inspiration. Like the LF-1 Limitless, it features a rather outrageous interior that looks great but which we think will never the leap into production.
Infiniti's corporate parent Nissan also had a concept for NAIAS, the Xmotion. Pronounced "cross-motion," it's meant to be a Japanese aesthetic take on that most American of vehicle form factors, the SUV. And it also has a theatrical interior—meant to be ready for fully autonomous driving—that we wish would show up in real cars. Well, maybe not that steering wheel.
Beyond that, a few other bits and pieces caught my eye. Denso had a weird mobility idea that was a tricycle with fabric bodywork, something BMW explored a few years ago. A number of suppliers had cutaway vehicles, including the one from Aisin pictured in the gallery. There was the weird Michelin Vision tire concept, made from recycled materials and looking more like a strange round coral than an automotive component. And The Grand Tour pub—which we saw in LA—was back again, offering a fairly decent bangers and mash for hungry journalists.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin