2014 Detroit Auto Show Preview

Detroit Auto ShowIn the business world, few things matter more than momentum, and with the books closed on 2013 — the best year the auto industry has had since the start of the Great Recession — manufacturers will be looking to keep things rolling in the year ahead.

Expect both automakers and auto buyers alike to be keeping a close eye on what happens when the North American International Auto Show opens in little more than a week. The good news is that with an estimated 5,000 or more automotive journalists and perhaps 750,000 potential car buyers set to pass through the turnstiles at Cobo Center, there will be plenty of news made before this year’s show wraps up.

According to Rod Alberts, the executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, the trade group sponsoring the NAIAS, about 50 new cars, trucks, crossovers and concepts will make their debut at the newly expanded convention center — plus a number of other vehicles making their first appearance at Cobo after debuting at the big Frankfurt, Tokyo and Los Angeles auto shows late in 2013.

The auto industry is in the midst of a product blitz like none ever seen before — in trade-speak, manufacturers are racing to fill every possible inch of white space. Ford alone plans to launch about 23 new products this coming year. That’s great news for motorists who want to find a product that precisely fits their wants and needs, whether a minicar, sports car or pickup.

Among the new products filling the latter category, the 2014 NAIAS will see the debut of both the compact GMC Canyon and the full-size 2015 Ford F-150. The big Ford is expected to be one of the stars of the show as it highlights some of the dramatic trends reshaping the auto industry. The new model is expected to use an “aluminum intensive” design that will shave perhaps 500 pounds or more off the truck’s mass, yielding as much as 5 mpg or better in fuel economy.

Mileage has become one of the most critical issues for today’s buyers, whether those in search for an entry-level model like the new Honda Fit that will debut in Detroit, or the big Mercedes-Benz S600, also on tap. Tough new U.S. mileage standards phase in between now and 2016, with even more demanding rules to follow in 2025.

As show goers will discover, however, that won’t mean the sort of frustrating sacrifices in performance, room or comfort that followed the twin oil shocks of the 1970s. In fact, if anything, the NAIAS will highlight what some are calling a golden age of performance. Manufacturers are finding surprising ways to deliver unheard-of levels of power even while squeezing out mileage once thought impossible.

Among the modern muscle cars on tap are the new Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the new Ford Mustang, the Porsche 911 Targa, and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Kia GT4 Stinger concept is a great example of how things are changing. While it may have a mere 2.0-liter power plant under its hood, that inline-four will deliver as much horsepower as many traditional V-8s thanks to modern technologies like direct injection and turbocharging.

Of course, green technology also will be highlighted on the Cobo floor. Toyota’s hydrogen-powered FCX prototype will make its North American debut, along with several other fuel-cell vehicles set to go into production between now and 2015. Meanwhile, Ford will rush its C-Max Solar Energi concept from its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to Motown. The prototype uses a new way to tap the sun’s power to charge up its batteries rather than having to find an electric outlet.

Technology has become a defining factor – and a key competitive differentiator – in today’s auto industry, whether under the hood, in the cabin, or scattered around the vehicle to help protect the safety of its occupants. Several automakers have promised to put the first autonomous vehicles into production by 2020, but several of the models coming to Cobo will fall just short of that goal today.

No wonder organizers are expecting this year’s North American International Auto Show could bring near-record attendance — or better. Significantly, studies show a large share of show goers wind up buying vehicles during the next 12 months, so a solid turnout would provide just that much more momentum to keep the automotive recovery building in 2014.


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