By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Since 2009, the Detroit auto show has been mostly about cars—the smaller, the better. After being caught flat-footed by the recession and a big spike in gasoline prices, the former Big Three—Ford, GM and Chrysler—were eager to show the U.S. government and taxpayers (which bailed out GM and Chrysler) that they knew how to build more than hulking pickup trucks and gas-guzzling SUVs. Hence, the spotlight was on small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Dodge Dart, while the heavier pieces of metal were parked off to the side.
Not this year. All three automakers are turning their attention back to bigger vehicles—namely pick-up trucks. GM is showing off its new 2014 Chevrolet Sliverado 1500 and its sister model the GMC Sierra. Ford, meanwhile, has a burly Atlas pick-up concept that is believed to represent the future look of its best-selling F-150.
In part, the renewed focus on pick-ups reflects a need to refresh models that haven’t seen a major update in several years (although that didn’t stop the F-150 and Silverado from claiming the top two sales spots in the U.S. last year by a significant margin). It’s also timed to coincide with the rebound in the U.S. housing market, which is expected to draw contractors and other construction types back to showrooms. But mostly it reflects a reality of the U.S. auto business that was swept under rug for political reasons in 2009, but remains as important to the Detroit Three’s bottom lines as ever: Americans like to drive trucks.
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 3:31 PM - 0 Comments
Cars like the Corolla are the reason Toyota has a reputation for building reliable, but boring vehicles—even if the Corolla is the best-selling car of all time.
But now that rival car-makers have closed the gap in terms of perceived quality (thanks in part to Toyota’s massive recall crisis a few years ago), CEO Akio Toyoda has promised that future models will also look good and be exciting to drive.
Enter the Toyota Corolla Furia concept, unveiled at the Detroit auto show Monday. Sleek, sporty and vaguely Civic-like, the Furia can no longer be described as an “appliance” or mere grocery getter. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the production version will be nearly as sexy. But it’s still a big step in the right direction for a notoriously conservative company.
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
This year’s North American International Auto Show is underway this week in Detroit. And there’s little doubt that hometown favourites Ford, GM and Chrysler, the latter two just four years out of bankruptcy protection, are firmly back in the driver’s seat.
The annual industry bash on the banks of the Detroit River kicked off Sunday night when GM unveiled its 2014 Chevrolet Corvette “Stingray”—an all-American car if there ever was one. GM North America president Mark Reuss told reporters that while the revival of the “Stingray” moniker is a nod to the Corvette’s muscle-car history, the new version is intended to be a high-performance vehicle on par with anything built by its rivals. “I will eagerly put this car up against any of the top performance cars in the world,” he said. “In terms of design, technology and performance this car is second to none.”
On Monday, GM took home a North American Car of the Year award for the Cadillac ATS. Chrysler, meanwhile, won the North American Truck/Utility of the Year award for its Ram 1500 pick-up, suggesting there’s still a lot of mileage left in big burly vehicles in an age of small, fuel-efficient cars and hybrids (there are also rumours that Ford will unveil a concept version of its best-selling F-150 pick up truck). That’s in stark contrast to previous years when vehicle-of-the-year winners included electric vehicles like they Chevy Volt and Nissan’s Leaf, or small cars made by Korea’s Hyundai.
Though there are still dozens more vehicle announcements scheduled, the show’s first few hours suggests that the Motor City is back doing what it does best. And that’s no small feat given that obituaries of the former U.S. “Big Three” automakers were being written just a few years ago.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM - 0 Comments
The weirdness of the post taxpayer-bailout Detroit auto show
Read the article “Motor City magic” from the January 24 issue of Maclean’s
RELATED: Sex, speed and loud music—The awkwardness of this year’s Detroit auto show
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM - 0 Comments
The awkwardness of this year’s Detroit auto show (plus VIDEO)
Three years ago, Chrysler hired cowboys to herd 120 longhorn cattle through downtown Detroit to generate excitement for its Dodge Ram pick-up truck during the North American International Auto Show. The carmaker has also dropped trucks from the ceiling of the Cobo Center, where the show is held, and driven a Jeep through a plate glass window.
These days, however, over-the-top stunts have largely disappeared from the annual auto industry bash, thanks mainly to the latest recession and a taxpayer bailout of the industry. “People would think we were back on the bottle,” joked one Chrysler executive when asked if Chrysler (now married to Italy’s Fiat) would ever consider rounding up more cattle.
But don’t worry. It’s not as though automobile industry has suddenly purged its long-standing penchant for displays of cheesiness. Despite considerable effort to highlight the improved fuel efficiency of their vehicles (aimed more at government regulators than actual car buyers, according to some analysts), the industry still managed to slip a healthy dose of what it believes truly sells cars into this year’s Detroit auto show: sex, speed and loud music. And the results were frequently amusing.
From rock n’ roll to women wearing tight clothing, the auto show was full of examples of the industry’s marketing crutches. There were burly trucks caked with mud, alien-looking concept vehicles, and modified race cars that appeared designed solely for gear-heads to salivate over. Take, for example, Porsche’s 918 RSR, a hybrid car with a pair of electric motors driven by a giant flywheel sitting where a passenger would normally be. The system wasn’t designed to save fuel, mind you—it’s a way to boost its regular 555 horsepower output to 767 hp with a push of a button.
When it came to dramatic unveilings, Chrysler, perhaps predictably given its past, led the way with its introduction of the Chrysler 300 and 200 sedans. Before the cars were driven out on to the stage, hundreds of journalists were subjected to a frenetic mash-up of pounding hip-hop beats, tinkling piano music, images of cute children and references to underdogs who triumph over adversity. To top it off, the president of Chrysler’s brand, Francois Olivier, recited rap lyrics from an Eminem song. In a French accent.
There were other instances of worlds colliding, awkwardly, when Honda unveiled its 2012 Civic concept. John Mendel, executive vice-president of American Honda, gave the usual car salesman’s pitch about the new Civic’s more aggressive lines—he said Civic fans are typically “young at heart” —but stressed the need to avoid straying too far from the look of the existing model, which has been a big seller. Translation: “Civics used to be popular with young people, but then their parents started buying them too, and so we made them bigger and more boring-looking. And so, in an attempt to please both groups, we came up with this.” Then, as if to underscore the generational conflict further, he introduced Pete Wentz, best known as the bassist and primary lyricist for rock band Fall Out Boy. Wentz looked uncomfortable shilling for a car company, and it’s questionable whether the two or three hundred automotive writers crowded around the stage, many of them from overseas, even knew who he was.
Even Toyota, known for its practical-yet-boring vehicles, also couldn’t resist trying to jazz up its sprawling display with a little pop culture. Dropped between the Camrys and Corrolas was a stretched and lowered “swagger wagon,” a reference to a tongue-in-cheek viral ad Toyota made for its minivans that shows a pair of suburban parents rapping about their ride with three rows of seats. Okay, the ad was actually quite clever. And Toyota should be commended for poking fun at its staid reputation. But CEO Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder, addressed the more serious subject of Toyota’s slipping sales by saying during a meeting with reporters that Toyota needs to be more adventurous with its designs, particularly now that the competition has caught up on the quality front. “I think cars need to be better-looking,” he said through a translator. “The better-looking the car, the better the car.” A blunt acknowledgment that automobiles are created with cutting edge technology and clever engineering, but they are sold based largely on good looks and emotional appeal. Cue the stirring music and images of open road.