GM PHONES IT IN, FORD DRAINS THE WELL, AKIO UNVEILS HIS VANITY PROJECT, AND A MONUMENT TO BAD-ASSERY SAVES THE AFFAIR FROM BEING A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME. WE EXPECTED THE END OF AN ERA, BUT WE DIDN’T EXPECT A SNAPSHOT OF A FADING INDUSTRY WHEEZING THROUGH ITS LAST GASPS OF RESPECTABILITY. ON THAT NOTE, WELCOME TO THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW!
Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 12:42PM
Editor

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…" Charles Dickens had no idea that the opening of his epic novel A Tale of Two Cities would have such resonance 160 years later, but how else can you explain the 2019 Detroit Auto Show?

We knew going in that this year was going to be different for one very big reason: This was to be the swan song for the traditional Detroit Auto Show held in January. No more battling slush, snow and cold; no more bracing against the howling winds; and no more dread hanging in the air from the visiting journalists tossing around barbs about the bleakness that came with one of the worst weather months around here. 

Unexpectedly, we were blessed with a crisp – and cold – bright sunny day for Monday’s opening of the media days, which was a welcome respite from the usual blustery winter weather. But ultimately it didn’t matter, because the next Detroit Auto Show will be held eighteen months from now in June 2020, with promises of a multi-media, multi-venue extravaganza that will be nothing short of the reinvention of the auto show concept.

That’s all well and good, but no one expected what we’d find at Cobo Hall this year. I’ve commented many times before about how the Detroit show was in danger of going back to being a regional auto show like it was 40 years ago, but I was in no way prepared for this. By “this” I mean that for all intents and purposes this was half an auto show. Or, paraphrasing Dr. Evil, this was a “quasi” auto show, “not auto show enough.” 

How grim was it? Well, besides the fact that there was a massive water main break right by Cobo Hall, which triggered a “boil water” alert on the eve of the press days, the show itself was a flat-out disaster. There was so much emptiness on the floor due to the fact that the import manufacturers chose to blow off the proceedings entirely (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo, Range Rover, I could go on), that a huge number of assorted used exotics and luxury vehicles were assembled to take up a shocking amount of floor space. It wasn’t a good solution either, because it looked like a used car lot on the dark side of the moon. An odd, yet confounding exclamation point to the proceedings.

The local apologists all said that the show was “a little less” this year, and I just laughed. A little less? It was flat-out grim, as if we were previewing a movie you have no intention of seeing. Ever. Even though Ford and GM made all the right noises about their place in The Future, this show did not engender one iota of confidence. In fact, the entire proceedings felt like an afterthought, a snapshot of a fading industry wheezing through its last gasps of respectability, with a future totally dependent on whichever way the prevailing winds blow. The only thing missing were the fog machines, so we could at least trudge through a manufactured mist signifying our discontent. 

Alas, whatever the Detroit Auto Show was in its glory days, this show put paid to the notion that its future success is guaranteed. The change on the calendar for the 2020 show will be a huge positive, there is no doubt. But the rest of it? Talk about a giant “we’ll see.”

Oh well, let’s get on with it, shall we? Let’s see how this half-a-show came off.

(Cadillac images)

Really? That’s all you got? Cadillac unveiled its 2020 XT6 crossover and the reaction was underwhelming to say the least. Not as big as the King Kong Escalade, but bigger than the brand's XT5, this all-new three-row crossover shares underpinnings with the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. Given that, why the hell did it take so long to get it to market, you might ask? Only GM knows for sure, but it remains an unanswered mystery, especially when you take a good, long look at the thing. The overall design language of the XT6 is consistent with the new, contemporary Cadillac design signature, meaning, the front end is somewhat interesting, and then it looks like the designers phoned it in the rest of the way, with nothing worth talking about from the other angles. Uninspired doesn't even begin to cover it. Let's just say that this SUV is a major design disappointment and leave it at that. Power comes from GM's now-obligatory 3.6L DOHC V6 engine with 310HP (231 kW), backed by a nine-speed automatic transmission featuring next-generation Electronic Precision Shift. Active Fuel Management technology enables V-4 operation when V-6 power is not required. But where is the signature Cadillac power that would distinguish this SUV from its GM siblings? Like a twin-turbo V6 with 400HP+? And no Super Cruise availability either? Why not? And the fact that Cadillac is sticking to its nonsensical naming regimen is a huge turnoff to me and borderline absurd, as in, really? That's the best you people can do? Will they sell it? In this SUV/Crossover/Truck-obsessed market we're living in, if they don’t, I will be shocked. But let’s not forget, any outcome is possible with the stumblebums in GM marketing. 

(newspressUSA)

The Electric Cadillac Acid Test. But that wasn’t the only news from GM’s luxury division. GM announced that Cadillac will be the tip of its technological spear when it comes to Electric Vehicles. And that’s a big deal, considering that GM is preparing for a (mostly) all-electric future. A rendering was revealed at Cadillac’s Sunday night event of a handsome all-electric SUV that is supposed to appear after the current Cadillac product cycle runs out. Which means sometime in 2023 if things go well. Think about that for a moment because that’s a really long time from now. Cadillac is also touting that it will be releasing a new product every six months until 2021, including a new Escalade – which will be hot – and a new performance sedan. But why do I get the distinct impression that this brand is in trouble? Two reasons: 1. Everything is late. And given the uninspired XT6, there’s no excuse for it. 2. Take a walk through the Lincoln display, and see the time and money spent on the interior designs. There’s a reason why Lincoln is on an upswing and Cadillac is running in place. GM is not even in the same league with its Cadillac interiors, which continue to be Dark Seas of gray and black. Again, there’s simply no excuse for it. Moving. On.

(newspressUSA)

(Toyota)

BMW called, it wants its Z4 Coupe back.  Akio Toyoda came to do the presenting, and so did Fernando Alonso, which meant that the reintroduction of the Supra after 21 years was a very big deal to Toyota. Why? Because Akio wanted it. The fifth-generation Supra was also the first global Toyota model developed by Toyota GAZOO Racing, the company’s racing arm. And, as vanity project sports cars go, it isn’t bad. The 2020 Supra will cost around $48,000, it will be powered by a twin-scroll turbo six with 335HP and 365 lb-ft of torque and will be teamed with a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Toyota projects 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.1 seconds, which makes this the quickest Toyota-branded production vehicle to date. I applaud Toyota for bringing the Supra to market, even if it’s Akio’s folly, meaning the sales will probably be nothing to write home about. But the fact that Akio insisted on building it is commendable. As Curtis Armstrong says to Tom Cruise in Risky Business

"Sometimes you gotta say 'What the Fuck' and make your move, Joel. Every now and then, saying 'What the Fuck' brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future. So, your parents are going out of town? You got the place all to yourself?" 

"Yeah. "

"What the fuck."

Too bad the Supra looks uncannily like the BMW Z4 with its roof up. Ah well, What the Fuck…

(newspressUSA)

This is The End, beautiful friend. Infiniti geared its whole raison d’etre at the Detroit show around its fully electric QX Inspiration concept. When it came time for it to be revealed, technical problems paralyzed it and kept it from appearing at the Infiniti press conference. Oops. It doesn’t happen very often – like never – and Infiniti operatives were dutifully mortified. But then again, it seemed to be in keeping with the overall mood of the show, as the strains of The Doors “The End” played in our heads...

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
 

(newspressUSA)

Speaking of uninspired. VW showed its new Passat, which remarkably looks like the old Passat. But that’s okay, I guess. They made detailed improvements rather than reinvent the wheel, and for those interested in a real live car instead of an SUV, it’s a worthy choice. VW also announced it was investing $800 million more in its Chattanooga, Tennessee, facility to prepare to manufacture electric vehicles. The German brand also announced that it was going to become the presenting automotive partner to U.S. Soccer through 2022.

(Ford)

We may have gone back to the well one more time, but it’s our well, damnit. Ford unveiled the 2020 Shelby Mustang GT500, a car that has been rumored and talked about for well over three years now. Dubbed “the most powerful street-legal Ford ever,” it’s the brand’s entry into the 700HP pissing contest between manufacturers. Featuring a 5.2-liter supercharged V8, the GT500 is capable of 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and sub-eleven-second quarter-mile times. Ford’s True Believers also spent a lot of time on aero, cooling, braking and suspension dynamics to make this the finest high-performance Mustang ever built. Kudos to the them, especially since this is aimed at a niche, of a niche, of a niche, but like Akio, sometimes you gotta say WTF and make your move, right? Where does Ford go with the Mustang after this? Let’s just say that the well is now officially empty. Ford also unveiled a new Explorer Hybrid and an Explorer ST (with 400HP), and showed its new Explorer-based police car. But no one cared. (Read about the Ford/VW Alliance in “On The Surface” -WG)

(newspressUSA)

Ford had some classic Mustangs on hand in honor of the new GT500. 

(newspressUSA)

Is it our imagination, or is the design language for these electric vehicles already blending together like a drawer of black socks? Look at the front end of the Nissan IMs concept and the future electric SUV for Cadillac from GM. Eerie. At any rate, Nissan says that IMs is the “elevated sports sedan” and has “revolutionary new proportions and stretched interior space” including a “Premier Seat” 2 + 1 + 2 seating architecture, and it will have full autonomous capability. Rumors suggest that this concept foreshadows an all-electric Maxima in about five years. Can’t say that it moved the needle for us. At all.

(newspressUSA)

(Kia)

We call it a grand slam home run. Kia PR Minions call the new Telluride SUV “Big, bold and boxy and made for adventure.” Designed at Kia’s California studio, detailed execution abounds throughout the Telluride and we predict this mid-size SUV is going to make some serious noise in the market. 

(Kia)

(KIA) 

(newspressUSA)
We call it a grand slam home run, Part II. Even though the Jeep Gladiator was unveiled in L.A. (above), we were reminded that this new pickup truck has "hit" written all over it. The upward trajectory of Jeep doesn't look to be slowing anytime soon.

What else? There were plenty of boy/girl-racer type cars, including the Lexus RC-F Track Edition, the Subaru STI S209 and the Hyundai Elantra N Line. None of them were much to write home about except to the people that just gotta have one of ‘em. Oh, and there was a new Hyundai Veloster N race car too.

(newspressUSA)

The Lexus RC-F Track Edition. 

(newspressUSA)

The Subaru STI S209.

(newspressUSA)

The Hyundai Elantra N Line.

(newspressUSA)

The Veloster N TCR.

(newspressUSA)

And so, it begins. China’s GAC Motor showed the Entranze, a crossover concept configured with the now-ubiquitous three rows of seating and with a planned debut in 2020, depending on the outcome of the trade war. The Chinese automaker - a division of China's Guangzhou Automobile Group - is establishing regional headquarters in Irvine, California, and already has a 50,000-square-foot R&D center in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit. 

You may wonder, given the somber realities of this "half" of a 2019 Detroit Auto Show, was there an UjianNasional "Best in Show" this year? Why yes, yes, there was. And it had nothing to do with the featured displays that I've discussed previously. In fact, this machine isn't even new, having been unveiled at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The Dodge Super Charger is a concept car that was designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the second-generation Charger, produced from 1968 to 1970. The Super Charger is a resto-mod that combines the design of the original Dodge Charger with modern Mopar high-performance parts. It is wider, with a slightly longer wheelbase than the original machine, but the key detail is that it showcases a new 7.0-liter Hemi V8 crate engine called the "Hellephant" that cranks out 1,000HP and 950 lb-ft of torque, which customers can buy from FCA in 2019. The Super Charger was created specifically to showcase this monster crate engine. It was dubbed Hellephant as a tribute to the original Mopar 426 Hemi engine, which was nicknamed “Elephant” due to its size and power. The Hellephant is also the first 1,000HP crate engine offered by an OEM automaker. 
Politically incorrect? Absolutely. Wildly inappropriate given the oncoming, touchy-feely BEV revolution? Certainly. But it's a stunning monument to Bad-Assery that shouldn't be swept aside or put in a dark corner. This just in: ICE-powered vehicles are going to be around for a long, long time to come. Kudos to the True Believers out in Auburn Hills for creating such a magnificent machine.


And that's the High-Octane Truth from the Detroit Auto Show.

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