What a year it was…and what a year it is likely to be. As the 2017 North American International Auto Show gets ready to roll into the Motor City for its annual run, the auto industry is at what Waymo CEO John Krafcik likes to call “an inflection point.” Mary Barra, General Motors’ chief executive, puts it another way: “The auto industry is likely to change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50.”
Skeptical? Just spend a day at Cobo Center, where more than 40 new cars, trucks and crossovers will be making their North American or global debut – with scores of other recently launched models on display. With many of those new models, what seemed like science fiction just a few years ago is about to become reality.
Krafcik, the head of the recently renamed Google autonomous vehicle unit, will preside over one of the first big events during the three-day NAIAS media preview. He’ll pull the wraps off a specially modified version of the new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid capable of running autonomously.
What new cars, trucks and crossovers will follow? Here’s TheDetroitBureau’s sneak peek:
Audi Q8 SUV Concept. Like its German and Japanese rivals, Audi is betting big on luxury SUVs, and Q8 SUV concept will be its biggest yet. The ute complement to the flagship A8 sedan was guided by new Audi chief designer Marc Lichte. Based on a teaser image, the Q8 has a more menacing appearance than current Audi utes, with a broader face, a new take on the familiar Audi singleframe grille Xand slit-like LED lamps. Under the sculpted hood, the maker is expected to offer a mix of diesel and gas powertrains, as well as a new electric-turbo. An all-electric e-tron model may also be in the works.
BMW 5-Series. BMW’s midsize line is, to many, the soul of the Bavarian brand, and it’s expanding the range of options for 2018. The new M550i xDrive, with its 456-horsepower V-8 will get you from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds or less. For more green-minded buyers, there’s the 530e iPerformance pairing a TwinPower inline-4 and electric motor, the plug-in able to get up to 15 miles in EV mode. In the middle, the BMW 540i xDrive, with its 3.0-liter inline-six making 335 hp, still can throttle to 60 in 4.7 seconds.
BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance. The BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance is another way to say “big plug-in.” This electrified version of the Bavarian maker’s flagship is the latest in a fast-growing series of plg-based Bimmers. The full-size flagship sedan pairs an electric motor with the familiar TwinPower Turbo I-4 gas engine. At 248 hp, it will make 60 in about 5.9 seconds. It will also deliver up to 14 miles in all-electric mode while getting an EPA-rated 64 MPGe.
BMW Concept X2. Making its North American debut, the Concept X2 gives a strong hint of what’s to come in the compact segment from BMW as it follows the growing market shift away from conventional sedans, coupes and wagons. The Concept X2 is designed to deliver the interior space and overall functionality of an X model, while maintaining the more sporty proportions of a classic BMW sedan. Visually, the two-box design is distinguished by its long wheelbase, stretched roofline and forward-slanted C-pillar.
Chevrolet Traverse. GM is upping its game to take advantage of the huge shift from passenger cars to utility vehicles. Following the makeover of the Chevy Equinox, now comes a new Traverse. The mid-range, three-row model is expected to grow a bit bigger on the outside and a lot roomier inside. For 2018. Nonetheless, it’s also expected to be a fair bit lighter than the outgoing SUV, something that will translate into a smoother, more nimble ride – and notably better fuel economy. Look for the Traverse to be offered with a V-6 option and a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive.
Chrysler Portal Concept. In an unusual move, Fiat Chrysler staged its first big launch of 2017 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas before bringing the Portal to Detroit. This long-range battery-electric people-mover is the next step in FCA’s attempt to revitalize the long-maligned minivan. It builds on the work done with the new Chrysler Pacifica and is specifically aimed at Millennials as they grow old enough to begin raising their own families and need something to get the kids to soccer practice in.
Chrysler/Waymo Pacifica. While Fiat Chrysler won’t have its own official news conference it will still be one of the first spotlighted brands thanks to its partnership with Waymo. That’s the new name for Google’s autonomous vehicle program, and it will be debuting the customized version of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid that will begin testing on public roads soon into the New Year. The most notable modification? The Waymo Pacifica will be outfitted with LIDAR, radar and camera sensors, many mounted in a pod atop the minivan’s roof. FCA has provided 100 Pacificas for the initial partnership.
Disney/Pixar Cars’ Lighting McQueen. The cars are normally the stars at the North American International Auto Show, but one car’s star may shine a little brighter this year. Walt Disney’s Pixar animation studio plans to not only announce the third episode of its wildly popular “Cars” franchise, but also roll out a life-size version of the film’s four-wheel hero, Lightning McQueen. Unlike another full-size mock-up on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Disney says this will be a working model operated by remote control.
Ford Autonomous Fusion. With a goal of launching its first completely driverless cars by 2021, Ford Motor Co. will triple the size of its autonomous vehicle test fleet next year. And it will do so with the next-generation self-driving Fusion prototype. The radar, LiDAR and other sensors, as well as the controlling controls and software will be “closer to production,” the maker says. The system will debut at CES before coming to the Detroit show.
GAC Trumpchi. It’s not a name that inspires confidence, but GAC is easier than saying Guangzhou Automobile Group. The Chinese maker will be back at Cobo for the first time since 2015 and its return suggests it may finally be ready to enter the American market – something China’s homegrown carmakers have long been promising. Considering the incoming president’s stand on imports, there’s an irony to the name of this new model. Also look for the GS7 SUV and GE3 battery-electric vehicle to be on the GAC display stand.
GMC Terrain. Spy photos that have been posted in recent months reveal a sleeker, more modern design that picks up on the look of the GMC Acadia made over for the 2017 model-year. The 2018 GMC Terrain is expected to shrink slightly in size, as did the previously updated Chevrolet Equinox which shares the same platform. That architecture, in turn, also underpins the latest version of the Chevrolet Cruze passenger car line. Inside, the Terrain is expected to get a complete makeover, one more in line with GMC’s claim to being “professional grade.” The five-seater will come standard with front-wheel-drive, with AWD optional.
Honda Odyssey. As Mark Twain might have said, reports of the minivan’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And with surprisingly stylish new offerings from Chrysler and now, Honda, there are signs the people-mover is gaining new life. Expect a much more sporty look to the 2018 Odyssey, albeit retaining familiar cues like the Lightning Bolt beltline. The best-selling Odyssey will also get a number of new connectivity, entertainment and safety features, the Japanese maker hints, along with updated powertrain options. The goal is to create “the ultimate in family-friendly versatility and comfort,” Honda says.
Infiniti QX50 Concept. Nissan’s high-line arm is determined to prove itself a top-tier luxury brand, and this crossover prototype offers a clear indication of where it’s going, from both a design and technology standpoint. The overall look is based on the more radical QX Inspiration Sport Concept introduced at the Paris Motor Show last September, but toned down a bit to bring it closer to reality. The QX50 Concept will feature the groundbreaking Nissan Variable Compression Engine, as well as the next-generation Infiniti active steering system and near fully autonomous driving technology. Expect much of what you see to soon reach production.
Kia Stinger. The original Kia GT was one of the most striking concepts to roll into the Detroit Auto Show in years, and we’re about to see a production version dubbed the Kia Stinger. “The Curve Ahead is all about potential,” Kia suggests, in one of the teasers for the new sports car, a video offering an inside-out view of Germany’s iconic Nurburgring, the speedometer topping 244 kph – or 152 mph. Expect to see key design cues carried over from the concept – minus the sideview cameras. That includes the distinctive fastback roof and a sportier take on Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille.
Lexus LS. Detroit is an appropriate place to debut the Lexus flagship, as it’s where the big sedan – and the brand itself – debuted in 1989. A teaser sketch suggeste the 2018 LS will features a more stylish and dynamic appearance, and a more sporty driving experience. The exterior picks up cues from the striking new LC Coupe that debuted in Detroit last year. Expect to see the 2018 Lexus LS retain its big V-8 and a hybrid option, but a plug-in may be in the works, as well. Inside, look for a more sophisticated look and a lot more infotainment and semi-autonomous safety technology.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe. The new E-Class Coupe picks up styling cues from its C- and S-Class coupe cousins while sharing underpinnings with the latest E-Class sedan and wagon. Some of the most dramatic details can be found inside the mid-range coupe. Slip behind the wheel and you’ll discover a 12.3-inch widescreen instrument cluster, as well as the requisite infotainment display atop the center console. Both displays can be manipulated using finger swipes. The U.S. market gets the most powerful version of the coupe, the E400 – and an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model – making 329 hp from a 3.0-liter biturbo V-6.
Mercedes-Benz GLA/AMG GLA45. Daimler’s luxury brand raised some eyebrows when it announced plans to move down-market with its coupe-like CLA and crossover GLA models, but they’ve been smash hits. And now, nearly four years in, it’s time for the requisite mid-cycle update of the Mercedes-Benz GLA and its high-performance sibling, the Mercedes-AMG GLA45. Expect minor tweaks to the grille, head and taillamps, and bumper. Inside, a bit more of an upscale feel, along with infotainment updates in line with the latest C- and E-Class models. Meanwhile, the AMG edition reportedly jumps from 355 to 375 horsepower.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Night Edition. With its blacked-out exterior accents and interior trim, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe takes on an even more striking appearance in the form of the new Night Edition model set to go on sale next August. The 14-spoke, 20-inch lack alloy wheels complement the “designo selenite grey magno” paint, and blacked-out grille, mirros and side sills. Inside, the Night Edition coupe will be offered with a variety of upholstery options, including exclusive AMG Nappa Leather in full black. The powertrain – a 449-horsepower 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 driving all four wheels – is shared with the S550 4Matic Coupe.
Nissan Qashqai. SUVs and crossover-utility vehicles are the hottest thing on the market, and much of the growth is on the lower end, with models like the Honda HR-V. Nissan wants a piece of that action and will go after it with the next-generation Qashqai, the pint-sized ute that’s already a hit in the European market. Word has it you won’t have to figure out how to pronounce that quirky name. Expect to see it marketed as a new member of Nissan’s popular Rogue family.
Ram Rebel. Fiat Chrysler’s big New Year debut was the Chrysler Portal Concept unveiled at CES, rather than the NAIAS, but that doesn’t mean the smallest of the hometown makers has nothing new to show-and-tell. While it’s not a stop-the-presses update, look for a more sinister version of the Ram Rebel to roll into Cobo Center. It will feature go-anywhere 33-inch off-road tires, an air suspension, as well as customized interior details. Add a factory lift, Bilstein shocks, skid plates, tow hooks and more, and owners will be set to conquer the world.
Smart Fortwo ED. Daimler’s city car brand will be the first in the industry to offer pure electric versions of all of its products – albeit a rather small line-up that, in the U.S., includes only the Fortwo coupe and Fortwo Cabriolet. The Fortwo Electric Drive, or ED, models don’t match the range of the new Chevrolet Bolt EV, but they don’t have to, as they are targeted for urban dwellers unlike to clock lots of miles. Smart planners think the ED could sell nearly as well as the gas-powered Fortwo.
Toyota Camry. No more the “boring appliance,” proclaims a top Toyota executive, the automaker has, quite literally, gone back to the drawing board for the eighth-generation Camry. Whether it will “send shivers” down your spine, as it did for U.S. autos chief Bob Carter remains to be seen, but the 2018 Toyota Camry features a much more sculpted and emotional exterior design and, we’re promised, a far more passionate driving experience. That said, Toyota says it will still deliver the quality and reliability the country’s best-selling sedan is known for, along with an array of new high-tech infotainment and safety features.
Volkswagen Tiguan. Long short on SUVs, Volkswagen is trying to build up its line-up, quite literally, with the introduction of both the new three-row Atlas and a complete makeover of the little Tiguan. Except it won’t be nearly as little when the 2018 model hits showrooms. VW is adding a full 10.5 inches of length to the next-generation Tiguan and giving it an optional third-row bench. To confuse matters a bit, the new model will be known in Europe as the VW Tiguan Allspace. Europeans also will continue to have the smaller, two-road Tiguan being dropped in the U.S.
Volkswagen Atlas R-Line. Struggling to rebuild its presence in the American market after its diesel emissions scandal, VW needs to catch up with dramatic changes afoot: namely the shift from passenger cars to light trucks. It recently rolled out a third crossover-utility vehicle, the big Atlas, which will be built at the company’s Chattanooga assembly plant. The seven-row crossover will add a “performance-inspired” option package, the Atlas R-Line. But while it adds some visual spice, it’s more show than go, with the R-Line sharing the same two powertrain options as the rest of the Atlas variants.
Volkswagen I.D. Microbus Concept. Long dependent upon diesels, VW is switching directions in the wake of its emissions scandal and putting an emphasis on electrification, with a full 30 battery-based vehicles due for production by 2025. We saw a Golf-size prototype at the Paris Motor Show last September. A second, I.D. concept is set to make its formal debut at the North American International Auto Show, and while details are scarce, teaser images suggest it’s a battery-powered Microbus. Production plans? Not anytime soon, we’re being told.
Volvo V90. Swedish-based, Chinese-owned Volvo has been making waves over the last several years with its XC90 SUV named 2016 North American Truck/Utility Vehicle of the Year and S90 sedan a finalist this year. So, with two hits off the same modular platform — the Scalable Product Architecture, in Volvo-speak – why not add a third. And, no surprise to long-time Volvo loyalists, it will be a wagon. The V90 has already been shown in Europe, so this is its North American debut. Volvo also will be showing off the latest in its connected car and autonomous vehicle technologies.
(Portions of this story initially appeared on TheDetroitNews.com.)