Reflections from the Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows


Has the 2014 Auto Show Season been a bust so far? Well, with the exception of the all new Ford F-150, there has not been much to justify all the fabricated hoopla at either the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Chicago Auto Show. You can almost count the significant new news on one hand. In order of importance to the United States market and their manufacturers here are the most significant: Ford F-150, Chrysler 200, Honda Fit, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes C-Class in Detroit and the Subaru Legacy in Chicago. OK, that is six significant entries. Others that might have made the list are the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Detroit Show ended up focusing on performance models or concepts like the production-ready Subaru WRX STI, Toyota FT-1 super car, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 variant, BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe, Cadillac ATS coupe. The only other vehicles of note at the Chicago Show were the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with new front and rear styling and the Mercedes GLA compact crossover SUV.

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Jealous George – No Detroit Auto Show This Year


North American International Auto Show Logo

An annual pilgrimage for the auto industry is to attend the press days at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January.  Unfortunately, this year I cannot attend because my physicians caution that I should not be heaving carry-ons into and out of overhead bins and baggage carousels.

So, I’m jealous.

One of the primary businesses of AutoPacific is to keep on top of what is the latest in the auto industry worldwide, so AutoPacific will still be well represented at Detroit.

I asked each of our staff members to remind me why I should or should not be jealous of them attending instead of me.  Read below the break for their input.

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BMW X6 – You're Kidding Right?


X6 Blisters the Eyes
It turns out that others at the North American International Auto Show were agog at the BMW X6. My colleague Jim Hossack related a conversation with senior BMW of North America planner Rich Brekus and it sounded much like my own with him. What is it? “Well, it’ a category defining new idea,” said Brekus. Who will buy it? “People who want something really different with outstanding performance.” I’ll give ’em credit, I guarantee the X6 will be wonderful to drive, once you can get into it, but I think living with it will be another matter. Even if you like the styling, ingress/egress is very compromised. Visibility is poor. Cargo room above the beltline is non-existent (BMW’s response is that folks rarely stack anything above the beltline – true enough).

BMW X6 Upper R34.jpg

Divided Opinions Between Old and Young?
As Hossack was commenting about the X6 in the AutoPacific staff meeting the Monday following the show, Ed Kim, AutoPacific’s new Director of Industry Analysis joined in saying that he loved the X6. Being younger than me and ‘Sack, and smaller, Ed had a very different take on the X6. Much more positive. Well, he’s entitled to his opinion.
In any event, the BMW X6 promises to be among the most controversial new vehicles introduced this year. NEW — Watch our video montage here.

What are the Germans Smoking?
You wonder what the Germans are smoking, however. Americans must seem very, very conservative to folks who are launching products like the Mercedes CLS (beautiful car you can’t live with – almost, if not quite, a failure in the USA), the Mercedes R-Class (Grand Sport Tourer not setting the world on fire), the BMW X6, the rumored Audi A7 (a CLS from Audi), etc. We applaud Audi, BMW and Mercedes pushing the envelope, but they do it at the potential risk to their vaunted reputations for building some of the world’s best vehicles.
AutoExtremist Weighs In
Peter DeLorenzo of the AutoExtremist website, wrote this blurb about the X6… we can’t help but agree with most of it.
Speaking of arrogant Germans in the car business (btw, is there a more accurate and time-honored descriptor than that? Uh, no – ed.), you gotta hand it to BMW. I swear these guys don’t understand the word “restraint” in the English language. These guys are inventing niches within niches, and in their obsessive quest to become all things to all people, I believe they get lost in their own talking-to-themselves brilliance to the point that they can’t even see the Black Forest for the trees. Add to that their annoyingly unhealthy habit of believing half the shit that Chief Designer Chris Bangle shoves their way, which just compounds matters, and you have a recipe for a truly ugly little bundt cake. Once again, some of my esteemed colleagues (cough, hack) in the media just couldn’t wait to gush over Bangle’s latest atrocity, the BMW X6, but believe me, it will not “redefine the category” or “set the standard for crossovers for years to come” or any other such nonsense. On the contrary, as a matter of fact. The X6 is nothing more than a German-accented Pontiac Aztek, a vehicle for Bangle’s self- aggrandizement, a rolling monument to one man’s mediocrity and an unmitigated P.O.S. that is “beyond category” tedious. Trust me on this one, the only inspiration other designers will take away from the X6 is the inspiration to turn their heads in horror and then walk – make that run – away. If it weren’t for the perfect albeit overpriced 1 series, I’d be worried that BMW has finally gone off the deep end.

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2009 Honda Pilot: Bigger, Better, Butt Ugly?



Honda unveiled their much anticipated Pilot prototype at the 2008 NAIAS in Detroit. Conveying the design features of the production 2009 Pilot, set to make its debut this spring, this 2nd generation Pilot is tougher, smarter, larger, roomier, stronger, bolder, cleaner and safer than its predecessor.
While the specifications of the new Pilot are impressive, there was wide comment about its styling. Tougher-looking, yes, said many auto journalists, but ugly. Some of the descriptors were: “Styled by Isuzu”, “third world styling”, “bland”, “worst looking production vehicle of show”. Sometimes these things grow on you. Most folks have become accustomed to the weird styling of the Ridgeline SUT. Maybe that will happen with the new Pilot.

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Mitsubishi RA Concept – North American International Auto Show


Mitsubishi showed its RA Concept at the North American International Auto Show. The RA is a two-seat diesel powered sports car with styling cues that telegraph shapes to come from Mitsubishi.

Mitsu RA SV.jpg

Designed by perhaps the tallest styling team in the industry, both the Chief Designer and Interior Designer are well over 6-feet 5-inches tall. Dave O’Connell, Chief Designer, who is about 6-feet 7-inches tall admitted they “kept shaving off height until the car looked fabulous”. And fabulous it is. Being height challenged I should be able to get into the RA without too much problem, but wouldn’t even venture it. Neither of Mitsu’s stylists would volunteer to get into their head turning cocept.
Mitsu RA Open.jpg

All that said, the reason for a concept car is to elicit reactions from showgoers and to help get the brand and the car on consideration lists. RA does that. But, Mitsu management stress that the RA is only a design study that probably won’t be on the road any time soon. RA picks up Mitsubishi’s new face… a downward scowl that gives a shark-like front end appearance. This front end look premiered on the Mitsu Lancer and will go a long way at giving Mitsubishi products a readily identifiable look. The body contours now look very organic with fluid shapes providing muscular fender flares tightly wrapped around meaty tires.
Mitsu RA F34.jpg

Mitsu RA R34 .jpg

RA is Teaser for Next Generation Eclipse
Being a two-seater, the RA certainly isn’t a production proposition. Mitsubishi needs a product that can sell 60,000 units a year to be happy and a two-seater just won’t do it. Think of RA as showing us some of the shapes that may be seen on the next Gen Eclipse.
Now, about the next generation Eclipse. The present Eclipse is based on Mitsubishi’s large PS platform. So, Eclipse tends to be bigger and heavier than most would like for the small sporty car class. The next Eclipse may not be based on PS. The GS platform of the Lancer, Lancer Evolution X and Outlander could also provide the basis for the next generation Eclipse. This would give the Eclipse the hardware needed to be a truly world class sporty car. Most of those bits, of course, would come from the Evolution X.
We could conceptualize a 4-seat sporty car using RA styling and powered by a 2.4L 4-cylinder from Lancer, the 2.0L Twin Turbo from the Evolution X, and a 3.3L V6 from the present car. In that way, you’d have the secretary’s car, the boy racer and the luxo model. Add AWD and Mitsubishi’s outstanding paddle shift transmission and you have a winner.

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2008 NAIAS Audi TTS: A Good Thing Gets Better.



The VehicleVoice editorial management staff if very good to me. Being primarily on the consumer research side of AutoPacific I’m not the first choice for industry analysis or vehicle evaluations. In spite of this, I get some pretty cool assignments. Having the opportunity to drive the 2007 Audi TT along California’s Riviera this past summer was one of those assignments. The newest interpretation the Audi’s iconic design clearly exceeds its predecessor in every way. The challenge of re-designing an icon, has given Audi an even more beautiful TT. In addition, the upgraded platform, engines and transmissions have transformed the TT from a beautiful car, into a true sports car. So getting to cover the 2008 TTS at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show is a nice assignment. The TTS marks an anniversary for Audi. In 1998 the TT Coupe was introduced to the world and immediately became a design icon.

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Lincoln MKT – VehicleVoice Best of Show


Best of Show
You always go to an autoshow with the hope that there will be a truly outstanding example there. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific’s eight staffers at the 2008 North American International Auto Show were extremely impressed with the Lincoln MKT concept vehicle.

Lincoln MKT SV.jpg

A vehicle we will call a Crossover SUV, the MKT is in many ways similar to General Motors Lambda Crossover SUVs and especially the Buick Enclave. The thing that makes MKT special is its exterior styling which uses all six Lincoln design cues (although they say seven at the show, Peter Horbury, Ford’s head designer in North America says he only really uses six) which are critical to the definition of a Lincoln design. Wow, this thing is beautiful. From the bow wave grille to the relatively fast rear end treatment, MKT comes across as a premium, substantial vehicle worthy of carrying the Lincoln badge.
Lincoln MKT F34.jpg

Lincoln MKT R34.jpg

Not only is the exterior stunning, the interior carries on new Lincoln cues which are very upscale, contemporary and modern. A four passenger concept with no pretense at transporting seven passengers, the MKT is decked out like a luxury business jet.
Lincoln MKT Driver's Area.jpg

Lincoln MKT Driver's Door.jpg

Lincoln MKT Cargo Area.jpg

Only Thing Wrong… The Name
A few years back, Ford made the unfortunate error of renaming Lincoln vehicles with alphanumeric names – MKZ (Zephyr), MKX (Aviator), MKS (Continental), and now MKT. Another great concept is the MKR flagship sedan. Better with a real name. Only the Navigator and Town Car have not succumbed to this folly. I guess MKT means Lincoln “Truck”. No, it’s really “Touring”… guess that fits better. Well, MKT certainly ain’t no truck. It’s really special and deserves better… a name.
[Even Mark Fields, Ford’s President of North American Operations, botched up the name of the MKS when he introduced it at the Los Angeles Auto Show. He first said “MKX”. If Ford’s biggies can’t keep ’em straight, think about salespeople at Lincoln dealerships and prospective buyers].
2009 Ford Flex Crossover SUV is Base for MKT
Based on Ford Flex (Ford Crossover SUV to be launched in mid-2008) underpinnings, MKT is powered by Ford’s 3.5L Twin Turbo GDI EcoBoost V6. This should give it enough punch to qualify as a high performance Crossover. In the MKT the 3.5L V6 has 415-horsepower and 400 pound feet of torque.
Only A Concept – Get them to Build It
In discussions with Ford design management, there was no confirmation that the MKT – codenamed D472 – has been approved for production. In fact, the designers contend that the MKT design has not even been proven feasible. The front fenders and rear quarters have a very crisp blade on the upper surface that would be practically impossible to stamp out of metal. MKT uses plastic to get around that particular problem.
In any event, write, email, telephone Ford to convince them to produce the MKT. If they give the vehicle the go ahead, we could expect to see it in 2010 as a 2011 model year vehicle.
Lincoln MKT .jpg

Ford’s press release on the Lincoln MKT Concept is below the fold.
• • • • •

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Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK FREESIDE: Baby Benz SUV


Only the night before the official reveal at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz borrowed Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Modern Art for a media sneak preview of their Vision GLK FREESIDE. Presented by Daimler CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the concept is not a hypothetical exercise. This C-Class-based small SUV will be in showrooms in January 2009. Dr. Zetsche reminded us the C-Class has grown up since the sedan was first known as the Baby Benz, but the GLK will be the baby of Mercedes SUV family. Pricing is far from decided, but expect it to closely overlay the C-Class.


The Vision GLK FREESIDE is being shown with two different faces and different interior accents, though both have the same running gear and engine. There are also two colors, one a dramatic matte-finish white excellent for showing up the complex surfacing of this small SUV. Differences between the two Visions include front fascia, wheels, and interior trim. One conveys a more luxurious, sophisticated on-road personality while the other looks tougher and more capable, though still clearly a high-end compact SUV. The more capable-looking of the two is the one pictured here, and seems to be the favorite. It is possible that Mercedes offer both, in a strategy similar to offering both modern and traditional faces for the C-Class.

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Nissan Forum: When is a Minivan Not a Minivan?

When It’s a FORUM.
Nissan created the Quest for buyers who needed a minivan but didn’t really want to drive one. It was given an aggressive exterior supported by an odd and innovative interior, which took a major update that made it more conventional with the 2007 model year. But the Quest is too much for most minivan buyers, and sales have disappointed Nissan. Nissan must have done some things right, though; Quest owners gave it AutoPacific’s 2007 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Minivans.


Despite lukewarm response to Quest, Nissan has not given up on the cool minivan concept, proven by this year’s FORUM concept. Jury’s out on whether FORUM succeeds with showgoers, but much thought and detail went into development and it sports features that would be appreciated in any minivan. The not-minivan FORUM’s angry-appliance looks would stand out in a sea of sameness.

FORUM’s dramatic exterior is wrapped around clever features to keep all rows happy. There’s no doubt that FORUM explores features and style for a new Quest, but Nissan executives indicated that if they don’t think a new generation will be profitable, it won’t be built.

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Toyota A-BAT Concept – Toyota Makes a Prius Pickup?


Toyota revealed their new ‘Advanced Breakthrough Aero Truck’ (or A-BAT for short) at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. It’s not a smaller Tacoma. Think of it more like a small Toyota Ridgeline. It’s based on a unitized platform and swallows an inline 4 cylinder engine with Toyota’s Synergy Hybrid Drive.


No, the A-BAT was not designed in the dark by Avalanche and Ridgeline ex-patriots. The A-BAT was developed by the TMS Advanced Product Strategy group and Calty. Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research Inc. had this to say:
“We’ve taken Toyota’s truck heritage to a different level by envisioning a vehicle capable of maneuvering the suburbs as well as dirt roads. This compact truck is as comfortable for long commutes as it is for road trips. It can accommodate outdoor toys and home improvement supplies. Plus customers benefit from the hybrid powertrain’s low emissions and fuel economy.”

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