Detroit auto show has run out of gas

Cus­tomers pre­fer trucks and SUVs

National Post (National Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - HannaH El­liott and KylE StocK

The North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show in Detroit will be no­tice­ably light on ex­cit­ing de­buts this year as au­tomak­ers chase cus­tomers else­where. While Ford, GM, and Toy­ota will show new ve­hi­cles, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Jaguar Land Rover, along with such higher-end brands as Fer­rari, McLaren, and Lamborghini, are skip­ping it al­to­gether.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ers are try­ing to do launches away from the trade shows so they can con­trol the nar­ra­tive and the cov­er­age,” says Matt DeLorenzo, the se­nior man­ag­ing ed­i­tor for Kel­ley Blue Book. “The more fu­tur­is­tic and best stuff will be done at venues like CES or Peb­ble Beach or the Fes­ti­val of Speed.”

The lack of com­pe­ti­tion on the show floor leaves plenty of room for the de­buts that are there to shine dur­ing the last year the Detroit show, which starts Mon­day, will be held in win­ter. Start­ing in 2020, it’ll be held in June.

Crowds will likely flock to the Toy­ota dis­play, where ex­ec­u­tives will pull the cover off the com­pany’s new Supra, a car petrol­heads have been clam­our­ing for since the last model left Ja­panese assem­bly lines in 2002. It won’t be au­ton­o­mous, elec­tric, or worth a damn on a sub­ur­ban shop­ping trip. It prob­a­bly won’t even have all-wheel drive.

But the Supra will be a sports car with a cap­i­tal S: a coupe with 50-50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion, a straight-six cylin­der en­gine, an in­te­grated spoiler, and more than 300 horse­power. It’s a risky ma­chine to in­tro­duce in to­day’s mar­ket, but Toy­ota hedged its ex­po­sure by split­ting the pro­duc­tion bill with BMW. The drive will likely be sim­i­lar to BMW’s Z4. The de­sign, not so much.

Not to be out­done, Ford will de­but the new Shelby GT 500, fea­tur­ing a su­per­charged V8 the com­pany says will make it the most pow­er­ful pro­duc­tion car ever. Ex­pect the new en­gine to pro­duce roughly 700 horse­power; a man­ual ver­sion is not ex­pected.

Lexus will in­tro­duce a high-per­for­mance lim­ited edi­tion of its RC F. The 2020 RC F Track Edi­tion will make more power from its V8 than the 467 horse­power pro­duced by the cur­rent ver­sion, likely mak­ing it the most pow­er­ful Lexus, other than the brand’s LFA halo car.

Want a proxy on whether driv­ing still mat­ters? Look at the crowds around these stands when the pub­lic shows up.

“Cer­tainly there are still ve­hi­cles that pri­or­i­tize fun driv­ing,” says Stephanie Brin­ley, the prin­ci­pal au­to­mo­tive an­a­lyst for the anal­y­sis firm IHS Markit. “I don’t think that’s re­ally go­ing away. Driv­ing is still rel­e­vant. But it’s also true that cus­tomers have shifted, and they pre­fer util­ity ve­hi­cles.”

In­deed, ev­ery­one else, it seems, is go­ing big.

Kia will re­veal the Tel­luride, an all-new rig that will sit atop the brand’s SUV food-chain (three rows of seats, charg­ing ports ev­ery­where one looks). The con­cept ver­sion dis­played at the same show in 2016 was a hit. Re­splen­dent in a rich, bronzy green, it found a de­sign sweet spot be­tween boxy and round, on which many SUV man­u­fac­tur­ers have only re­cently been land­ing. (See: BMW, Volvo).

Un­for­tu­nately, in the path from con­cept to pro­duc­tion, Kia ditched the sui­cide doors and moved the fas­cia from Jaguar ter­ri­tory to Jeep. The brand al­ready has a su­per­sized util­ity in its Sorento — which, al­legedly, is stick­ing around — so ex­pect some­thing more rugged, hand­some, and ex­pen­sive in the Tel­luride.

Ford is also rolling up in its new Ex­plorer, an SUV that’s fast clos­ing in on its 30th birth­day. The com­pany couldn’t wait to talk about this rig’s new tech and ter­rain chops, and it shared all the de­tails (in­clud­ing pho­tos) this week.

Ram re­booted its Every­man pickup a year ago; along with that comes the heavy duty ver­sion now on view. The brand’s play­book in the truck wars of late has been sim­ple: lots of tow­ing power un­der the hood and lots of ameni­ties in the cock­pit. Now that the week­end war­rior mar­ket is start­ing to wane, the heavy truck seg­ment is more crit­i­cal than ever. Buy­ers are mostly com­mer­cial out­fits and high-end trades­men look­ing for a big write­off at tax-time. If Fi­atChrysler rolls out a com­pet­i­tive ma­chine, it will be tow­ing a tidy pile of profit.

From the lux­ury side, Cadil­lac will show the XT6 SUV, a three-row cross­over. A first for Cadil­lac, it’s ex­pected to be big­ger than the com­pact XT4 but smaller than the gar­gan­tuan Es­calade.

In­finiti will show an elec­tric cross­over con­cept, one of the few elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cles to show its face this year in the Mo­tor City.

“The show — and most shows — re­flect the here and now, and the here and now is trucks, to be quite frank,” DeLorenzo said.

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