NAIAS 2013: Automakers ready luxury launches at Detroit Show amid signs of continuing growth
Annual event marks a significant departure from last year, with larger representation of performance-oriented and large vehicles.
IHS Automotive perspective
The 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) begins in Detroit today with global automakers' new-found confidence on luxury and performance.
While competition in the pick-up truck market is limited to American automakers, global brands will make their presence felt in passenger cars, especially in the luxury segment where GM and Ford are still taking calculated steps.
The flurry of luxury launches at the Cobo Centre is expected to go a long way in boosting the profile of the annual event which is largely known for product launches related to mass-market.
The 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) begins in Detroit today with local and global automakers lining up their latest offerings. After a fantastic double-digit growth rate in 2012, the US market is back on the radar of global automakers, as reflected by the luxury and more powerful products on display. As expected, the American automakers – General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler – are at the forefront of the show with their latest offerings but global OEMs too are not far behind.
2014 Chevrolet CorvetteGM, which exercised great caution and secrecy in teasing the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette, finally revealed the car yesterday (13 January). Delivering on the promise of "perfect balance of technology, design and performance", the 2014 Corvette is faster, more powerful, and more fuel efficient. The latest generation Corvette has been conferred the historical Stingray moniker, which has remained unused for the last 37 years. The model will go on sale in the third quarter of 2013 and pricing will be announced closer to launch. Powering the car is the new generation 6.2-litre V-8 engine, capable of producing 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. While the company has managed to put in an evolutionary design comprising of a long ventilated hood, a slim waist and a fastback body style; powertrain advancements allow fuel efficiency in excess of 26 mpg. Among the luxury brands, GM will reveal the 2014 Cadillac ELR extended-range electric luxury coupe, based on the Chevrolet Volt.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
Ford, on the other hand, relied on its trusted F-150 pick-up stating that it would reveal a concept version of the next-generation truck, reported Detroit News. The "Blue Oval" is somewhat behind its rivals GM and Chrysler whose latest generation trucks are already at dealerships or will be made available this year. Ford's announcement regarding the next-generation F-150 is aimed at making customers aware of its plans who otherwise might be tempted to buy competing brands. Ford is said to have tested expensive but light metals such as aluminium and magnesium to shave weight off the model; more details will be known later. However, the next-generation of the best-selling US pickup truck for 36 straight years is unlikely to be available for sales before late 2014 presenting a challenge. Meanwhile, Ford plans to turn over a new leaf with the Lincoln MKC concept crossover. After a transitional MKZ sedan, the MKC crossover is second model in a list of new Lincoln models aimed at attracting young buyers. The images of the model reveal the growing understanding at Ford that it needs to minimise the visible similarities between the upscale Lincoln products and more pedestrian Ford offerings. A panoramic roof will be offered as an option but there is no word about the possibility of a rear-wheel-drive architecture. The model, which shares a platform with the Ford Escape, will be shown in a production version at the New York Auto Show later this year.
2014 Jeep Grand CherokeeChrysler's Jeep brand finally released images of the heavily reworked 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a model it plans to unveil at the show alongside revised Compass and Patriot SUVs. The front has been restyled showing new headlights and a revised seven-slot grille with an updated bumper. The back gets new LED taillights and modified tail gate and bumper. Inside the cabin the company promise higher quality materials to go with redesigned center stack with new HVAC controls, while the infotainment systems feature 5- or 8.4-inch touchscreen displays. Other changes include the steering wheel, transmission lever and a new instrument cluster boasting a 7-inch color TFT. Under the skin, the revamped Grand Cherokee is fitted with a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine for the Limited, Overland, and Summit models. In addition, this can be mated to a new automatic 8-speed transmission with paddle shifters, which can be connected to all engines. Global sales of the Jeep brand scaled a new height last year with a 19% jump to 701,626 units, with US deliveries accounting for more than 68% of the total. Chrysler will unveil a more powerful and sporty version of its Dodge Dart compact sedan (see United States: NAIAS 2013: 9 January 2013: Chrysler to unveil more powerful Dodge Dart GT at Detroit Auto Show). The move is aimed at winning critics who praised the sedan for its handling but panned the performance calling the model was underpowered. The GT version of the model, the first compact model Chrysler has developed in many years, comes with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine which can produce 184 hp output.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Mercedes Benz unveiled its new CLA model, based on the new A-Class architecture, but featuring the swooping coupe like four-door styling pioneered by its larger sibling, the CLS. Little-changed from the warmly received Concept Style Coupe, the CLA will provide Mercedes a highly competitive contender in the premium small sedan space, ahead of Audi and BMW's own planned launches of the A3 sedan and reworked four-door 1-Series, due in the next year or two. Mercedes head of sales and marketing, Joachim Schmidt said: "This car gives us the chance to draw in a huge number of customers we didn't have access to before, especially in markets where the A-class isn't sold...It will be the foundation if our future growth, appealing to Generation Y buyers and those young at heart. In particular those Generation Y buyers will bring down the average age of our customers, and also most likely, be conquest customers from other brands. That is why CLA is so important to us and represents a cornerstone of our growth ambitions."
Prominent among other automakers displaying their latest offerings are Volkswagen (VW), Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai. VW will use the show to mark North American debut of the Audi RS5 Cabriolet and R8 facelift which are scheduled to go on sale in the US this spring. In addition, a high performance version of the Q5 SUV will also be showcased, reflecting the growing popularity of such vehicles in the market. The model features a more powerful version of Audi's 3.0-litre supercharged V-6 engine that is already used in the S4 and S5 models. For the mass market, VW plans to display a seven-seat SUV, based on the versatile MBQ platform. The three-row vehicle remains unnamed yet but will be positioned below the Touareg. Just ahead of the show, Nissan teased some images of its Resonance concept vehicle which will be officially unveiled on the second press day at the show. The vehicle is likely to replace the Murano and will be produced in the US. Along with the Resonance, the Versa Note mini-MPV will also find a place on Nissan stand.
To be displayed at the show is also Toyota's next-generation Lexus IS (Intelligent Sport) which will make its world premiere at the Cobo Centre. The entry level luxury
sports line-up will be available in the IS 250, IS 350 models, as well as the IS 300h hybrid model. The completely redesigned compact sport sedan has been made to appear more aggressive with Lexus compressed hourglass grille. The new model is wider and has a longer wheelbase than its predecessor. Similar to Toyota, Hyundai will also explore the luxury space with its HCD-14 concept in a prelude to the next-generation Genesis. "The HCD-14 Genesis concept we're showing at the Detroit show gives a glimpse of the bold design direction we'll be taking, starting with the all-new Genesis coming in 2014," said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. Not much is known about the changes the Korean automaker plans to make in the powertrain but a rear-wheel drive is possible. Ahead of its debut at the show, Mercedes unveiled the 2014 CLA which taken styling and design cues from the Concept Style Coupe that the company unveiled at the Beijing auto show last April.
Outlook and implications
Mercedes Benz CLA
The latest version of the show marks a departure from last year with automakers being more upbeat this time after a double digit boost in sales volumes last year. US auto sales volumes grew 13.4% to 14.5 million units in 2012, although benefits of this strong growth were limited to Chrysler among US automakers (see United States: 4 January 2013: US market closes 2012 with 9% y/y jump in December, full-year growth at 13.4% y/y). While GM and Ford – two of the biggest American automakers – underperformed the wider market in 2012, both appear better placed with a spate of new and redesigned vehicles hitting the market this year.
Automakers' confidence regarding the prospects in the US market is visible in the large number of performance vehicles and pickups on display. Full-size trucks, which were not seen last year, seem to have made a comeback, with the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ram 3500. With Ford announcing its intention to reveal a surprise product in the category, the competition is all American. Large vehicles, such as the one VW is planning to display, will also make a splash at the show. VW's move appears to be a calculated step, considering that platform sharing and local production of the SUV are likely to drive significant cost savings, allowing the company to price the model aggressively and well-below the Touareg.
Another theme which has resurfaced prominently this year is related to premium cars. Unlike pick-up trucks, the luxury passenger car market is evenly distributed with many global automakers in the competition. Prominent among these are Lexus, Audi, BMW, and Infiniti. Somewhere in this crowded market, Hyundai aims to attract consumers' attention and expand its brand value by previewing the Genesis sedan. Among US brands, Cadillac and Lincoln are gradually gaining more distinctive products. Amid heightened competition from global luxury brands, this is arguably the best shot for US luxury brands in a long time. For the first time in its history, Cadillac will stand out at the show from other GM brands. Efforts in this direction have been made by Ford as well which seems to have taken a step in right direction of creating a separate and strong brand identity for its captive luxury brand Lincoln. While US automakers' success will be known in future, the flurry of luxury previews and launches at the Cobo Centre will go a long way in boosting the profile of the annual event which is largely known for product launches related to mass-market.
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