Long the dominant U.S. auto show, Detroit’s North American International Auto Show that kicks off Sunday will underscore some of the industry’s biggest changes in recent years.
SUVs, CUVs (cross-over vehicles) and pickups have taken the prime parking spot in American driveways that sedans and coupes once owned. But there’ll also be a number of electric and hybrid vehicles on display, part of another revolution expected to transform what we drive over the coming decade.
Among the many product debuts scheduled to take place at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, here’s a look at 10 of the most exciting.
General Motors‘ luxury brand has been struggling in recent years trying to regain its once-lofty position as the self-described “standard of the world.” It hasn’t helped to have plenty of sedans in a market shifting to SUVs. The large and lavishly equipped XT6 utility vehicle will effectively be replace the soon-to-vanish CT6 sedan, notching just under the familiar Caddy Escalade. Meanwhile, GM CEO Mary Barra said Cadillac will soon get the first model based off the automaker’s new all-electric “architecture,” and though details are scarce, it’s expected to adopt an SUV shape.
Many credit the Ford Explorer for kicking off the massive shift to utility vehicles. What’s clear is that, over the last quarter century, Explorer has been the world’s most popular SUV, with sales of over 7.7 million. An all-new model is coming and it will be bigger, roomier, more lavish yet more fuel-efficient, with a variety of different powertrain options expected to include a first-ever hybrid package. The new Explorer will also add an array of near-autonomous driver assistance technologies, as well as features like Apple CarPlay and onboard WiFi.
While Ford is set to effectively walk away from the passenger car segment, one model will remain: the Mustang coupe. And for good reason. It’s now the world’s best-selling sports car. The Mustang comes in a variety of different versions and the GT500 — named for the legendary racer Carroll Shelby — will be its most powerful ever, pushing into the 700-horsepower range. Ford isn’t the only one emphasizing muscle at this year’s NAIAS, incidentally. Hyundai will introduce the new Elantra GT N Line, a high-performance take on its compact hatchback.
At the 2018 NAIAS, Nissan’s luxury brand announced that, starting in 2021, all future models will be “electrified,” meaning either plug-in hybrid or all-electric. The QX Inspiration offers a clear hint of the new design language that Infiniti will adopt as it makes the switch with a production version of this battery crossover reportedly in development. Nissan also will debut a new, less-expensive, all-electric car at the show that also previews its battery-car plans.
The Korean carmaker Kia, like its sibling Hyundai, has been struggling over the last several years due to a lack of different SUV models. Both are racing to fill the gaps, Kia with this brand-new, three-row crossover. First seen in concept form last year, the production version of the Telluride will have room for up to eight adults, though a seven-seat version with captain’s chairs will be available. Look for a lavishly equipped package at a “value” price. Hyundai, meanwhile, has already shown off its version of the big SUV which will be marketed as the Palisade.
The Japanese luxury brand has a history of teasing us with “concepts” that are thinly disguised versions of upcoming products. It did that with the LC coupe show car a few years back, ultimately bringing it back in production form for the 2018 model-year. Don’t be surprised to see the same thing happen with the LC Convertible Concept at this year’s NAIAS. The soft-top model looks all but ready to roll into showrooms and will all but certainly do so offering either a big V-8 or an optional hybrid drivetrain.
Cadillac’s Ford’s Lincoln brand has been struggling to catch up to the Japanese and European imports that now dominate the country’s luxury car market. The Continental sedan launched two years ago was supposed to pull that off, but has failed to gain much traction. Lincoln is hoping to do a little better — at least in creating buzz — with this limited-edition variants that will get the “suicide doors” that were popular on super-premium products in the 1930s and 1940s. Look for a price tag of around $100,000.
Pickup trucks are big business, generating the lion’s share of profits for Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which still overwhelmingly dominate the full-size market. Fiat Chrysler has redesigned a bigger and badder version of its popular Ram 1500, which was completely redesigned for 2018. The Heavy Duty, or HD model, is expected to have a big appeal to commercial users as well as consumers who need massive levels of cargo and towing capabilities. Ford recently updated its Super Duty line and both Chevrolet and GMC are set to follow soon.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited debut at this year’s Detroit Auto Show will come from Japan. Toyota is set to bring back to life its high-performance sports car nameplate after a 17-year absence. Supra is a product of an unusual collaboration between Toyota and BMW, the partnership allowing them to bring out competitive products that they couldn’t have afforded to develop on their own. The German marque handled key development efforts and recently introduced its version as the replacement for the Z4 roadster. The Toyota Supra will be sold in coupe form.
One reason why this year’s show will feel smaller is that almost all German automakers have pulled out. All but VW, which has traditionally used Detroit to unveil some critical new products. This year, the focus will be on an all-new version of the Passat, VW’s entry into the still sizable midsize sedan market. While VW carried over the underlying “architecture,” pretty much everything else is new inside and out with the 2020 Passat boasting more modern styling and many of the latest infotainment and driver assistance technologies.