NAIAS 2013 Roundup

Nowhere could the US car industry’s resurgence be seen more clearly than in the renovated Cobo hall at the 2013 North American International Auto Show.  Aside from the weather, the worst part of the annual trek to Detroit was always the sad state of affairs of the convention center where the show was held, and while phase one of the renovations actually started behind the scenes in 2009, it wasn’t until this year that the results could be seen by the general public.  A grand new atrium that concludes with a towering three-storey glass view of the river and Windsor skyline, over in Canada, was the site for the Eyes on Design Awards for Design Excellence.

Rammstein in concert? No, Ford introducing the F150 Altas Concept

In the end, however, it was what the car manufacturers decided to show and promote that demonstrated the true industry turnaround.  The sad story is that while profits and excitement are returning, it seems we are slipping back into the status quo – the show was not so much “green”, as it was just slightly “greener” than the heydays of the early 2000s.  It started in the basement where the innovative indoor track that allows the public to experience electric and hybrid vehicles was less than half the size of last year and a far cry from the brilliant marketing idea from a few years ago.  In the beginning more than 200 trees, 600 shrubs, 5,000 flowers and 130,000 gallons of water were installed to complete the feeling of the automobile being one with nature.  That has now been reduced to an industrial looking round test loop where the most popular vehicle was a Fiat 500.  I guess in Detroit a small fuel efficient hatch qualifies as green, and the sad news continued upstairs where, in the absence of a Fisker stand, VL Automotive showed the Destino - a Karma with the hybrid drivetrain removed and replaced by a LT-1 Corvette motor.  Automotive supplier Aisin should be at least congratulated for sponsoring the Drive Green Experience and for bringing the electric Toyota 2000GTSEV, a solar-powered conversion of one of the most beautiful cars of all time.  Although it takes approximately 2 weeks to charge, I’ll take one.

Of course, the lack of new electric and hybrid vehicles could just be an acknowledgement of the vast regional differences in the US auto market.  A recent Polk article pointed out that hybrid and electric sales are more regionally attuned than even the differences in makes and models.  For example, a survey of new car registrations in the San Francisco area shows almost 10% sales of hybrid and electric while some areas of Texas and Louisiana are less than 1%.  In fact, all of the top 15 DMAs (Designated Market Areas) are on the west coast and accounted for more than 40% of electric car sales through the first ten months of 2012.

Although green vehicles were largely underrepresented they were still present in almost every segment, from SUV to supercar - designs weren’t exactly shoddy either.

Acura NSX Concept

What Honda says: "We're making great progress in delivering on the expectations we created a year ago, with advanced technology that will bring new levels of performance and a unique, dynamic experience to the exotic sports car market." Mike Accavitti, Vice President of National Marketing Operations

Spec Sheet: A two-seat sports car that utilizes Acura’s SH-AWD® Hybrid System with 3 electric motors.  One electric motor is integrated with the direct-injection mid-mounted V6 powerplant to drive the rear wheels while each front wheel is given its own dedicated electric motor.  This allows for a unique AWD system that can apply either positive or negative torque to the front wheels to achieve new levels of driving performance.  Details about the motors and battery systems are vague as the production model is still a few years away from production.

Details: Developed by a global R&D team and planned for production in Ohio, this NSX Concept shows a slightly revised exterior along with an idea of what the production interior could be.  Outside the changes have been limited to a new fascia and small changes to details like the mirrors and rear valence.  The big change is inside as last year’s concept did not even have one.  “The Synergy between Man and Machine” was referenced throughout the unveiling as well as being plastered on the show stand and is a key element of the “Human Sport Cockpit”.  An exotic driving position was claimed, although we’re not quite sure what that means as access inside the car was forbidden.

Cadillac ELR

What Cadillac says: “ELR is an unprecedented combination of luxury, advanced engineering and progressive design in a coupé that is both sporty and environmentally friendly.” Bob Ferguson, Cadillac Global Vice President

Spec Sheet: A front-wheel-drive, two-door coupé extended-range electric vehicle.  The ELR features the same 16.5kWh lithium-ion battery with 288 prismatic cells weighing 198kg that’s found in the Chevrolet Volt

Details: The ELR starts production in late 2013 and appears little changed from the Converj Concept  first shown in 2009 at the same venue.  A true 2+2 layout the ELR features an aggressive profile and is altogether a much more attractive package than the Volt on which it is based.  At the front is an iconic Cadillac grille that integrates active grille shutters, along with vertical headlamps.  Unusual for an electric or hybrid are the 20-inch wheels which lend a dynamic ground-hugging stance to the package.   The package, by the way, is about the same as a Chevrolet Cruze or Ford Focus.  “The ELR represents a new dimension of Art & Science, the guiding philosophy of Cadillac,” said Mark Adams, who’s now Cadillac’s design director after moving on from Opel.

Co-winner of Eyes on Design Concept Car of the Year 2013

Ford F150 Atlas Concept

What Ford says: “We wanted the concept to reflect how Ford trucks help customers in both their worlds – professionally and personally.  Every surface and feature in the vehicle has been crafted for purpose and capability while retaining an unmistakable ‘Built Ford Tough’ look.” J Mays, Ford Group VP and Chief Creative Officer

Spec Sheet: A concept of the next F-150 pickup, it features the next generation of Ford’s EcoBoost powertrain with an intelligent Auto Start-Stop system that knows when you are towing to suspend operation. 

Details: An example of the trend towards “greener” vehicles in lieu of true “green”, the F150 Atlas Concept features several new technologies designed to make the pickup more aerodynamic.  Among the unique fuel-efficient design elements are ‘Auto-Deploying Power Running Boards’ that tuck up against the side when the truck is moving and a ‘Drop-Down Front Air Dam’ that improves mileage almost by 2 mpg when lowered at highway speeds.  In addition, an active grille and wheel shutters are used to further improve wind resistance.  The wheel shutters even have their own batteries that are recharged while in motion to power the shutters.  The F150 Atlas tied with the Nissan Resonance Concept for the Eyes of Design Award for Design Excellence.


What GAC says: "Powerful, efficient and green, a range-extended electric car with a fashionable and modern appearance.“

Spec Sheet: Equipped with a 95 kW (peak) permanent magnet motor and a 13kwh lithium-ion battery pack in addition to a 1-litre gasoline engine and a 30kW generator, as the range-extender, to charge the battery when low.

Details: While it looks a lot like the Mercedes CLA concept, that doesn’t detract from the fact the car is attractive.  The concept’s front end has a striking blue back-lit grille and logo and the rear end has a unique and interesting boomerang shape to the tail lamps.  Also interesting is the shape of the side view mirrors, which look like a finely sculpted aero device.  Along with the E-JET, GAC brought along a Hybrid 4x4 version of the Trumpchi Sedan and an all-electric BEV version of the GS5 SUV, both of which are on sale in the home market in ICE configurations.

Infiniti Q50 Hybrid

What Infiniti says: "This exciting new Infiniti Q50 stretches the boundaries of what a sports sedan can be, propelling Infiniti in a bold new direction.” Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen

Spec Sheet: Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid with Intelligent Dual Clutch Control, combining a 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC aluminum-alloy V6 and compact laminated lithium-ion battery design. 50kW electric motor rated at 67 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque (hybrid system net power: 354 horsepower).

Details: When a car company starts their presentation with the statement that sales volume is “not the one and only guide to success” you get ready to be disappointed when they take the cover off.  Fortunately for Infiniti, the Q50 is better than the set-up, notwithstanding the unusual renaming of the entire Infiniti lineup.  The double-arch grille is substantially more attractive than Lexus’ spindle grilles and the entire car just seems more refined than their cross-country rivals.  The crescent-shaped C-pillar is a nice element that differentiates Infiniti from every other vehicle on the road - not quite a Hoffmeister kink-level of design innovation, but very nice regardless.

Lexus IS 300h

What Lexus says: “The IS has always been precise and fun to drive.  The all-new IS kicks it up a notch with true sport sedan driving dynamics, state of the art onboard technologies, and an all-new design that makes it look fast even when it’s standing still.” Mark Templin, Lexus General Product Manager

Spec Sheet: The IS 300h is the first vehicle to offer Lexus’ Hybrid Drive powertrain along with the newly developed 2.5L Atkinson-cycle engine.  The engine is a Dual VVTi and includes the new D4S fuel injection system.  Actual numbers will be unveiled later this spring but targets are CO2 emissions of under 100g/km and fuel economy of less than 65mpg.

Details: Unfortunately the IS 300h will only be available in Europe, Japan and select international markets, so those of you who want one outside those areas will be disappointed.  While the design of the non-hybrid IS is the “boldest expression yet of the spindle grille” according to Templin, the 300h grille is more subdued and features a large Lexus Logo in the center, backlit in blue - the international color of “green”.  Another unusual styling element that was met with mixed reviews was the double element front lighting that included a unusual bottom cut-line on the headlamp paired with a mini-boomerang shaped indicator lamp.  Perhaps the most interesting tidbit gleaned from the press conference was that the hybrid will also be available in an F-Sport trim level. 

Co-winner of Eyes on Design Concept Car of the Year 2013

Nissan Resonance Hybrid Concept

What Nissan says: “The Resonance concept is meant to be provocative, energetic and engaging – even polarizing. Its edgy yet sophisticated design, combined with an environmentally sensitive powertrain and intelligent utility, provides a clear, exciting view into the future of crossover innovation.”  Francois Bancon, Nissan Division General Manager, Product Strategy and Planning

Spec Sheet: 5-passenger 4-wheel drive Hybrid Electric crossover. 2.5-liter DOHC ICE, lithium-ion battery, electric motor and next-generation Xtronic CVT.

Details: A concept that could foretell the design direction of the next Murano, the Resonance tied with the Ford F150 Atlas Concept for the Eyes of Design Award for Design Excellence.  Among the most striking elements was the open glass roof that appeared to “float” because of the “hidden” C-pillars.  Boomerangs seem to be a common design inspiration this year as the Resonance had headlamps just like the GAC E-JET’s tail lamps.  Inside the designers aimed for a luxury space travel theme with butter-colored leather and dramatic interior illumination that’s sequenced upon entering the interior.

VIA X-Trux Concept

What VIA says: "This isn’t just green, its green and mean.“ Bob Lutz, VIA Motors Board of Directors Member

Spec Sheet: 5-seat full-sized pickup with two 402 HP electric motors (for a total of 804HP if you are counting), 24-kWh, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack and a 5.3-liter General Motors V8 to be used as a generator.

Details: On the heels of last year’s concepts, VIA Motors showed a new evolution featuring their first uniquely styled vehicle.  The X-Trux Concept starts life as a Chevrolet Silverado pickup that is then highly modified to include the additional hybrid powertrain and its own exterior and interior appearance.  Last year’s concept had a V6 but VIA Motors’ testing found the V8 is actually more efficient when used as a generator.  A lot of time at the press conference was dedicated to talking about VIA’s relationship with fleet customers so we imagine that individual sales may be a long way off.

Volkswagen Crossblue Hybrid Concept

What Volkswagen says: “The CrossBlue concept combines a truly versatile interior layout with sophisticated Volkswagen design to give a unique and supremely stylish offering in this segment.” Jonathan Browning, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America

Spec Sheet: Six-seat mid-sized SUV with a 2.0l TDI clean diesel, 9.8 kWh lithium-ion battery and two electric motors producing up to 306HP and 516 pound-feet of torque.

Details: Specifically designed for the North American market, the CrossBlue looks a like Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, which is to say it is handsome.  The concept combines Volkswagen’s familiar family grille with trapezoidal wheel arches and similarly shaped DLO to accomplish a simple, refined shape that does not offend.  A hybrid that can drive in full electric mode automatically or at the flick of a switch, the CrossBlue can travel up top 14 miles in all-electric mode.  With its 18.5 gallon fuel tank it is capable of driving more than 660 miles on a single tank.

Frank Schwartz is the main voice behind thesupplierblog (where you can find a full review of the non-green cars at this year's NAIAS), the spiritual successor to the chromtecblog. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank has spent years working hand in hand with the automotive industry on products as varied as cruisecontrols, fuel injection systems, exterior lighting, trim components and wheels.Thesupplierblog isintended to be a real-world resource for automotive manufacturers and dealers where open discussion of industry issues is encouraged.

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