The Detroit Three introduce new offerings during NAIAS press opener

By: Nick Mordowanec | Online Only | Published January 12, 2016


Chrysler, Ford and General Motors all attempted to wow the world in different ways during the North American International Auto Show’s first media day Jan. 11 at Cobo Center.

Chrysler officially kicked off the event at 7:35 a.m. Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands, gave the keynote presentation.

The message was one of simplicity: Chrysler changed the auto game with the inception of the minivan, and decades later it’s doing it all over again.

Chrysler’s half-hour presentation focused completely on the 2017 Pacifica, which is a vehicle that will replace the company’s Town & Country and Dodge Caravan models.

As Kuniskis explained, Chrysler sold more than 14 million minivans since the mid-1980s and became prominent for offering features to parents with chaotic lives. Those features included dual-sliding doors, dual power-sliding doors and Stow ‘n Go seating and storage.

The new Pacifica’s overall mass has been reduced more than 250 pounds when compared to its predecessors. It features a 3.6-liter V6 engine with nine-speed automatic transmission and an estimated 28 miles per gallon. Other features include an acoustic windshield for active noise cancellation, as well as a 20-speaker surround sound setup with an 8.4-inch UConnect touch screen up front and dual 10.1-inch touch screens in the second row — all with Bluetooth connectivity, HDMI hook up and a built-in Blu-ray player.

The vehicle, whose front end looks like that of the Chrysler 200, also features seating for eight adults.

“From any angle it’s easy to see (that) the Pacifica makes a bold styling statement,” Kuniskis said. “This may be the first minivan you drive where the kids will let you pick them up in front of the movie theater.”

The vehicle will be available this spring. However, that wasn’t the only news.

A hybrid model of the vehicle will be available later in 2016, becoming the world’s first and only hybrid minivan. The vehicle will feature 80 miles per gallon — including 30 miles of electric range that seamlessly changes to gas as needed.

Chrysler said that drivers could travel 530 miles on gas and electricity without stopping.

“When you’re out to maintain your position at the top of the hill, it takes an approach that doesn’t settle for anything but the best,” Kuniskis said. “And when you’re the most awarded vehicle in the entire category, you don’t settle for anything but more. And when you invent a segment, you definitely don’t stop innovating.”

Following Chrysler was the Chevrolet keynote, much of which focused on the new Bolt EV.

The five-passenger, four-door, all-electric vehicle is not merely a successor to the Volt; it targets a different kind of driver. Featuring an estimated 200 miles of range per electric charge and 25 miles of range per hour of charge, Chevy estimates a full charge in nine hours with the available 240-volt charger.

It also includes both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It is expected to cost less than $30,000 after federal tax credits.

Bolt Product Manager Darin Gesse said the vehicle, which features 288 lithium-ion cells that are about 4 inches tall by 13 inches wide, was first showcased at CES in Las Vegas the week before because of its technical integration and connectivity,  such as its 10.2-inch touch screen.

“We still wanted to do an unveiling here in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show because of all the additional car stuff imbedded with it: the zero to 60 (mph) in under 7 seconds, 200 horsepower, 266 foot-pounds of torque,” Gesse said. “But then (it’s) how we built the car. The battery is underneath the floor, it’s an integral part of the vehicle structure, it actually improves the vehicle’s stiffness by 20 percent. It’s part of the skeleton of the vehicle.

“It’s certainly a different kind of package. It’s more of a crossover package versus the compact sedan the Volt offers. The Bolt EV is also going after that customer that has fully accepted that EV is a way of life — that’s the way they want to power their next vehicle.”

The second-generation Volt sold about 15,000 units last year and is trying to keep up with demand by the bolstering of more markets. Bolt production is slated to begin at the end of 2016.

Ford was the last of the Detroit Three to conduct its keynote, which actually took place outside the usual Cobo showroom area and inside Joe Louis Arena.

The company used numerous graphics on a large screen to sell the story on the numbers, notably how the Explorer, Mustang and F-150 have been dominant in their segments for decades. But the company used its pulpit especially to publicize the new 2017 F-150 Raptor and Fusion models.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said mobility is having a big effect on people’s lives.

“We’re not (only) about embracing change, but we intend to lead it,” Ford said.

He referenced the Model T that changed the auto world, and the company has been on the forefront of changes in industry. He also acknowledged it’s not a one-company battle to win.

“No one company can do this by themselves,” he said.

Ford was accompanied e by CEO Mark Fields and media personality Ryan Seacrest — who hosts American Idol, which has been sponsored by the Ford Motor Co. since the beginning.

Fields said the company’s success allows for a proactive look at the future.

“We’re actually approaching this from a position of strength,” Fields said.

Ford execs talked about the Raptor and the new Escape, which has technology focused on parking assist and fatigued driving. Also discussed was the new Fusion, which focuses more on mobility and the hybrid future.

The big story, however, revolved around FordPass, which means to take car-and-phone connectivity to a new plateau.

FordPass, which will be rolled out in April, allows users to become more engaged via smartphones — such as finding store locations, open parking in heavily-traversed areas, or receiving perks like free Slurpees by using the service.

It takes the Ford experience to the next level, Fields said, by offering a marketplace and guides that coincide with partnerships with McDonald’s and 7-Eleven.

The service will be available to anyone, whether they are Ford owners or not.