Auto show press preview includes statistics, surprises and apologies

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 11, 2016

 The Honda Civic is the 2016 North American Car of the Year, which officials announced at the auto show's Press Preview Jan. 11.

The Honda Civic is the 2016 North American Car of the Year, which officials announced at the auto show's Press Preview Jan. 11.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

It was a media metropolis at the beginning of the 2016 North American International Auto Show.

A daylong event open to media members kicked off around 7 a.m. and concluded at 5:15 p.m. Jan. 11 at Cobo Center. Those associated with various car brands made keynote presentations: Chrysler, Chevrolet, Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo, Porsche, Ford, Infiniti, Lexus, Honda, Hyundai and Kia.

Beyond the usual new unveilings that get car enthusiasts excited, the opening of this year’s NAIAS had a lot to do with numbers. Specifically, presidents and chairmen wasted no time touting their respective companies’ sales numbers.

Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, said his company has experienced its sixth-straight year of increased sales — including its second 100,000-sale year in five years. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, mentioned the 30 million E-Class units that have been sold during a 10-generation stretch and how company sales increased by more than 13 percent last year. Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said sales of the Tiguan increased by 43 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Steven Szakaly, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said that in 2015 the United States saw a record 17.4 million light vehicles retailed — a jump of 5.8 percent from the year before. The average transaction was $33,269.

That number is expected to rise to 17.7 million vehicles — or another 2 percent — in the 2016 calendar year. It would be the seventh-consecutive year of auto growth.

“We are living peak auto sales right now, and we will see one more year of that growth in 2016,” Szakaly said in a press release. “But only because of rising incentives that will keep consumers coming into showrooms. The real worry now is whether we’re starting to pull sales ahead from future years.”

A slowing economy has made some in the industry uncomfortable, he said, but he believes incentives will increase to meet manufacturing demand.

It wasn’t all roses for everyone last year.

Volkswagen opened its presentation with a video montage channeling an era long ago, when the Beetle became a cultural phenomenon and a household name.

The Environmental Protection Agency last September found that the carmaker had cheated on emissions tests in the U.S. More than 11 million cars were affected.

Volkswagen Chairman Herbert Diess addressed the company’s 2015 challenges, saying the goal is for consumers to regain trust in its brand. He continued the company’s apology tour, saying about 8.5 million cases of faulty emissions tests have been solved.

“2016 will be one of the most challenging, but one of the most exciting, years in the history of Volkswagen. … Premium cars at an affordable price — that is the essence of Volkswagen,” Diess said.

While Volkswagen displayed the Tiguan GTE Active Concept, the Detroit Three came out to excite — and, in some cases, surprise — aficionados.

Chevrolet showed off its Bolt EV, which takes part of the Volt and improves it for a different kind of consumer. Ford put its focus on the F-150 Raptor and Fusion.

Chrysler, meanwhile, surprised many by ditching its household-name Town & Country and redoing its Pacifica model to take over as its flagship minivan-style vehicle. The Pacifica also will come in a hybrid model.

Audi revealed the A4 Allroad Quattro and the H-Tron Quattro Concept — a vehicle that runs on hydrogen with a fuel cell powertrain. Mercedes-Benz announced a new E-Class — which sits between the ‘C’ and ‘S’ on the company’s sedan totem pole — that can brake and accelerate autonomously at speeds of up to 130 mph.

Other 2017 vehicle models that were unveiled include: BMW X4 M40i, Volvo S90 sedan, Porsche 911, BMW M2 coupe, Honda Ridgeline and the Lexus LC 500 sport coupe.

Also, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow attended the show with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams.

“Our auto industry is on the verge of a new frontier, and this year’s auto show is a strong display of how Michigan’s auto manufacturers and suppliers are leading the way in new vehicle innovations and advanced technologies,” Peters said in a press release. “From developing lightweight manufacturing materials to pioneering connected and autonomous vehicle communications systems, the American auto industry is shaping the way we will get around for decades to come.”

The Honda Civic was named the 2016 North American Car of the Year, edging the Chevrolet Malibu and the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Civic previously enjoyed the honor in 2006.

The Volvo XC90 was named 2016 North American Truck of the Year, defeating the Honda Pilot and Nissan Titan XD by a wide margin. The XC90 last received the distinction in 2003.

The North American International Auto Show will open to the public Jan. 16-24. Visit www.naias.com for more information.