North American International Auto Show rolls into Cobo Center

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 9, 2017

DETROIT — Detroit’s engines are revved up as it welcomes back the North American International Auto Show, a touchstone and frequent showcase for new developments in the auto industry, to Cobo Center.

The auto show kicked off for the press Jan. 8 and included a presentation on autonomous vehicles, Quicken Loans founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert discussing the state of Detroit, and a display from Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter to show off the film studio’s next project, “Cars 3,” a film that has a long connection with the NAIAS, as the filmmakers traveled to the show to gather inspiration and expertise from industry experts for the first two installments of the franchise.

As the hall opened to reporters Jan. 9, it was clear that the auto industry is putting its best foot forward to show what it has planned for 2017 and beyond. There is a wide variety of the latest vehicles from both the Big Three automakers and from other industry giants around the world.

Lounges for visitors, virtual reality displays and hands-on demonstrations will be available when the floor opens to the public Jan. 14.

Big reveals on Jan. 9 included the 2017 Chevy Bolt, the 2018 Chevy Traverse, the Audi Q8 Concept, the 2017 Ford F-150 and the return of the Ford Bronco.

While looking at the future, many visitors to the show may see familiar names.

“All the brands are doing what they typically do and are working to reinforce their brands,” said Earl Lucas, chief exterior designer for the Lincoln Navigator concept. “You’re seeing a lot of returning brands and a lot of innovations on old brands.”

Lucas said that this was true for his own brand, but added that something can be both a throwback and still be exciting and new.

“The big news for Lincoln is the Navigator is back,” he explained. “It actually debuted at the New York Auto Show, but bringing back our most recognizable brand is huge. I’m very excited from a design perspective that we put the traditional Lincoln face on the front of the car.”

A major theme at the 2017 NAIAS is the development of electric and autonomous vehicles. Several of the major automakers, as well as smaller companies, brought models to show ideas in this field at every stage of development, from concept to those ready for sale this year. Several talks and displays accompanied this trend as part of the show’s Automobili-D series of presentations.

The push for more electric options was exemplified by the 2017 Chevy Bolt winning the award for the North American Car of the Year. A fully electric car, Chevy is touting it as the missing link between the experimental and expensive electric cars of the past and the commercially viable electric vehicles of the future.

“We had a very clear directive from company leadership about four years ago to get an electric car by the fourth quarter of 2016, which was capable of more than 200 miles of range and affordable for under $30,000, which this is when you include government incentives,” said Stuart Norris, managing director of design for General Motors-Korea. “We partnered with LG to work on the battery technology, and after that it became an issue of deciding what kind of car we wanted to make. Our aim was to create the family car of the future. We saw the market trending toward CRVs and SUVs, and this car reflects that in its design.”

The biggest hurdle toward electric vehicles becoming more widespread was a trade-off on batteries; as the range went up, so did the expense of the vehicle overall. Norris said that gradually those hurdles are being overcome, and that is visible at the 2017 NAIAS.

“At first, automakers were essentially trying to put electric engines into designs based on previous models,” said Norris. “The Bolt was designed from the ground up to be electric. As for the technology, it’s just gradually improving, so range anxiety and high cost are being eliminated bit by bit. We at Chevy think the Bolt is a game-changer.”

Honda also brought a strong showing to the NAIAS this year, including the 2017 Ridgeline, which won the North American Truck of the Year Award.

“From talking to jurors and journalists, I think they were very much won over by the creative features on the Ridgeline, such as the in-bed trunk, the folding 60-40 back seat and the dual-action tailgate,” said James Loftus, performance chief engineer for the 2017 Ridgeline. “We also approached it from a different design attitude. We eliminated the buttresses that sloped onto the sides of the truck bed from the cab and gave it a more traditional 90-degree angle where the back of the cab meets the bed. It now looks more like a real pickup truck without sacrificing the power and performance of the vehicle.”

Chrysler won the third and final prize awarded on the first day of the show for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which won the first North American Utility of the Year Award.

The NAIAS will feature industry preview days on Wednesday, Jan. 11, and Thursday, Jan. 12. The Charity Preview Night, which is open to those who bought a $400 ticket benefiting children’s groups, will be held Friday, Jan. 13, and the show will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, to Saturday, Jan. 21, and will finish on Sunday, Jan. 22, with hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.