2012 Detroit Auto Show
DETROIT, MI. — Is it too early to proclaim a breakthrough vehicle for 2013? If the Detroit Auto Show press preview is any indication, the bold statement made by the completely renovated Ford Fusion made it the inspirational leader of a world-wide resurgence in optimism that filled Cobo Hall filled with impressive automotive statements for styling and technical advancement.
Ford unveiled the new Fusion a month ago to selected auto journalists, under the promise we would maintain secrecy until the first press day of the 2012 Detroit show, which was Monday, January 9. The show runs through January 22. If that was to assure thorough technical understanding of the new car, it worked, and Chrysler did the same thing with its all-new Dodge Dart, which was first shown as a concept car last year at the Chicago Auto Show. After being shown in production form with similar orders of nondisclosure, the new compact with the old name, based on the Alfa Romeo Giuletta, was introduced impressively at the Detroit show.
Chevrolet, which recently introduced its new Malibu, unveiled at the show an RS model of its just-released subcompact Sonic. , The TRU 140S, and the 130R rear-drive coupe are youthful variations. And Cadillac tried to pre-empt the Monday press-day opening by unveiling the ATS, a compact Cadillac, at a press day-eve ceremony. At the show, Cadillac showed off its XTS, a sleek sedan first seen at the Los Angeles show in November, as the replacement for both the departed STS and larger DTS.
The press preview started with Monday morning’s naming of the Hyundai Elantra as 2012 North American Car of the Year, and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque as North American Truck of the Year. The Elantra amassed 174 points from the 50 jury members, who could apportion 10 voting points among among the three finalists. Second was the Volkswagen Passat at 161, with the Ford Focus third at 155, in one of the closes races in the award’s 19-year history. The Evoque accumulated 254 points, outrunning the Honda CR-V’s 142, and the BMW X3, which placed third with 94 points.
It was the first such award for any Land Rover vehicle, while Hyundai’s victory continiued the South Korean company’s hot streak. The Genesis won 2010 North American Car of the Year, and the Sonata was runner-up to the electrified Chevrolet Volt as 2011‘s top car. Success of the compact Elantra elicited genuine emotion for Hyundai’s U.S president and CEO John Krafcik. “I’m surprised and humbled to win this, because the Focus is an amazing car and the Passat is incredible,” said Krafcik. “The Elantra already sold over 200,000 already. “
Later, Krafcik said, “We’ve become known as a terrific value brand, and now we’re becoming a valuable brand,” as Hyundai indicated it wasn’t slowing its momentum. Hyundai unveiled a new turbocharged version of the Veloster, a sporty coupe that was also a Car of the Year candidate, and a new coupe version of its restyled Genesis, powered by either a turbo 4 or a direct-injected 3.8 V6 with an in-house-built 8-speed automatic.
But the Domestic Three — formerly known as the Big Three — didn’t have to hide from the show’s spotlight array of electric vehicles, compacts, compact utility, hybrids and futuristic styling concepts. The Fusion was a little bit of all those features, with its eye-popping lines, and it became the most talked-about introduction at the show, turning attention from displays of the best of the 2012 models to the newest coming vehicles for 2013.
“When the Fusion was first introduced in 2006, it quickly became a cornerstone vehicle for Ford,” said Mark Fields, president of the Americas for Ford. “It also has become Ford’s conquest vehicle, and it has continued to sell well, selling 248,000 in 2011.”
The new Fusion has dramatic styling, with a completely new grille that replaces the horizontal bar grille that had become identifiable on virtually all Ford vehicles. The new car has a low, open grille that resembles an Aston Martin, with sleek horizontal headlights wrapping around and creating an overall low and exotic/sporty look. The silhouette is also distinctive, and the tail wraps together with a fast-sloping rear angle that looks similar to the Audi A7. Just as impressive is that under the hood, the Fusion will come with a standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, plus a pair of EcoBoost turbocharged 4s, measuring 1.6 and 2.0 in displacement.
The 1.6 EcoBoost comes with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, while the 2.0 EcoBoost has only an automatic, but offers an all-wheel drive alternative. Ford’s biggest splash with the Fusion will be its completely revised hybrid system, using lithium-ion technology. Ford sources said 500 patents were made off the hybrid system, and suggest it might be the best hybrid in the world, using Atkinson-cycle technology on the 2.0 combining with the hybrid to get over 100 miles per gallon. The Fusion won’t reach showrooms until late summer, as a 2013 model.
Lincoln made its bid to regain relevance among luxury buyers with a slick new MKZ that could attract traditional luxury buyers back to the brand, with a new upswept wing design to its grille.
Honda is the unquestioned best at keeping its new vehicles secret, and its upscale Acura brand unveiled an impressive trio of cars on the first press day, including a revised new RDX crossover SUV, an ILX concept sedan, and a long-rumored replacement for the NSX sports car — introduced by Takanobu Ito, the engineer who brought out the original NSX and who now is president and CEO.
Honda itself displayed what it calls a concept version of the 2013 Accord coupe, which is not greatly changed from the slick current coupe model, but the upcoming Accord sedan will back off from the upsizing of its current generaton to downsize for better economy and performance. Shorter in overall length and slightly lower, the Accord will maintain the same interior room. Biggest news is Honda finally foregoes its aging 5-speed automatic transmission by issuing a new continuously-variable transmission, and a 6-speed automatic, as well as a 6-speed stick, and Honda also is updating its engine line to something called Earth Dreams Tech, with strong but small engines for its mini cars, and suggests it will start putting a 1.6-liter diesel in some models. Honda also promises a plug-in hybrid Accord that will automatically select when it can run on pure electric and when it will operate as a regular hybrid.
Not to be outdone, Toyota offers a new Prius c, for city, which is a smaller, more compact Prius. That gives the hybrid family the normal Prius, the larger, wagon-like Prius V for 2011, and now the smaller Prius c, which will start under $20,000 and put hybrids in reach of younger buyers on a budget. The plug-in hybrid on the 2011 Prius can run 10-15 miles on pure electric — like the Chevrolet Volt — but then can run as a full hybrid when the batter pack is totally depleted — unlike the Volt.
Toyota also is overing an electric version of its Scion iQ, and RAV4, the latter of which uses a Tesla system with well over 100 miles per full charge. Toyota also showed an NS4 concept, a sleek 4-door that uses solar panels in the roof and cameras instead of side mirrors. The Lexus brand for Toyota displayed its new GS sedan, which goes on sale in February, and a new LF-LC Coupe, a beautifully sculpted exotic sports car.
From Europe, Mercedes showed a Smart for-us model, which is a mini pickup based on the Smart car. It also has a hybrid, and a BlueTEC hybrid, one with a 4.2-liter gas engine and electric motor, and the other with a turbo-diesel with electric motor, which should get outstanding fuel economy in the E300, coming this summer. The flashiest news from Mercedes was the new SL sports coupe, shown at a pre-press-day gathering before being displayed at the show.
BMW shows a new Mini hardtop, and its new 3-Series, including the ActiveHybrid3 among a new line of hybrids. Among the show-stoppers is a BMW i8 concept car that has a starring role in the new Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie, and takes BMW styling to its futuristic best.
Audi surprised everyone with the Q3 Vail, a stubby but attractive compact crossover SUV that fills out a fleet with the full-size Q7, midsize Q5 and now the compact Q3. Audi’s dependable turbo-diesel will be coming in the A6 by 2013.
Nissan showed off a stylish concept version of its new Pathfinder, which goes to the far extreme from the boxy traditional style of the mainstay SUV. Mazda, which recently introduced its Skyactiv Mazda3 and also previously introduced its stylish CX-5 compact crossover with Skyactiv, displayed both prominently.
Buick brought a return to the domestic flurry of late, adding a new Encore compact crossover SUV as a younger sibling to the popular Enclave. A 5-passenger vehicle, the Encore will be built in Korea and be powered by a 1.4-liter 4-cylinder with a 6-speed automatic — the same engine that was refined since starting life as an Opel Astra powerplant in the Chevrolet Cruze, and Sonic, and Buick Verano. A belated surprise came from the Chrysler stand, where a 700C was shown as a futuristic concept Town & Country.
The optimism was tangible throughout the Detroit show’s displays, a major change from the depression of two years ago, and the greatly curtailed show of last year, when domestic dealers — particularly GM and Chrysler — were keeping their fingers crossed while proclaiming hope for the near future. That appears to have come to fruition, and the 2012 Detroit Auto Show proves it.