NAIAS 2015 Recap: TTAC Picks The Show's Hits And Misses
With last year’s Hits and Misses column generating a lot of reader interest, I figure another edition is in store for the 2015 edition of the Detroit Auto Show.
Much of the show floor chatter last year centered on the rather disappointing lack of big debuts, aside from the Ford F-150. The Blue Oval’s full-size pickup was enormously significant from an industry point of view, but didn’t quicken the pulse of the enthusiast set, which largely (but not entirely) prioritizes sports cars and exotics over America’s signature vehicle.
Ford may have stolen the show again this year, with three major debuts, but the rest of the show was light on…well, debuts. Very little new product was shown at the show, and some of the more interesting stuff was already shown in Los Angeles. I wonder if L.A. will overtake Detroit as the marquee auto show in America within a decade.
If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, here’s a rundown of the hits and misses, from your favorite combative know-it-all.
Miss- Acura NSX: Oh Lord, just typing those words made me wince. I am an unabashed NSX fanboy. If you Google “Derek Kreindler” you’ll see a photo of me sitting in my father’s 1991 Berlina Black NSX. I own every die-cast model, scale model kit, sales brochure, book, videotape and Acura accessory related to the NSX. Those metal paperweight models Acura gave to all of the journalists as part of the press kit? I have the original example from the 1991 launch, and an owner’s only hardbound book, still in original shrink wrap. Ok, I have three. All I am missing is the car itself. After endless iterations, a stillborn front-engine V10 concept and a frenzied build-up akin to a prom night after party, Acura’s supercar debuted to a packed COBO hall, with people staking out seats hours before the 11:20 A.M. press conference, then lined up 30 deep just to catch a glimpse of the LCD TVs broadcasting the proceedings.
What about the car itself? The only nod to its predecessor is a black shaded area aft of the front window, where its door handle stood. In the same script as the original car, there is a small, NSX logo, a tiny nod to the faithful that waited a decade for another Honda super car. The announced specs are puzzling to say the least. Unlike the original, it uses “aluminum intensive” construction, but is not all-aluminum. The car’s styling, both inside and out, could best be described as “derivative”. Sure, the original design by Pininfarina was generic, but it was elegant, purposeful and with an incredible, jet-fighter inspired cockpit.
The new car is clearly an exercise in tying together Acura’s poorly received design language into a cohesive brand statement – which is an obnoxious statement itself, but necessary for Acura to be anything more than just a line of fancy Hondas. The beak grille is there, and so is the IDS selective drive mode system that is offered on the TLX. In true Honda fashion, the car uses a V6 engine. The original NSX used a V6 because it was felt that a V8 or forced induction would compromise both the purity of the driving experience and was a form of “cheating” in the eyes of the engineers, who wanted to test the limits of what lightweight, efficient motors could do.
The new NSX is turbocharged, because nobody is going to pay $150,000 for a hybrid, naturally aspirated V6 supercar making 400 horsepower and turbocharging is the only way to hit big numbers (a claimed 550 horsepower for the gas and electric powertrain combined) while meeting regulatory-driven efficiency goals. The SH-AWD system uses a three-motor hybrid setup (a rear mounted motor and one motor in each front wheel) mated to a 9-speed dual clutch system. Acura made vague hints about instantaneous acceleration thanks to maximum torque at zero rpm, akin to a Tesla. But what happens after a few launches and the battery is almost certainly depleted. No AWD? No more seamless launches? No more 550 horsepower on tap? Jack thinks that this car’s biggest problem is that a Viper or Z06 will eat its lunch on track. I think it’s a different customer entirely – but its biggest problem is the one that plagued the original car. Nobody wants to buy a $150,000 technological tour de force from a second-tier luxury brand best known for its CUVs.
Writing all of that gave me absolutely no joy. The NSX’s unveiling was as much of a let down as the time I worked up the gumption to kiss my high school crush, only to find out that she needed to brush her teeth. But this wouldn’t be The Truth About Cars if we weren’t being brutally honest.
Hit -Hyundai Santa Cruz: We take up a lot of time writing about small trucks and their bleak prospects for success. So, why is Hyundai’s own small truck so brilliant? Because it’s a small truck in the vein of those sold in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and other world markets. Rather than a body-on-frame mid-sizer like a Toyota Tacoma, this is a small, unibody car with a pickup bed, sort of like what they call a bakkie in South Africa.
Hyundai thinks that the demand is there for a vehicle like this. Pickup trucks transact at north of $40,000 on average, and are far too big for anyone living in an urban environment. Hyundai’s market research suggests that consumers would like a five-seat vehicle that is efficient and car-like, and has a separate compartment for gear, but these people typically don’t buy trucks. Instead, they make do with CUVs and other vehicles. While Hyundai bills the Santa Cruz as a concept, there are rumblings that Hyundai Motor America is pushing hard for it to be built – and the diesel engine shown in the concept would be part of the package. The most brilliant feature is the bed extender, which turns the pickup bed into something that can hold a motocross bike or small motorcycle, and then be pushed back in to make for easier parking. A different system will have to be engineered for it to be production feasible, but if a folding hardtop can be engineered, why not something similar?
Home Run – Toyota Tacoma: I said it last year and I’ll say it again; a good number of Tacoma owners wouldn’t be caught dead in a domestic truck. That’s a big part of the Taco’s appeal. Its mere existence is a serious threat to the GM mid-size twins. I’d go as far as to say that this refresh has mortally wounded the two.
The new Tacoma offers a 2.7L 4-banger and a 3.5L direct-injection, Atkinson cycle V6, which should make significant leaps in fuel economy over the outgoing V6. In a reversal of the GM strategy, the manual is only available on the V6. Styling updates ape the Tundra, without looking grotesque. From a business standpoint, these are incremental updates, and that means Toyota will continue to watch the money pile up on every single one of these. Especially now that production is moving to Mexico. Well done.
Foul Ball: Ford GT– Why is this gorgeous, 600+ horsepower limited production super car not the prom king? Because, as you’ll see tomorrow, some Ford insiders have serious issues with the clandestine nature of the car’s development – and the ersatz production facility that will be building them. Stay tuned for the inside scoop, from the people who brought you info on the next Mustang, F-150 and Raptor.
Hit: Volvo XC90 – Outside, it looks like a GM full-size SUV penned by Volvo. Inside, it looks like a Danish furniture catalog. Volvo is sliding into irrelevance and this is their last hope. But it just might be good enough to pull it off.
Home Run: Honda HR-V – Another triumph of packaging. Plenty of rear seat and cargo room. Tiny on the outside. You can get it with a stick. They will sell every single unit.
Miss: Mini 4 door – Is this a MINI Golf? I don’t get it. I think that people who complain about the three-door MINI growing larger are being curmudgeonly. But this thing is bloody huge.
Hit: Mazda CX-3: Take the HR-V, add some attractive styling, an interior that looks better than some German luxury brands and subtract the stick. Now add the incredible 6-speed Skyactiv automatic, instead of a CVT. I’d say you’re coming out ahead. But of course, it won’t match the HR-V’s volume.
Ejected by the umpire – Volvo S60 Cross Country: You’re a struggling luxury brand on the verge of re-inventing yourself with an ambitious premium SUV. And so you devote precious resources to this?
Foul Ball – Cadillac CTS-V: My biggest issue with the car is that the ATS-V exists, with a stick shift and a twin-turbo V6 that can be reflashed to make obscene power.
Miss – Lexus GS F: Who cares?
Wild Pitch – Lincoln MKX: Nobody really expected this, but it’s a promising sign of where Lincoln is going. Finally, there is a clear value proposition above and beyond the Edge. Cadillac better update the SRX ASAP.
Foul Ball: Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder – In the words of Road and Track’s Alex Kierstein: “They should not have put it next to a Tipo 33“.
Hit: Ford Shelby GT350 R – Evo magazine once described the 996 Porsche GT2 as a “hairy-arsed brute”. I think it’s an applicable description for a track-focused pony car with no rear seats, A/C or other equipment. I fear that, like the GT2, it will end up as a street-driven status symbol, with owners never mentioning how miserable it is to drive on the road.
Hit: Ford SVT Raptor – The Raptor’s old 6.2L V8 was a boat anchor of an engine. The new 3.5L V6 EcoBoost solves that, and it now looks even more cartoonish. Brilliant.
Car of the Show: Chevrolet Bolt – TTAC praises GM EV. Hell freezes over. Ok, in all seriousness, I’d never be caught dead in one of these, but I don’t think that the collective media world was right to mock this thing as a Tesla fighter. It’s not. It’s a shot across the bow for the next-gen Nissan Leaf, which is also promising a 200-mile range. But if the Bolt really does come out as a crossover type vehicle with a 200 mile range and a price tag between $30-$35k, I think it has serious potential. John Krafcik, President of TrueCar and former CEO of Hyundai, thinks that it could be the first mass market EV to take off, telling the Los Angeles Times that “You are looking at annual sales of 100,000 vehicles.” Just please, change the name.
Foul Ball: Nissan Titan – The idea of a diesel-only “Class 2.5” truck is interesting. The pastiche styling, which looks like a Rord F1-Ram, is less than inspired.
Hit: Buick Avenir – We missed out on the last Zeta-based Park Avenue because dealers didn’t want it (and that may have been a good choice). But this would make a fine flagship, and a way for GM to get more mileage out of their Omega large premium RWD platform.
Ground Rule Double: Chevrolet Volt – It will all come down to how it performs in the real world, but the new Volt now seats 5 and genuinely looks good.
Ground Rule Double: Mercedes Benz GLE – I know it will sell, but f**k this vessel of effluent.
Miss: Volkswagen GTE – VW has presented more mid-size crossover concepts than Acura has NSX concepts. They are all forgettable and generic. For all its success as a global auto maker, VW cannot seem to figure out the magic formula that will make the VW brand a success in America.
Hit: Buick Cascada – On the one hand, convertible sales are shrinking faster than when I dive into a cold pool. On the other hand, the program will be paid for on rental fleet alone. If you’re going to enter a niche, you better own it, as Toyota has proven.
Hit: Return of the Jack – Last year, as I was opening the envelope with our NAIAS credentials, Bark M called with news of Jack’s accident. This year, Jack was with Ronnie and myself on the show floor. A special thanks to him, Ronnie and Cameron for the amazing coverage.
Bold Prediction: Within 12 months of its commercial launch, there will be a special website devoted to the Honda Uni-Cub. It will be behind a paywall, and will be accessible by VPN only in Islamic countries. Some of you will get a membership, and you won’t want your wife to know about it. Take that to the bank.
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I've never owned a truck in my life, but of all these it's the raptor that I lust for. That p!sses me off, because I want to like the Lexus and NSX more than I do. The GT is one of those things I'm glad exists for someone else to enjoy, but I wouldn't want one except to sell. The 4C spyder doesn't live up to the hard tops looks. If I wanted a race car I'd buy one, the GT350R is for people who want someone else to think they wanted a race car. What's the point of a street legal street useless car? No AC, radio, back seat, carpet etc; but bumpers, airbags and turn signals? That Nisan truck... My Eyes! The caddy V; if there weren't a HELLCAT this would be cooler. Sure it's faster on a track than the Chally, but so is a purpose built race car. I'd rather drive a hellcat than a V on the street. Tying Acuras various design language fails into a palatable whole only works if the NSX delivers some remembrance of the engineering voodoo Honda used to have. I want to believe the car will deliver, but can't stop myself from wondering, if the rears are on rollers, will the fronts pull it off?