Detroit auto show 2011: the CAR Live Blog from NAIASFri, 14 Jan 2011 00:00:00 -0800
CAR's review of the 2011 Detroit auto show - By Ben Oliver
3.30pm: Ian Robertson drives onto the stage in a Team USA-liveried Mini Countryman
Countryman sales are 30% above projected orders with 12,000 sold since launch, and the maxi Mini is now on sale in the US too. Marketing chief Robertson says 2010 was the best sales year ever with 234,000 Minis sold worldwide and sales were 8.1% up in the biggest market, the US. Launched 10 years ago at Detroit, Mini now has over 300,000 American owners, or 'fans' as Robertson's Facebook-savvy scriptwriter says.
3.11pm: Big waves at Hyundai
BP Hyundai's American boss John Krafcik introduces the new Curb concept, a cool Juke-sized crossover, and then the lovely little Hyundai Veloster (below). There are hints of iX20 in the nose. Spec: front-drive, 1.6 with manual or dual-clutch 'box, and asymmetric doors. It won't be super quick, but it's practical, lighter than a Mini and should be more economical than a CR-Z. Prices over here start at $17k. Not sure about the BlueLink tech, though, which tells your mates where your car is. I'm a target customer, and I shudder when I think of my movements being made public!
3.00pm: Not a great Detroit?
BO Got to say I'm a little underwhelmed by this year's Detroit show. Meetings elsewhere meant I didn't get to the Cobo centre until late morning, but by 2pm I'd seen everything, despite having spent half an hour in a Toyota press conference. Struggling to pick a show star.
2.47pm: Local reaction to the Prius renaissance
Road & Track: 'On sale in the U.S. for a decade, the Toyota Prius hybrid is about to become an entire range of vehicles. At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, Toyota is unveiling a Prius lineup that includes the standard 4-door hybrid and a plug-in variant, along with the Prius v crossover/wagon and the Prius c Concept. Toyota calls this an expansion of the Prius family. We say it’s a great way for the Japanese automaker to turn the world’s best-known hybrid into its very own eco-themed brand.'
2.30pm: Jokes at Toyota!
BO Full marks to Toyota for attempting a little humour when unveiling the Prius V and C. First they poked fun at Bob Lutz for his early cynicism about hybrids, flashing up a gigantic picture of him before saying they were glad he'd 'found religion'. Then they referred to the Prius as the 'geekmobile' in an otherwise sober sales chart. Jokes. From Toyota. Whatever next.
2.13pm: En route to Hyundai
BP What does every journalist need at a motor show? That's right, the official NAIAS motor show t-shirt. We'll try and grab one to give away to you our dear readers. It's nearly time to see the new Hyundai Veloster. Can't wait.
2.10pm: An attack of sleekness at the Honda stand
BO Honda's new Civic duo surface, but these are strictly US fodder. The hatch and coupe shown here are sleek things, and there's the usual Honda i-VTEC engines and IMA hybrids to come. Noteworthy for being the first Honda hybrid with a lithium-ion battery. It's worth noting that these are entirely separate from the UK model, which arrives at the end of 2011. That'll be British-built, whereas these American models come from US or Canadian factories.
Car4mh Bentley don't have anything new to offer CAR readers, having just launched the new Continental GT. But outgoing chairman Hans-Josef Paefgen did have good news to report in terms of the Crewe branch of the VW Empire's financial health. Sales in 2010 were up 11%, with China moving up in sales 86% to become third largest Bentley market, and even America rising 6%, thanks mainly to Continental Supersports sales. The Mulsanne, a car I still find overly-retro with zippy-faced front end styling obviously appeals to its target market as the first year's production has sold out. Paefgen predicted double-digit growth in 2011. Then it was time to hand over the reigns (and the keys to W.O. Bentley's personal 8-Litre Bentley) to new chairman, Wolfgang Durheimer ex of Porsche (above right). Afterwards we all toasted Dr Paefgen's good health and retirement with champagne (the traditional Bentley energy drink?), and some unfortunately over-stuffed ciabatta rolls at the Bentley stand. Chap's got to eat, after all.
2.02pm: Recyling? In Motown?
Car4mh Disappointingly, the media centre trash cans are overflowing with recyclable cans and bottles, in spite of sponsor Michelin putting recycling bins nearby (below). I can't blame the Americans, for there are press from all around the world here at NAIAS. But it is sad that the world's motoring media aren't offsetting all those full-throttle acceleration tests, hotlaps around test tracks, or indeed Ben Barry's Prius commuting, by doing some simple recycling.
2.00pm: Hallucinogenics on the Kia stand
BP The new KV7 MPV is a different kind of box. Kia say this concept car breathes fresh life into the moribund MPV sector, and says the cabin is more of a lounge. Somehow, we can't see the enormous mono-gullwing quite making it to production. Which is a shame, as a Sedona like this would be way more interesting!
1.53pm: The Honda stand
BP One of the few cars not trailed before the show: Honda's Civic concept. The wraps are pulled off not one but two concept cars, a saloon and a coupe. Sadly it doesn't tell us much about the new Euro Civic, but these two are pretty sleek.
1.50pm: Some techincal problems
TP A few techincal issues impeding our uploading of all the content from Detroit. Normal service should be resumed in the next half hour or so - make sure you come back and scroll through the page to catch up. We blame wonky batteries on certain key bits of kit...
BO Guess which show car comes complete with an AR15 assault rifle and a pump action shotgun? Perhaps unsurprisingly the doors are locked. Don't know if that front end will pass European pedestrian safety regs though....
1.15pm: Meet the Priuses.
Car4mh Toyoda's humble pie is quickly followed up by Toyota Division Group VP Bob Carter, who takes some glee in showing a slide depicting Bob Lutz and his dismissive remarks about hybrids, 'before he found religion [with the Volt project]'. Toyota unveils an expanded Prius range as a family of vehicles, just like Georg Kacher told CAR readers all those years ago. There's daddy Prius hatchback, mommy Prius plug-in hybrid... err, the kid that went off backpacking abroad - the Prius V estate - and the precocious kid Priuc C concept. Here's hoping Prius C retains its good looks and doesn't do a Lexus CT-H visual slump between motor show and dealer showroom. Bob, a self-described 'hybrid geek', points out that as fuel prices edge back towards US$4 per gallon, he is happy to have a family of hybrids to offer. Given that they've sold 230,000 of the daddy Prius since 2009 that's understandable.
1.05pm: Toyota in apologetic mood... still
Car4mh Toyota boss Akio Toyoda takes the stage and informs us this is only his second time speaking in front of a US audience - his first being on Larry King during the Toyota quality and safety scares of 2009-10. Much of his opening address stresses Toyota's desire to regain the trust of consumers and the community. The other main theme is the Camry, celebrating 25 years built in the US this month. Built here, competing in NASCAR and a perennial best-seller, Toyoda claims the Camry has been fully-embraced by Americans. Are you listening, VW?
12.37pm: Over to Audi for the new A6
BP Audi's US sales are up 23%, helping Ingolstadt notch up 100,000 American sales for the first time. Top brass claims fewer incentives, too. That means another milestone: Audi has now sold more than 2m cars Stateside. It hopes to do more now it's unveiled the new A6. It looks better in the metal than we thought from the photos, if a little generic. (CAR Magazine recently published a quiz seeing if readers could distinguish between A4, A5, A6, A7 and A8 Audis. We couldn't in the office). Still, if the excellent new A7 is anything to go by, the new A6 should be a great drive.
12.23pm: What's Car4mh on about? The 1 M sounds fab!
BP Not sure I share Mark's scepticism about Munich's new pocket rocket. We're treated to the sound of a revving flat six when the 1 M is unveiled. Assuming BMW hasn't fiddled the sound files, the turbo'ed six sounds great. We need not worry that forced induction will stifle the sound of an M Division engine.
12.20pm: Is the BMW 1 M all it's cracked up to be?
Car4mh Taking a closer look at the 1-series M, unveiled officially for the first time at the Detroit auto show today. Those brawny new wheelarches make a good first impression. Then you see a side-scallop in the front fender that is not a vent, and a similar false vent at the back. In the middle it's a 1 coupe. The proof of this one will be in the driving...
12.17pm: A problem with Chinese badges
BO BYD is the only Chinese carmaker here, if you don't count Volvo. This isn't an excerpt from the periodic table, but their model line up. I think they need a snazzier naming policy.
12.00pm: BMW's global domination plan
Car4mh BMW marketing supremo Ian Robertson is excited to introduce the 1-series M Coupe after pointing out BMW aim to reach 1.5 million sales, yet still remain a premium brand (just not an exclusive one). Americans apparently just love the 6-series cabriolet as a 'premium dream car'. It's a nice enough effort at de-Bangling but it's no XK or Grancabrio. Natalie Coughlin, US Olympic swimmer, arrives in the new 6-series rag-top, reflecting BMW's Olympic sponsorship tie-in.
11.20am: Merc's amazing technicolour dream coat, from cuddly green to bright yellow and hot
BP Mercedes-Benz announces that three fuel-cell B-classes will drive around the world as part of its 125th birthday. R&D boss Thomas Weber makes it very clear that it's up to the energy companies and governments to put the hydrogen infrastructure in place. Merc's not putting all its eggs in the hydrogen basket, however, despite Weber's claim it combines all the advantages of an electric car with few of its downsides. So it's no surprise that CEO Dieter Zetsche arrives on stage in a bright neon yellow SLS E-cell. It looks fab in this matt yellow. Sales start in 2013. Can't wait for the twin test with the Audi R8 E-tron. There's also the facelifted C-class, with a much more impressive dashboard. We'll have to wait a while longer for the C coupe though.
11.03am: Nissan will return to the Detroit show
TP Seems that Nissan will come back to the NAIAS in 2012, after a three-year absence. Carlos Tavares, Nissan Americas chairman, told the Detroit Auto Dealers Association the time was right for a comeback after recessionary cutbacks.
10.45am: VW on the warpath... with the Passat?
Car4mh VW is trying its best to ingratiate itself into the US market again with the spot-the-difference US VW Passat, and the new US factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So far so sensible as the bright white lights bake the assembled media on the VW booth. But then they start showing a video where two cowboys ride out of the wild west over a hill to Tennessee, and Ulrich Hackenberg says that 'this automobile is Stars and Stripes'. Quite. Better news is that half of 2010 Golf sales in the US were TDI models, so the cult of the Golf TDI as middle-class gold standard has spread across the Atlantic. VW has posted a sales increase across their range in 2010, with the localised Jetta posting 40% higher sales in the fourth quarter of 2010. Will take a closer look at the US Passat (below) later.
10.17am: It's the new Ford Kuga
BP Ford has shown off the new Vertrek concept car. It's a 4x4 to show how One Ford can be applied to SUVs and crosovers. That means that the next Ford Escape for the US and Ford Kuga for Europe will become the same thing essentially. It's one of the 10 Focus family variants planned to make sure the Blue Oval cranks out 2 million cars from its mid-sized C-segment architecture annually by 2012. Surprise, surprise, word is the new crossover will land in... 2012.
9.55am: The Ford press conference
BP The Cobo Arena is huge and I bag a seat up in the heavens. CEO Alan Mulally arrives in the Focus ST, US bigwig Mark Fields announces 7000 new American jobs by the end of 2012 (cue massive applause) while European chief Stephen Odell confirms a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, an electric Focus, hybrid C-Maxes and a new Kuga in the guise of the Vertrek concept car. Plus 50 new cars and powertrains for Asia and Africa - and a rock 'n' roll video for all of the above which gently ribs the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. Phew.
9.45am: It's Buick Mark, but not as we know it
Car4mh I'm mildly surprised at the dynamism and confidence being displayed at the formerly-stuffy Buick brand press conference. A large Chinese contingent reinforces why the elderly-friendly marque survived elimination in GM's reality TV disaster show a couple of years back (it's a big seller in China). But it doesn't explain Buick now being the #4 premium brand in the US, ahead of Audi, Acura, Infiniti and Lincoln. That's down to the cars, which are doing some rather unfashionable things like being comfortable and quiet exceedingly well. Considering that the Buick Regal is essentially a VauxOpel Insignia in American chinos and a button-down shirt, this may not impress CAR's readership. But I do enjoy seeing the Verano launched in a cloud of smoke, with terms like 'Buick Quiet Tuning', a focus on lowest cabin noise in class and a comfortable ride being priorities. Is it wrong to have a comfortable car? Perhaps the Germans will have a counterpoint to that later today.
9.40am: Cobo Arena - and an important new Ford
BP Time to join the mass exodus to the Cobo Arena nearby for Ford's home press conference. Grab a breath of fresh air on the way - or as fresh a breath as you can in Detroit, with its frosty, dirty atmosphere and the omnipresent smell of smokers clustering near the doors. GM's HQ overlooks the Cobo hall. A stern reminder that while the UK industry has wilted away, the Big Three are massive business here in Michigan.
9.32am: Lambo news
BP I avoid the scrum for Sergio Marchionne and bump into Lamborghini R&D boss Marizio Reggiani. We talk about the Sesto Elemento concept car, the uber-lightweight concept car shown at the Paris expo in autumn 2010. Cunningly, it was a single kilo lighter than the Ferrari Mille Chili. Reggiani says the SE is in the research phase, after which a decision will be taken about very low volume production. Can carbonfibre and weight reduction mean Lambo can dodge hybrids for the next five years? He looks coy. Which means no.
8.40am: Prepping for Buick
Car4mh Having met up with Ben Pulman and uploaded some photos, it's agreed he'll do half of the press conferences and I'll cover the rest. He's off now to Chrysler, ensuring reader Gtrslngr will not accuse me of ogling their models. I am preparing instead to see Buick's Verano, an upmarket take on the Astra's Korean-America cousin, the Chevrolet Cruze.
8.25am: Ford versus Volkswagen design chat
Car4mh J. Mays and Moray Callum have Ford pins on their lapels, but are holding court out front of the Audi booth, where Emperor Piech's Ingolstadt minions have forgotten to paint the R8 GT. Actually, I'm told that it's an extra cost matte white paint. Are Ford back to their old VW-uninspired ways? I hope not, even accepting Kinetic Design's over-fussiness.
8.17am: Volt scoops American Car of the Year
Car4mh Car of the Year is between Nissan's European Car of the Year champ, the Leaf; Hyundai's Sonata; and that Range-extender that isn't, the Chevrolet Volt. A huge cheer goes up as the Volt is anointed the unsurprising winner. Tom Stephens, GM vice-chairman, describes the Volt as representing the soul and essence of New GM. Hopefully that doesn't mean over-hyped and misleadingly promoted, as the Volt has been accused of. Still, there are Volts available to trundle around the basement eco-car petting zoo, so I may try one tomorrow and see what all the fuss is about firsthand.
8.15am: VW and the have-they-really-changed-it Passat
BP Make my way onto the Volkswagen stand to scrounge their wi-fi, and arrive in time to see a fellow hack take a tumble alongside the new US spec VW Passat, nearly pulling the sheet off the car before its reveal later today. Of course the Passat (ne NMS) was shown last night, and we know it's not that exciting to look at. My personal highlight of today? I'm most excited about seeing the new Hyundai Veloster, which should move the brand from maker of decent and decently priced cars, to one that also has genuinely desirable cars that you can buy with your heart and not just your head. Mark turns up too, and openly admits he's not really following the zeitgeist and is hankering after a look at the Boss 302 Mustang.
8.01am: The new Prius rumours
Autoblog reports: 'Sprinkled around Cobo Hall this morning in the wee hours of the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, we discovered a number of promotional images from Toyota teasing the big Prius announcement that's coming later this afternoon. We don't know with 100% certainty, but in addition to the Prius MPV we already knew about, the ad sure makes it look like the secret Prius concept to be unveiled later today will be, ta da!, a smaller Prius hatchback!'
7.32am: Volkswagen aims high in America
BO Have bumped into Jonathan Browning, the new chairman and CEO of VW America. He took over when the previous incumbent jumped ship to head up Volvo. The former Jaguar and GM bigwig is busy launching the new Passat to the US market. He’s got his hands full. VW’s been hit by a series of poor quality survey results and the exchange rate has made European-built models expensive. That’s the real reason they’re building the new Passat (ne New Mid-sized Sedan) over here at the Chattanooga plant. Will they bring smaller VWs to the States? Browning won’t rule it out and we could imagine the Polo coming to challenge the Ford Fiesta and Fiat 500. And what of the Up city car? 'It depends on how gas prices and fuel economy regulations play out,' he told us. 'But the ability to leverage our global portfolio is a great asset.'
7.15am: The nth American Car of the Year awards
MH Just met Ben Pulman at the Porsche stand for a quick breakfast - it was American, not German, although my breakfast biscuit had ham, not bacon, and then saw the new 918 RSR unveiled. Its big rear wing and road-racer look made me think of Noble more than Porsche. Probably not the expected response, then. I'll be off to Specsavers momentarily. Looked better up close though.
6.50am: 'Is that a telephoto lens in your pocket?'
BP Meet up with CAR reader reporter Mark Hamilton by the stunning, wedgily low 918 RSR on the Porsche stand. We watch amazed as one of the stand dollies walks over to a geeky-looking journo and starts quizzing him about his camera. Either she's a photo nut or, as Mark points out, it's a cunning wheeze to remove a pesky hack from a 911 Turbo S.
6.30am: Starting with a bang - a new hybrid Porsche
BP Newly appointed Porsche boss Matthias Muller introduces the stunning new Porsche 918 RSR concept car, but a slip of the tongue means he credits the technology to the 'GT-R' rather than the GT3 R. Woops. Then again, if I had to do a presentation in German... Diesel and hybrid versions of the Panamera saloon are confirmed for later in 2011, sports car surprises will follow too (anyone for another 911?) and Porsche is chuffed that orders are up 50% to 110,000 units.
6.16am: Entered, registered, ready to go!
BP Through the tough security cordon, lanyard holding my press pass, arms already aching from laptop, camera, notepads... The NAIAS is the only show I've been to where you're checked my metal detector and sniffer dogs on the way in. We head to the Porsche stand for the first press conference of the day. I watch with amusement as journos from around the world tackle a Germanic breakfast of biscuits, ham, cheese and - yes - more cheese. Sticky fingers and messy suits all round.
5.51am: Launches expected at the 2011 NAIAS
BO A quick rundown of the news we're expecting later today:
• Audi A6 (the new one - plus hybrid)
• BMW 1-series M Coupe (seen before, but global show debut)
• BMW 6-series Convertible (does what it says on the tin)
• Buick Verano (Cruze meets Regal)
• BYD hybrid crossover
• Chevrolet Amp (small car concept tipped to sit below the Volt)
• Chevrolet Sonic (small car to replace Aveo)
• Chrysler 200 Mopar (new, faster 200)
• Chrysler 300 (not all-new, but we've yet to see it in the metal)
• Fiat 500 Mopar (revved-up Cinquecento)
• Ford Vertrek concept car (new Kuga and Escape SUVs)
• Ford hybrid C-Maxes
• GMC Sierra All Terrain HD concept (brutal pick-up)
• Honda Civic (the US market ones, saloon and coupe)
• Hyundai Curb (a concept car along the lines of the Nissan Juke)
• Hyundai Veloster (the Scirocco from Korea)
• Jeep Compass and other upgrades to SUV range
• Kia KV7 gullwing concept car (tall hatch/crossover thang)
• Mercedes C-class facelift (very Ronseal)
• Mini Paceman concept car (it's a Countryman with three doors)
• Porsche 918 RSR spin-off (a tin-top 918 in racing garb)
• Toyota Prius MPV (the first of an expanded Prius family)
• VW Passat (the American one)
5.30am: A cold start to the day
BP Damn Detroit's cold, especially at 5.30am when myself and ex-CAR staffer Paul Horrell head outside for a taxi. Why so early, when our official shuttle bus doesn't depart for 90 minutes? Because the Porsche press conference starts at a challenging 6.30am and they're about to unveil something pretty special based on the 918...
5.25am: Welcome to CAR's Live Blog from the 2011 Detroit auto show
TP We have a team of three at Cobo Hall today, bringing you all the news from the show floor. Look out for comments from staff writer Ben Pulman (BP), contributing editor Ben Oliver (BO), globe-trotting uber reader reporter Mark Hamilton (Car4mh) and associate editor Tim Pollard (TP) back at base pulling this show together. We'll be following the press conference schedule, reporting on the news, showing you the photos of the new cars launched at the NAIAS and telling you what's going on behind the scenes. If you have any questions, please click 'Add your comment' below and we'll do our best to answer them!
By Ben Pulman, Ben Oliver and Mark Hamilton