Bigger is better

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BIG TRUCKS WITH BOLD FEATURES TOOK THE STAGE AT THE 2016 NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW

Bigger is better

Glitz and glamour filled the halls of the 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit this January.

More than 5,000 journalists from 60 countries packed Detroit’s Cobo Centre for the two-day press preview, which featured more than 50 vehicle debuts. Canadian auto dealer was on the show floor for all the action.

WHAT’S THE BUZZ?

Automakers are revving up for the road ahead, but it won’t be an ordinary ride. The talk of the town is autonomous driving and cutting-edge technology to keep vehicle occupants safer on the road.

Worldwide, car companies — and even tech giants such as Google and Apple — are working on ground-breaking features to push the boundaries of self-driving vehicles to the limit.

Many automakers showcased their wares with global debuts like the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, which is as close to a driverless car as you can get.

It’s loaded-to-the-nines with driver aids such as autonomous steering assist, automatic lane changing, a Car-to-X communications system, which allows it to converse with similarly-equipped vehicles, and a remote parking system, which enables the car to complete parking maneuvers remotely via a smartphone app.

Worldwide, car companies — and even tech giants such as Google and Apple — are working on ground-breaking features to push the boundaries of self-driving vehicles to the limit

WHAT’S THE THEME?

Bigger is better.

The Detroit three showcased big trucks, SUVs, CUVs, and minivans — top sellers, especially since gas prices have dropped dramatically.

Chrysler, which invented the minivan more than three decades ago, showed a new-and-improved minivan with cool tech features, a hybrid powertrain option, and a new name. Gone is the old Town & Country moniker replaced with the Pacifica nameplate for the 2017 model year.

Likewise, GM debuted a family-friendly vehicle: the 2017 GMC Acadia crossover with seating for up to seven passengers and new safety features such as a front pedestrian braking system and a surround vision camera.

Ford focused on its big and bold 2017 F-150 Raptor pickup truck.

Japanese automakers also got in on the action with the made-in-America 2017 Honda Ridgeline and the Nissan Titan Warrior concept truck — a beefed-up version of the Titan XD that takes off-roading to new heights.

But environmentalists shouldn’t cringe. Automakers are still exploring alternatives to gas-powered vehicles like GM’s Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, which can travel approximately 320 kilometres on a single charge.

To save cabin and cargo space, its EV battery pack has moved to the floor, running from the front foot well to the back of the rear seat, so there’s plenty of space for passengers and cargo.

Ford’s most tech-packed Fusion mid-size sedan also comes with green options, including a hybrid and plug-in hybrid version.

WHAT ARE THE BIG TRENDS?

Innovative technology for comfort and safety was in the spotlight.

Convenience features, such as the hands-free sliding side doors on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, are a segment first. They make it easier to enter and exit the cabin without fiddling for keys to unlock the door.

Simply kick under the door to open or close it. The same maneuver works with the lift gate, too.Bigger is better 2

In an attempt to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on the road, Swedish automaker Volvo unveiled its all-new S90 premium sedan with an updated version of its City Safety system.

It raises the bar higher in road protection by detecting not only pedestrians, but also large animals such as deer or moose in the driver’s path. It can warn the driver and apply the brakes to help avoid a collision with larger animals. And it works in the daytime or nighttime.

Smart storage compartments are also all the rage.

The Honda Ridgeline has a lockable in-bed trunk — another first in the segment. The trunk is deep and nicely hidden in the bed. You’d never know it was there and neither will thieves.

For added convenience, the tailgate can open down or to the side for easier loading and unloading of items.

WHAT ARE THE SHOWSTOPPERS?

The 2017 Lexus LC 500 luxury coupe wowed the crowd with its aerodynamic shape, low profile, and wide, muscular stance. Its performance numbers are impressive, too. At the heart of this beauty is a 5.0-litre V8 engine with a gut-wrenching 467 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque. Nail the throttle and you’ll hit 0 to 100 clicks in less than 4.5 seconds!

Concept vehicles were another big hit. Acura is upping the ante in its styling cues with its striking Precision concept car. With sleek, flowing lines, it follows in the footsteps of the stunning Acura NSX supercar.

The Precision’s suicide doors make a bold statement, but are also functional, allowing passengers to enter and exit the rear seats easily and quickly.

Another hot concept car was the Buick Avista coupe. It’s not your average, run-of-the-mill Buick.

The 2+2 coupe is a showstopper and the best looking vehicle Buick has ever built. Its profile is striking; its power impressive. A 400-hp twin turbocharged V6 engine drives the rear wheels to get a true sports car feel. Fingers crossed it makes it into production — it would be a big hit with customers of all ages.

Stylish convertibles get a power boost, especially from German car companies. Mercedes-Benz’s SLC43 AMG is a high-performance machine with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, which pumps out 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. Its top drops quickly with the push of a button.

You can even lower the roof while driving at speeds of up to 40 km/hr. Porsche’s heart-pounding 911 Turbo and Turbo S models can hit 0 to 100 kms in less than three seconds thanks to a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged flat six with an impressive amount of power – 540 hp (Turbo) and 580 hp (Turbo S).


Changes in ownership models

THE AUTO INDUSTRY is in the midst of change. Non-traditional players such as Google and Apple are entering the car business, and car-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft in the U.S. are on the rise. How will car companies and dealers evolve in the future?

Here’s what Alan Batey, GM North America President, had to say during a roundtable discussion with Canadian journalists at the NAIAS:

“We’re not giving up the traditional business. We don’t believe for one minute the owner-driver model is going away. What we know is there is a company called Uber today that has a cap value higher than General Motors. There is something happening in this space and we want to be part of it.

Our core business is very strong, which is the owner-driver model. And we see that growing. We’re coming off record high markets and we think 2016 in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will be similar. But this whole mobility spectrum of services is emerging and we strategically had to make a decision — we could be a provider of cars into those mobility solutions or we can play a deeper role. We took the strategic decision that we want to play a major role in providing mobility solutions for our customers.

What we’re going to do in the short-term, for example, is if you say to Lyft: what’s your number one objective to get more vehicles and more Lyft drivers on the road? Look at our company — we have company cars. We have lease-return cars. We have rental return cars. We’re going to establish hubs for Lyft drivers where they can rent our vehicles so rather than us putting an ex-lease vehicle into the used-car market we’re going to put them into fleets and allow Lyft drivers to use them. Why are we interested in that? It’ll help our residual values because we’ll have less used cars coming back to the market and then we’ll also grow together…  It’s a journey. Do we have all of the answers? No. But one thing for sure is the mobility solution in urban areas is not always going to be around this owner-user model.”

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