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2019 NAIAS

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

2019 Car, Utility and Truck of the Year: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—South Korea’s Hyundai swept the honors Monday (Jan. 14), winning both the North American Car of the Year and Utility of the Year trophies for the Genesis G70 and Hyundai Kona.

The announcement came at the opening of the annual North American International Automobile Show (NAIAS) here.

large-1094-genesisg70The Genesis G70, the newest model from Hyundai’s separate luxury brand, was voted Car of the Year by an independent panel of 54 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

large-34508-2019konaelectricTaking the prize for North American Utility of the Year was the Hyundai Kona, a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle that is available with a gasoline engine, as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and as a pure electric with 248 miles of range.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel 12A product of  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Ram 1500 was voted Truck of the Year. It features a new system called eTorque that combines a belt-drive electric motor generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function for improved fuel economy.

The North American Car of the Year Organization (NACTOY) is composed of  automotive journalists from print, online, television and broadcast organizations who pay annual dues and are required to drive and evaluate nominated new vehicles, culminating in the vote for the winners. They are independent of NAIAS and have no connections or relationships with any of the vehicle manufacturers.

The Genesis G70 fared better than its fraternal cousin, the Kia Stinger, which was a finalist for Car of the Year in 2018 but lost the honor to the Honda Accord.

Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia and the two cars share engines and drivetrains. Both the Stinger and the Genesis G70 are four-doors except that the midsize Stinger is a hatchback and the compact G70 is a conventional four-door sedan with a trunk. Prices range from the low $30,000 range to the low $50,000 range.

Both come with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions. One  advantage for the G70 is that it also is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Stinger does not offer a manual transmission.

Hyundai’s Kona is a stylish subcompact crossover with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It comes with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, as a plug-in hybrid and, most recently as a dedicated electric. Prices range from slightly more than $20,000 for the base gasoline model to nearly $40,000 for the electric, which can be reduced to around $30,000 with tax and other incentives.

Kona models offer such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning, as well as torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

There were three finalists in each category. Besides the Genesis G70, Car of the Year nominees were the compact Honda Insight hybrid and the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 station wagon, both midsize.

The Kona’s competition finalists consisted of the all-new luxury compact crossover, the Acura RDX, and the Jaguar I-Pace, an all-electric midsize luxury crossover. In the truck category, the Ram’s competitors were the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra.

Chris Paukert, NACTOY’s vice-president, commented, “The Genesis G70 doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with segment mainstays like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class—it beats them all in driver engagement while positively slaying them on value for the dollar.” Paukert is executive editor of Roadshow by CNET.

“The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said NACTOY juror Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure.”

“Ram continues to lead the way in making a big truck double as a big family pleaser with as much attention paid to interior conveniences and ride comfort as to cargo hauling and towing,” said John Davis, executive producer at Maryland public television’s MotorWeek.

NACTOY President Lauren Fix, owner of the online The Car Coach, thanked the vehicle manufacturers for ‘taking the time and effort to work with us throughout the year as our jurors rigorously tested, evaluated and debated the best new vehicles on the market. Now in our 25th year, we are proud that both automakers and consumers recognize the value our awards provide to new car buyers.”

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