The 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is entering its final weekend in Detroit, Michigan. As always, it was full of big reveals, new technology, and outrageous concept vehicles. After following the extensive coverage of the show and digging into the biggest news, here are several of my takeaways and predictions for the year ahead.
Doubling Down On Trucks
In previous years, the flagship models of the Big Three (GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) have been members of the luxury car category. This year, the major truck reveals from these companies might indicate a plan to consider trucks the new domestic flagships for these brands.
- The new Ford Ranger, returning for the first time since 2011, signifies Ford’s re-entry into the mid-size pickup market. It will come standard with automatic forward braking and a backup camera.
- The 2019 redesigned Chevrolet Silverado includes wireless charging capabilities. The truck uses various weight-saving technologies to drop 450 lbs.
- The new fifth-generation Ram 1500 is roomier and can be equipped with a 12-inch screen for its infotainment system.
The new models are in line with a recent trend toward more tricked out trucks, with all the latest tech bells and whistles. As we begin 2018, we can expect to see truck ownership be just as much about comfort and style as it is about power and functionality.
Less Focus On Autonomous Driving
Self-driving vehicles have been somewhat of an elephant in the room at auto shows in recent years. With NAIAS coming right on the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where autonomous vehicle technology was a main focus, many industry experts were anxious to see what the big automotive companies had to say on the subject.
Despite the continued buzz around autonomous driving, many executives at NAIAS did not have much to say about it. Aside from GM’s reveal of a no-steering-wheel, no-pedals concept vehicle just before the show, there wasn’t much talk of self-driving cars. Many industry executives are adamant that much of the discussion on this subject is still conjecture, and they would rather spend time focusing on the development of conventional vehicles. In many ways, the show this year seemed to provide a refreshing break from all this speculation, and a return to vehicles as we have always known them.
The Push For User-Friendly Infotainment
In 2018, passengers and drivers want to be connected on-the-go and new models at this year’s show revealed that more brands are ready to meet this demand. The broad category of “infotainment” systems has been growing in recent years. Lately, it seems to refer to any way to seamlessly connect a smartphone’s features to the vehicle. This includes music, maps, photos, and communication capabilities. As I mentioned before, the new Ram 1500 is adding a large screen to make these functions possible. BMW and Volkswagen are also among the brands making big moves in the infotainment direction.
However, some automakers seem to be running into a problem. With the speed at which smartphone technology changes these days, how can the car technology that integrates with our phones keep up? If the infotainment technology cannot upgrade with the phone it connects to, it can lead to a negative user experience. To combat this challenge, we can expect to see major automakers partner with tech companies. Several are already taking a head start on this front. For example, Ford and Nissan offer Amazon’s Alexa in some models and, in addition to BMW and Volkswagen, Toyota and Lexus are expected to add Alexa and Google Assistant capabilities to their vehicles.
For enthusiasts, the biggest part of NAIAS has always been about the highly-anticipated new models. For the most part, 2018 did not disappoint on this front. Among the big releases we had:
- The 2019 Mercedes Benz G-Class received a modern upgrade while still keeping true to its iconic original design from 1979. Many are referring to the new G-Class as a “factory-produced” resto-mod.
- The 2019 Jeep Cherokee debuted with changes to the face of the vehicle and has an option for a new turbocharged engine.
- The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, the latest version of VW’s most popular U.S. model, boasts better handling with the help of VW’s MBQ modular construction platform. Also included is a rearview camera, forward collision warning system, and Apple Car Play and Android Auto.
- The 2019 Forte debuted as a larger version of Kia’s compact offering, with styling similar to the Stinger performance sedan. The biggest change to the new model is its continuously variable transmission, which replaces the six-speed automatic. It’s likely this change will improve the vehicle’s fuel economy.
- A modern version of the iconic Ford Mustang Bullitt was on display, originally made popular by Steve McQueen in the 1968 film Bullitt. The new version features a V8 engine, six-speed manual-only transmission, and 12-inch LCD touchscreen – something that was certainly not in McQueen’s version!
Notably absent from this year’s show was any mention of Chevrolet’s mid-engine Corvette, a model which many enthusiasts expected to be revealed in Detroit. Testing for the car has been spotted so the question remains as to when we’ll witness its grand debut. Mazda does not have a display this year at NAIAS and neither does Jaguar Land Rover. Volvo has a smaller setup when compared to years past and Brembo, who was present the last two years, did not have a display this year.
It will certainly be interesting to see how these trends develop throughout the coming year, and which new models are popular among consumers when they become available. NAIAS runs through Sunday the 28th at the Cobo Center, One Washington Boulevard, downtown Detroit. Ticket information for the public show and corresponding events can be found here; a list of daily activities can be found here; for anything else, the show’s official site is pretty easy to navigate.
Richard Reina is a Product Trainer at CARiD.com and lifelong automotive enthusiast.
Cover Photo: NAIAS.
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