Detroit auto show 2012: the CAR Live Blog from NAIAS | CAR Magazine

Detroit auto show 2012: the CAR Live Blog from NAIAS

Published: 10 January 2012 Updated: 26 January 2015

Welcome to CAR Magazine’s coverage of the 2012 Detroit auto show. Our motor show team is at the North American International Auto Show in Cobo Hall, and will be reporting live from the NAIAS to bring you all the new car news, analysis, photo galleries, comment and gossip from Detroit. Follow the CAR Live Blog. NB this is written in blog format, so start at the bottom and work your way up! All times in US Eastern Standard Time (5 hours behind GMT).



Tuesday 10 January 2012

12.17pm: It’s a wrap
And that’s it folks. Come back for more individual news stories and videos, but this live blog is now shut. Hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage of the 2012 NAIAS. Think I need a new keyboard…

11.30am: Bentley top brass
Just spent an enlightening half hour with Bentley’s new engineering chief Rolf Frech. He’s an ex-Porsche lifer who oversaw the introduction of the Cayenne in his previous post. We’ll have a full interview in CAR Magazine too, wiht news of the Bentley SUV, hybrids and more…

10.30am: Shooting the CAR video
What size car can you fit our beanpole European editor Georg Kacher, myself and contributing editor Ben Oliver into? Not a downsized Fiesta, that’s for sure. We plump for a Ford F150. One is sold every 54 seconds and they sold 548,917 last year. Think America’s downsizing? The F family of trucks have been the best-selling vehicle range every year since 1982.

9.55am: Buick launches US’s first baby SUV
Over to GM where Ed Welburn, global design chief, is unveiling the Encore. It’s Buick’s take on the forthcoming Vauxhall/Opel Mokka – a Corsa sized crossover (also unveild today). We’ll see the Euro version at Geneva. Tellingly, GM predicts the American market is switching on to this downsizing trend even with SUVs; this segment will jump by 500,000 units by 2015 as GM and others pile in.

9.20am: Honda’s 30th birthday
Honda Accord at the Detroit motor show 2012It’s all about the Accord on the Honda stand. They’re celebrating 30 years of building the Accord in the US and have an original Accord here on the stand. They’ve sold an impressive 11 million in that time, 8m of which were homegrown. Good attack on Ford, who highlighted the drop-off in Accord sales yesterday – claiming they’re making hay during the fall-out from the tsunami and floods which cut 200,000 from production. Cue the new ninth-gen Accord coming this autumn – and an Accord Coupe concept showing what’s in store. It’s lower, sleeker, greener (obviously) – but doesn’t meddle with what’s clearly a winning formula. Very Honda.

8.45am: Toyota go hybrid crazy with new Prius C and NS4
Every year in the Riverview Ballroom Toyota US chief Jim Lentz stands up and reminds us of his company’s lead in hybrid technology. This year, it’s no different. ‘Ten years ago there were two hybrids here at NAIAS,k he says. ‘This year they’re on nearly every stand.’ But Toyota has a march on the others, to prove the point, the Prius C creeps silently on stage. It’s the real production car, sharing much with the new Yaris Hybrid unveiled this week. It’s 19in shorter than the Prius mothership and the 1.5 hybrid will cost less than $19,000 at launch. Then Lentz is on to the iQ EV and RAV4 EV (the latter developed with Tesla), which will be testbeds for getting Americans to switch on to electric cars. It’s a busy presentation: he wraps up with the new Toyota NS4 concept car – a vision for what the family car of 2015 could look like. It’s modern, crisp and looks leap years ahead of the Avensis. Yes please!

8.10am: Lincoln’s Mondeo – the new MKZ
Ford global marketing chief Jim Farley takes to a rather splendid new Lincoln stand to give his spiel on the Blue Oval’s upmarket division. It’s all rather defensive and it’s clear Ford think Lincoln has lost its way. Cue much talk about reinventing what Lincoln means. Farley claims Americans are fed up with the German hegemony in the luxury car marketplace, with 800,000 sales among the premium imported brands. ‘There seems to be a race to have the most vehicles in the line and the most extravagant showrooms,’ he posits. ‘Some customers are asking what about the personal touch?’ His vision is for Lincoln to be the American alternative. The MKZ concept car is the company’s answer – a tarted-up Mondeo/Fusion with Saabish full-width rear lamps, a panoramic glass roof and a plush four-seat cabin. Problem is Farley then explains how Lincoln will launch more distinctive new models and expand its dealer network. Isn’t that just what you berated the Germans for doing, Jim?

7.50am: Scion’s GT86
Missed the Scion press conference yesterday with an interview. Swung by today to see the Scion FR-S – the youth brand’s take on the GT86. Barely any changes over badging, goes on sale late spring for ‘mid $20,000s’. It’s the first ever rear-wheel drive Scion. Looks weird next to the Scion iQ – Toyota’s city tot looks simply minuscule here.

7.30am: Arrival at Cobo
I’m deposited in the bowels of the Joe Loius arena. Yesterday Ford held its press conference here; today the Detroit Redwings are moving back in. turns out we were sitting on ice yesterday. Cool.

6.15am: Day two of the Detroit auto show 2012
Been awake for an hour, damn Euro-style jetlag. Bussing off to Cobo soon to mop up the day two activity. Lincoln, Toyota, Honda, Buick, Maserati and Nissan are your lot for today. We’re also gathtering Ben Oliver, Georg Kacher and other CAR staffers together for a video review. Should have that later today. Plus we’ll try and plug the gaps from yesterday and make time for an interview or two. Quite a busy morning then before jetting back to London this evening…

Monday 9 January 2012

4.30pm: The CAR video review
Just bumped into Georg Kacher and we’ve arranged for our traditional motor show video debrief. Come back on Wednesday for some video analysis from Georg Kacher, Ben Oliver and Yours Truly. In the meantime, we’ll try and mop up the stories we’ve missed and bring you the remaining launches not yet published on CAR Online. Come back later on for more! 

4.00pm: Battery woes
Phone battery alert. Time to plug in – but phone charger is buried under the Joe Louis Arena. A fascinating foray underground into the bowels of the Cobo complex ensues. Much time lost. Further updates to arrive later on. 

3.10pm: Hyundai announces Veloster Turbo
The Hyundai stand is busy too and the top brass are busy extolling the virtues of their sales performance Stateside. They’re the sixth biggest brand in the US – make that car, as opposed to truck, sales and they rise up to number four. What’s more they claim they have to discount less – at $1005 average incentive per vehicle sold, it’s a reflection of how distressed some car sales are. More good news on the battery front: Hyundai is developing plenty of hybrid and EVs, and they’re working on new lithium polymer batteries with LG. They’re so confident of the new battery tech that they just announced a lifetime battery replacement guarantee on the newest hybrids. Sounds like the sort of warranty we should get in the UK on our hybrids. That’d remove the last barrier to entry. Then it’s over to the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo – with a direct-injection turbocharged 1.6, it cranks out 201bhp and because it’s much lighter than a Golf GTI, performance is claimed to be electric.

2.35pm: Acura unveils new NSX
Moment of the show? Probably Honda chief president Takanobu Ito unveiling the NSX concept on the Acura stand. ‘It will go on global sale within three years,’ he said. ‘It’ll be developed and built in the US.’ That’s big news – the last NSX was built in Japan and this one will hail Acura/Honda NSX at Detroit motor show NAIAS 2012from Ohio. We now know it’ll have a direct-injection V6 driving the rear wheels while the front axle will use electric motors for better traction during cornering. The gearbox is a twin-clutch affair and performance will come through light weight. Surely the highlight of the NAIAS so far. The stand was actually rammed.

1.25pm: Lexus starts its third chapter…
Twenty three years ago here in Detroit, the Lexus story began with the LS400. At the 2012 North American International Auto Show, US chief Mark Templin claimed the company started its third phase. ‘In phase one we established the brand. In phase two we expanded our portfolio. In phase three we will make Lexus more emotional.’ So the lovely looking Lexus LF-LC concept car is important – it’s designed to draw a line in the sand and to make Lexus exciting. That kinky front grille will influence production cars, and there are nine new or updated models coming to the US in 2012. The grille’s meshwork cleverly incorporates ‘L’ shapes and the rear lights are modelled on a jet fighter’s afterburners. No word yet on its next-gen hybrid powertrain, but the style is spot-on. Problem is, we’ve seen Lexus deliver stunning concepts and bland production cars in the past. And they say this third phase begins with the GS – a highly competent techfest, but hardly an exec with the brio to make European rivals quake in their Gucci boots. Here’s a plea to Lexus: empower your talented Calty designers to make your production cars rock. They’ve clearly got the talent.

12.50pm: An unusually quiet Detroit for Audi
What’s this? A quiet Audi stand not teeming with world premieres? The glitz and gloss is still present and correct, but this year there’s no show-stopping R5-alike E-tron sports coupe. Instead the focus is on the facelifted A4 and S4, a snow-spec Q3 Vail ski edition – with Matra Rancho-spec rooflights! – to herald the 2013 arrival of the Q3 to the US and the announcement that more large diesel Audis are coming Stateside. Oh, and a deliciously cheesy video link to the CES show in Vegas where Audi will announce Audi Connect wi-fi hotspots and gesture-swipe head-up displays.

12.15pm: Bentley calls on Derek Bell
To unveil new Conti Le Mans winner, friend of CAR and all-round good egg Derek Bell tells us about the Continental V8 on Bentley’s stand. He’s paid to eulogise, naturally, but as he’s driven me up Goodwood’s hill in a Supersport at ten-tenths, I’d wager he’s a good judge. ‘The V8 feels much more positive, they’ve taken out quite a bit weight by losing the W12,’ he reports. He claims not to have noticed when the engine runs as a four-pot at a cruise and he averaged 33mpg at a relaxed 75mph freeway cruise. We shall see. The V8 arrives on the coupe and GTC convertible in spring 2012. Crucially, CEO Wolfgang Durheimer reveals that Bentley will at last make a profit this year, thanks to record sales. That’s great news for Crewe. The VW empire doesn’t understand loss-making divisions.

11.40am: BMW’s hybrid 3-series
Is anyone not having a good year? Perhaps after a sustained period of the bad stuff, we shouldn’t be sBMW 3-series saloonurprised by the records tumbling left, right and centre but you still have to tip your hat to BMW, whose three brands all bagged record sales years with a total of 1.66 million sales. America is BM’s biggest single market and the new 3-series made its US debut – namely in ActiveHybrid 3 spec. With a six-cylinder petrol and electric motors, it mixes 335bhp and an American 37mpg, says R+D boss Klaus Draeger. Expect a launch in autumn 2012. I think we’ll all be more on the edge of our seats in a year’s time when the i3 and i8 launch. Apparently the hybrid supercar is appearing in Mission Impossible 4 should you like that sort of thing. Then some more Olympic overload from the games sponsor, and three US gold medal winners are wheeled out to tell us how they’re the ultimate sports machines etc.

11.05am: VW shows off Beetle speedster
Volkswagen is finally making money in America – US chief Jonathan Browning candidly admits 2011 was the first time since 2003 the division had turned a profit. Why? Sales leaped 26% to 324,000 in the US, led by the big-selling Jetta which accounted for more than half those sales. Volkswagen is number one in Europe, China, Central and South America – and it wants to add North America to that list as it guns global domination by 2018. The group spends $6 billion on R+D each year, explaining how it launched a US-centric Jetta Hybrid at Detroit twinning the 1.4 TSI engine with electric power. And then the E-Bugster – a slammed Beetle speedster with an electric drivetrain. It’s the same you’ll find in the 2013 e-Golf, which goes on sale next year. CAR understands the speedster bodystyle may be launched around the regular Bug’s mid-life facelift. It looks good, wider and lower – with a hint of Mini Coupe, weirdly, in that cartoonish side profile. Like the wraparound gloss-black windscreen surround, hooking up and over the front window.

10.30am: World debut for Porsche 911 Cabriolet
A refreshingly brief presentation at Porsche. The usual VW group manners of introducing Herr Winterkorn and other board members (neither group scDetroit motor show 2012ion Dr Piech or his wife Ursula appear to be at NAIAS) and then straight into a business update: Porsche sold a record 118,000 cars in 2011, up a stonking 22% on the previous year. And CEO Mathias Muller spells out how Porsche will double that by 2018 – he doesn’t mention the new models by name, but it’s clear to see the new compact Cajun (a junior Cayenne SUV) and Pajun (smaller Panamera exec) will be big sellers. Then the 911 Cabrio takes centre stage – it’ll arrive in UK on 3 March and Brits will be evenly split between coupe and this new soft-top, apparently. Porsche says it’ll sell 25,000 911s globally this year. And that’s despite the new Boxster which is also imminent – we’ll see that in a matter of days. Busy times at Porsche…

9.55am: Smart’s new For-Us and Mercedes’ new SL
The sprawling Daimler stand is massive and we hear the elaborately moustached CEO Dieter Zetsche explain how Merc’s car divisions celebrated their 125th year with a new record of 1.36 million sales thanks to six new models. ‘Under Mercedes 2020 we are targeting leadership in several areas, including premium car sales,’ he tells us. To help achieve that a further six new Mercs will be launched in 2012, including the new SL. Appropriately for its Super Light name, the new SL uses aluminium architecture to trim up to 140kg from its heft. ‘The new V8 has better performance than the old V12 yet is as efficient as the old V6,’ Dr Z croons. On average, the new SL comes along every 11.5 years so this is a big day. Stylistically, the new one looks conservative if elegant but I wonder if it’ll look the business in 2023? I note Audi design bigwig Wolfgang Egger taking a good sniff around it. Also new on the Merc stand are the miracle E-class hybrid twins: the E300 diesel and E400 petrol Bluetec Hybrids, aimed at US/Japan/China and Europe respectively. Meanwhile over at Smart, the For-Us is a Smart pick-up, which somehow loses its Smartiness, but has clever accommodation for a pair of electric bikes in the back. We’ve seen similar solutions from Honda an BMW and I’d wager we’ll see some kind of e-scooter system on sale by someone by mid-decade. Can’t believe this Daimler press conference is still going half an hour after it started… Time to do a runner to hear what Porsche has to say for itself.

9.20am: Chevrolet crowd sources its next cars
Chevrolet spent ages explaining how influential the new millennials will be – the 11-30-year-olds, or wired generation. They make up 40% of the American car buying public and have a Chevrolet Code 130 Rspending power of nearly $1 trillion, explaining why brands like Chevy are desperate for their cash. Hence the new Sonic RS, a warmed-over hot hatch to appeal to young buyers with a 130bhp 1.4 turbo, 17in rims, 7in touchscreen, gaping air intakes and a badge rather close to Ford’s Rallye Sport tag. But the more interesting Chevrolets are the Tru 140 S and Code 130 R – a brace of sports coupe concepts designed in collaboration with youngsters. Both are four-seaters, they have small 1.4 turbo engines and visitors to NAIAS can drop into a booth and help GM design them. If your date of birth is the right side of 30, presumably. It’s like a reverse ID check at the liqueur store.

8.45am: Dodge plays Darts
Chrysler is propering post recession, it seems. President of Dodge Reed Bigland (seriously) reports US group sales are up 26% – and retail buyers jumped  by 43% last year. ‘It’s been a wild ride these past two years,’ admits the boss. ‘We don’t want to go back there.’ Dodge is now replacing the unloved Caliber with a new compact car developed with the parent Fiat group – the Dart is an Alfa Giulietta in American clothes. Compacts make up 15% of US sales and the sector’s growing. The Dart is built in Michigan and will cost from $15,995 when sales start in the second quarter of 2012 – choose from a 160bhp 2.0, Alfa’s identical power 1.4 Multiair or a 184bhp 2.4 Multiair. Style? We’ll take the Giulietta, thanks – but you can’t argue with the value. It has the blunt aggression we expect from Dodge and dealers will spec it up to the hilt with niceties such as an 8.4in touchscreen, digital reconfigurable dials and an iPhone app letting you remotely unlock, start and track your car. You can even lend the Dart to the kids and make sure they don’t go anywhere risky or drive too fast. And to think we’re still in Chapter 1 of this scarily 1984 connected world…

8.00am: Ford unveils the new Mondeo
And after all the build-up, here is the new Fusion. It looks like a large car, more Granada than Sierra and the boot deck is high up, giving the Fusion/Mondeo a real wedge stance. And that grille is very Aston-y. Henry Ford’s great grandson Bill is on stage to give us some context. He tells us Ford is well placed to capitalise on the impending global boom ‘from today’s one billion cars on the road, we expect that to double, treble or even quadruple by mid-century,’ he drawls. Maybe the auto industry isn’t doomed after all. The new Fusion is one of ten products based on Ford’s C/D platform and the Blue Oval expects sales of all to surpass a million a year globally. Most Fusion buyers are promiscuous in their car choices and 43% say they want something different. That’s why Ford is nibbling into Camry/Accord territory (there’s an extraordinary graph explaining the sales slump of Japanese rivals even before the tsunami) and launching both hybrid and plug-in hybrid Energi versions – the latter promises over 100mpg. Word is these part-electric models may come to Europe eventually. The hybrid Mondeo mightn’t be far away.

7.50am: NAIAS press day is go
We’re at the Joe Louis Arena – where the Detroit ice hockey team normally play – but today where Ford is preparing to unveil the new Fusion and hybrid version. Have just bumped into Ford of Europe design chief Martin Smith, who tells me the Fusion/Mondeo project originated in Cologne before becoming a global concept. they’re going to launch a new zingy, electric Ford blue paint colour on it. Sounds a bit like the old ST200 paint job. Also expect a new spec level over and above Titanium to launch in late 2012. Apparently more than two-thirds of buyers now pick the top spec, so they’re nudging further upmarket into Audi territory. It’ll even have a leather-covered dashtop. In a Mondeo!

5.42am: Reveil
An early start to prepare for the trip to the Cobo Center. They’re just announced a five-year extension to the show contract, so the North American International Auto Show will remain in downtown Detroit until 2017 at least. My first appointment of the day is with Ford, which has whisked the covers off the new 2013 Ford Mondeo overnight. It’s here at Detroit as a Fusion but this time it’s going global. UK will only get the five-door and wagon, but we’re about to see the four-door for the US market.

Sunday 8 January 2012

9.40pm: Jetlag ahoy
Shattered from a 5am start and the five-hour time difference. Time to hit the hay for a busy day tomorrow. Come back in the morning to follow all the action from the NAIAS. The first press conference starts at 8.00am in Detroit, or 1.00pm UK time.

8.20pm: Cadillac does a 3-series
I’m at the Ford drinks in Birmingham and miss the Caddy event on the other side of town. But GM has shown the new 2013 Cadillac ATS – a 3-series rival very much in the mould of a baby CTS. Sadly irrelevant for the UK, but word is it’ll be as competitive as its big brother. Which means more than you might think.

7.35pm: The Ford crew prepare for Fusion
Senior Ford executives from Europe gather ahead of tomorrow’s unveiling of the new Fusion, aka the Mondeo which will be a global player this time – following in the footsteps of Fiesta and Focus. Word from the design team is that you’d need an anorak certified by Oxford University to spot difference between the US job and the Euro-spec Mondeo. We’ll see tomorrow.

4.15pm: Touchdown
The CAR team has landed in Detroit and we’re heartened to see that the border control staff appear friendlier than in previous years. It’s been a mild winter so far in Michigan and our driver to the hotel reports there’s been no snow at all yet. Let’s hope the temperature of the industry has warmed up too – the NAIAS and Motown in general have suffered a few blows in the past few years. But sales in the US have picked up, economic data is gradually on the rise these past few months Stateside and the mood in Detroit is quietly upbeat. This could be an NAIAS to remember. And there will be quite a few key launches here at Cobo Hall on Monday 9 January: Ford is showing the new Mondeo (aka Fusion over here), Honda will reveal its NSX, Cadillac the ATS 3-series rival, Merc the latest SL and Toyota its own take on it – the new Lexus LF-LC – and VW will have a surprise or two.

Stay tuned for all the latest news the moment we hear it. Our team in Detroit will bring you the news from the ground while the team back at base will plug in any gaps we miss in the rush and bustle of press day.

For now, here are some photos brought to you from inside the Cobo Hall – showing you the preparations the day before the North American International Auto Show opens to the world’s media. It’s amazing how some of it is…

Detroit motor show - NAIAS 2012