The North American International Auto Show, known affectionately as NAIAS, wasn’t all that green for 2014, but I have a theory about that. In fact, nearly every automaker in the world has already released a battery car or plug-in hybrid, they have run out of new releases.
Unlike regular cars, they don’t get refreshed or updated every year, so the glitz goes elsewhere. Still, I found enough cool stuff to see and write about, and here are some of the highlights.
No Mustangs were harmed: Somehow, this pool table (not made from a real car!) sums up the show for me. I found it at Ford’s Behind the Blue Oval presentation, which also featured groaning food stations and such interesting vehicles as the solar-powered version of the C-MAX (debuted at CES). Ford’s big news here was the aluminum-bodied F-150 (below), America’s bestselling vehicle. The 2015 model shaves 700 pounds off the truck by using the lightweight alloy.
Two cylinders are better than four: Volkswagen rolled out its electric e-Golf, but it also unveiled a concept Passat BlueMotion that shuts down two cylinders under light loads. And it’s only a four-cylinder car. Lars Menge, who heads production strategy for VW, told me that it kicks in automatically when the car is “sailing.” That’s German for coasting. Balance shafts keep it from shaking its occupants to pieces. The concept delivers 42 mpg on the highway, which is darned good for a midsized car. Expect it to join the lineup of U.S.-made Passats.
The car of the show: For me, that was the 2015 Honda Fit (above), hardly a glitzy vehicle. But in its quiet way, the Fit is really significant. For next year it’s only modestly restyled, but the new look is in keeping with the model. And those legendary “magic seats” are retained. They fold in all sorts of ways, but in place offer huge rear legroom for such a small car. The new Fit is a bit smaller and wider, and it offers fuel economy of 33 mpg city and a stellar 41 highway. See more in the video below:
There's nothing to see behind the curtain: Tesla sometimes skips auto shows, but the company’s presence in Detroit sparked speculation that the Model X crossover SUV (based on the Model S, with “falcon” uplifting doors) would be debuted. Alas, no. We got a progress report. Tesla has about 80 Superchargers around the world now, a firm hold in Europe (the Model S is sometimes the bestselling car in Norway), and a toehold in China (where it now has a showroom). Tesla faces a federal recall on its 29,000 garage charging adapters, but it insists it shouldn’t be called a “recall.” In fact, Teslas have Internet connections and the cars don’t actually have to “go down to the shop.”
The best car stereo I ever heard: At a Panasonic event, I sat in a bright yellow Mini Countryman and heard the best stereo I ever heard. The sound, which had incredible definition and presence, was shaped in conjunction with England's legendary Abbey Road Studios, and uses 12 speakers in four locations. We listened to Beatle songs and “Skyfall” by Adele. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the system yet. But Acura cars are already using another great system co-produced by Grammy winner Eliot Scheiner of ELS Studios (at one time Jimmy Buffett’s drummer).
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