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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

It's Auto Show Time

January 29, 2016 Innovation Impact

 

Maybe it was the 16°F temperature outside, but I loved this Kia A1A Optima concept roadster – named for the Florida highway running south to Key West.

 

It's that time of year again when the eyes of the automotive world turn to Detroit. The North American International Auto Show attracts automakers, suppliers, press and enthusiasts from around the globe to the Motor City to revel in the industry's latest technologies and trends.

 

Our 1967 Mark IV helps Ford celebrate its return to Le Mans later this year.

 

If you're a racing fan, the fun starts the moment you enter Cobo Center's lobby. Ford Performance has set up shop with four significant Blue Oval racers. The headliner is the new GT that will return Ford to Le Mans in June, in celebration of its historic 1-2-3 finish over Ferrari 50 years ago. But visitors will also enjoy the 2017 NASCAR Fusion, the first-built 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, and - my unabashed favorite - the 1967 Mark IV that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to an all-American victory at that year's Le Mans 24-Hour. (The latter, of course, is a part of The Henry Ford's collection.) Once you get inside the exhibition hall proper, don't miss Juan Pablo Montoya's winning car from the 2015 Indianapolis 500, displayed prominently with the Borg-Warner Trophy.

 

Audi’s A3 e-tron hybrid gets extra credit for cleverly hiding its plug-in socket.

 

Times are good in the auto industry, so it's not surprising that luxury brands had some big reveals. Lincoln brings back the most storied name in its history with the 2017 Continental. The original Continental was something of a concept car designed by Edsel Ford and Bob Gregorie in the late 1930s, and it’s gone through nine generations since. The latest version retains the long hood/short deck of the original, with a hint of that sharp fender ridge that defined the 1960s Continentals. Mercedes-Benz marks the 130th anniversary of Karl Benz’s Motorwagen, patented in 1886 and arguably the first “car” as we understand the term today, with the breathtaking S63 Cabriolet Edition 130. The $176,400 base price means that I’ll be marking the anniversary in some way other than buying one. Hyundai, the South Korean automaker that built its reputation on quality affordable cars, is making a play for fatter wallets – and fatter profits – with its new Genesis luxury marque. Hyundai (along with Cadillac and Lincoln) clearly has its sights on the upmarket sport sedans from Germany’s Audi/BMW/Mercedes-Benz triumvirate.

 

The Stormtrooper Edition Fiat 500e. Apparently there was a new "Star Wars" movie out last month. I hadn’t heard.

 

Movies are on the minds of a couple of automakers. Fiat Chrysler brought out a Fiat 500e painted up like a Star Wars stormtrooper. While I never thought of a 500 as looking menacing, this one pulled it off. (Of special note are the wheel covers with stormtrooper helmets at center.) The electric car was built to help promote The Force Awakens -- as if the movie needed more promotion. Meanwhile, Toyota’s movie car looked back… to the future. In honor of that popular time travel movie’s 30th anniversary (and the sequel’s, um, arrival), Toyota decked out a modern Tacoma as an homage to Marty McFly’s dream pickup.

 

NAIAS isn’t all automakers. Suppliers are there, too. ZF’s transparent car, showcasing some of the firm’s products, is one of the show’s most eye-catching exhibits.

 

Despite all the sports cars and luxury sedans on the floor, one of the most popular vehicles on view was… a minivan. Chrysler basically invented the category in 1984, and now Fiat Chrysler is looking to re-invent it with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. It’s no secret that the minivan isn’t… well… cool, so the Pacifica is an attempt to inject new life and cachet into the segment. Fuel economy – never the minivan’s strong suit – is one of Pacifica’s bigger strengths. The conventional V-6 engine gets mated to an efficient 9-speed automatic but, if that’s not good enough, buyers will also have the option of a hybrid version capable of 80 miles per gallon. If that’s not fashionable, then I don’t know what is.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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