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Power and Performance at the 2015 North American International Auto Show

January 22, 2015 Think THF

Buick's 2016 Cascada convertible, one of the many new cars vying for attention at the 2015 North American International Auto Show.

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) has rolled into Detroit to give us our annual look at the technologies and trends shaping the automotive industry. The two words that might sum up the 2015 show best are “power” and “performance.” On the former, nearly every manufacturer features some form of alternative fuel vehicle, while some – I’m looking at you, Tesla – offer nothing but. To the latter point, hot new cars from Cadillac, Ford and others promise old fashioned excitement behind the wheel.

Toyota’s innovative Mirai. Powered by hydrogen fuel cells, its only tailpipe emission is water vapor.

Toyota wasn’t the first automaker to market with a hybrid car, but its Prius went on to define the type. The company hopes to do the same for fuel cell vehicles with its remarkable Mirai sedan. The car is powered by an electric motor, but the electricity itself is generated by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen that takes place in a fuel cell. The only emission from the car is water vapor. The Mirai is about as green as it gets but, while gas pumps and electrical outlets are a dime a dozen, hydrogen fueling stations are harder to come by outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Clearly, Toyota is betting on that to change. Interestingly, one of Toyota’s NAIAS displays includes a pair of faux hydrogen pumps. Visitors will be surprised and, Toyota must hope, reassured to see that they’re not much different from gasoline pumps.

Chevrolet goes all-electric with the Bolt.

Chevrolet makes big headlines with plans to give us a full-electric car for the 2018 model year in the form of the Bolt. True, Chevy’s all-electric Spark has been available in California and Oregon since 2013, but the Bolt will sell in the other 48 states, too. The company claims a 200-mile range for the new car, and a price below $38,000. That’ll put the Bolt head-to-head with Tesla Motors’ pending Model 3, a 200-miler said to be priced around $35,000.

 

Hot rod Caddy? Cadillac’s 640-horsepower CTS-V.

On the other end of the GM spectrum, Cadillac takes a shot at sporty luxury sedans from Mercedes-Benz and BMW with its 640-horsepower 2016 CTS-V. It’s the most powerful Caddy every offered, and takes you from 0 to 60 in a blistering 3.7 seconds. The new CTS-V comes amid larger efforts to refresh Cadillac’s image, including the recent relocation of the company’s headquarters from Detroit to New York City.

“Efficient Muscle.” It sounds like an oxymoron, but combine the 3.6-liter V-6 with the eight-speed automatic transmission and the Dodge Charger ekes out 31 m.p.g. on the highway.

Dodge continues to position itself as Fiat Chrysler’s performance brand. NAIAS visitors can take a 2015 Charger for a simulated spin in the company’s interactive track activity. Drivers sit behind the wheel of a real car, but the “track” exists only on the large-screen TV mounted in front of the car. Mechanisms under the Charger cause it to shake and shudder in synch with the screen, helping to sell the illusion. And speaking of illusion, Dodge’s “Efficient Muscle” slogan is true only to a point. The V-6 Charger SXT is rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway, but the monstrous 707-horsepower Charger SRT Hellcat, with its 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, gets 22 on the highway – and just 13 in the city. Power still comes at a price!

Ford’s 2016 GT brings back memories of Le Mans and the “Total Performance” era.

Ford makes a couple of interesting splashes. First, its aluminum F-150, last year’s big reveal, takes this year’s honors as North American Truck of the Year. It’s a big win for a gutsy re-think on America’s best-selling vehicle. Second, and surely more exciting for those with motor oil in their veins, is the debut of the supercar 2016 Ford GT. Fifty years after its first win at Le Mans in 1966, Ford is going back to the world’s most prestigious sports car race with this new ride. While the 2005-2006 Ford GT was an unabashed tribute to the original GT40, the 2016 version has a look all its own – though I certainly see some Mark IV in those headlights.

Engines on parade. The Ford-Cosworth DFX (center) and GT40 (right) engines are from The Henry Ford’s collections.

And on the subject of Ford performance, visitors to the Blue Oval’s upstairs gallery – on the “bridge” over the exhibit’s entrance – will see a fascinating display of Ford Racing photos, models and memorabilia starting with Henry Ford’s first race in 1901 and carrying into the present day. Of special note are a pair of V-8 engines: a circa 1966 427-cubic inch unit of the type that gave Ford its first Le Mans win, and a circa 1980 2.6-liter Cosworth DFX similar to those that dominated the Indianapolis 500 for a decade. Both engines are from the collections of The Henry Ford.

Beyond the cars, NAIAS visitors might notice something else: optimism. This year’s show feels bigger and brighter than others in recent memory. The economy has come back to life, and the auto industry is prospering as a result. That’ll bring some extra glitz to any auto show.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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