Work Trucks and Luxury Crossovers, Not So Strange Bedfellows
By Mark Dapoz and Chris Merlo
It’s all about the money or specifically big fat margins. The kind of margins when you build close to 900,000 versions of a single model and begin to watch the profits roll in as average transaction prices per unit head north of $45,000. That’s the truck end of the story and well, if you are selling cars you’re pretty much sucking air hoping that a fuel shortage – one that would suffocate truck sales – will reignite the popularity of sedans and hatchbacks among today’s truck and utility loving shoppers. Oh and that’s how we get to luxury crossovers. Every automaker needs a truck or an SUV – preferably midsized – in their line up.
And so with the stage set, Detroit rolled out two new full-size pickups and one midsize. All to great fanfare. And why not? This iron keeps the doors open and finances the R&D on their latest adventures in vaporware called autonomous and mobility. Clearly though, the truck guys and the luxury folks have their mojo together as witnessed by the generally appealing vehicles they brought to this year’s show. Bravo.
Here’s a brief rundown of what is new and on display.
Global & North American Debuts
Even though Audi was absent from this year’s press conference schedule, their display featured the North American premier of the new, second-generation A7 that will be in dealerships in the fourth quarter of this year.
Built on an exclusive Acura platform, the RDX Prototype explores a new design language and underscores a major commitment to the brand that began with the new NSX. This is the most extensive makeover of the crossover in a decade and it is the first RDX designed and developed in the U.S. With its bolder look, wider stance and wheels pushed to the corners, Acura looks to up the model’s handling and performance. Like the platform, the powertrain is also exclusive to the brand: an all-new V6 turbo paired with a 10-speed automatic. An A-Spec version, Acura’s performance line, will also be available when the model goes on sale midyear.
Declaring North America its second home, BMW took to the NAIAS stage to unveil a number of world premiers.
First up, declaring 2018 the “Year of the X”, comes the 2019 X2 compact SUV. This is the coupe/hatchback version of the current X1 and extends the marques efforts to attract younger buyers. With seating for up to five, the X2 is available with a 2.0L 4-cylinder gasoline powered engine paired with a 7-speed automatic and a 2.0L diesel-powered 1-4 mated to an 8-speed auto. The X2 goes on sale in the first half of this year.
BMW sold 100,000 electrified vehicles world wide in 2017. Twenty percent of the volume was right here in the U.S. In fact, we’re the number one market for the i3 and i8 models. So no surprise, and lucky us, to get the first look at the new 2019 i8 Coupe and i8 Roadster First Edition. Delivering more power and greater range than the outgoing model these ‘halo’ PHEVs go on sale in the spring.
Ford’s decision to exit the compact pickup segment in 2009 left many scratching their heads, especially since the Ranger had been a solid performer in its lineup. What’s more, it continued selling a global version of the truck – a best-seller in Europe and South Africa. Nine years later and in light of the success of the Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, Ford is back in the game with the all-new 2019 Ranger. But it’s still a year away from going on sale. Taking its looks from the global Ranger model, this version is designed for the North American market with four trim levels including an off-road package. One shortcoming is that it will be available with only one engine choice, a 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. That said, there are unconfirmed rumors that a diesel engine is planned for the truck.
Fifty years on and Ford is once again celebrating an icon with the introduction of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt. On hand to celebrate the reveal were the original ’68 Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt along with his granddaughter Molly. It was a surprise reveal that made for good theater. The new Bullitt, in Dark Highland Green – Shadow Black is the other available color – is unbadged, features a manual transmission with cue ball shift knob and is powered by 5.0L V8 that Ford claims is more powerful than the engine in the current Mustang GT.
Rounding out the Ford premiers is the freshened and performance-oriented 2019 Edge ST, the first crossover tuned by the Ford Performance team. Available with standard all-wheel drive and a choice of three powertrains including a 335 horsepower 2.7L EcoBoost V6 teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. (GAC)
GAC, one of China’s fastest growing automotive is expanding it global footprint and plans to enter the U.S. market in late 2019. R&D centers are planned for Silicon Valley and Detroit along with a design studio in Los Angeles. The Enverge is a dedicated BEV compact crossover concept that showcases GAC’s “Flying Dynamics” visual language. With its gullwing doors and floating interior capsule, the vehicle is designed for both urban and off-road environments with a range of 371 miles.
The 2019 Insight Prototype signals the return of a dedicated hybrid electric vehicle to the Honda showroom and joins its electrified – FCEV, BEV, PHEV – siblings. Powered by a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine and electric motor, the Insight is targeting a combined fuel economy of 50 mpg.
With the appeal of a coupe and the utility of a hatchback, the new 2019 Veloster and Veloster Turbo sport compacts put a heavy emphasis on exterior styling and performance. Both the cowl point and A-pillar are moved back, the body sideline stretched, the roofline is lowered along with the cascading front grille and signature center exhaust pipes. Hyundai ups the engine choices from two to three including a new 2.0L Atkinson turbo that kicks out 275 horses.
A preview of Infiniti’s future design direction the Q Inspiration Concept is an exercise in how new technologies shape and influence overall vehicle design and proportions. Featuring suicide rear doors, the cabin is shifted forward on the 4-door sedan thanks to the reduced mass and size of today’s powertrains. Likewise, shift- and steer-by-wire technologies allow designers to flatten the load floor resulting in a floating console.
Coming to showrooms this year is the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee. Featuring a new front fascia with Jeep’s signature 7-slot grille and claiming the new model to be “pure Jeep”, Cherokee will offer three four-wheel drive systems and three powertrains including a new 2.0L turbo. The new model arrives in dealerships in the first half.
Riffing off the success and design of the Stinger, the third-generation Forte features fastback styling, a more upscale interior with a 320-watt Harman Kardon audio system and an 8-inch touchscreen. The 2.0L Atkinson-cycle engine delivers 147 horses and can be paired with a 6-speed manual or a new, Kia-developed continuously variable transmission.
Lexus is exploring a new design language with the LF-1 Limitless Concept performance crossover that targets younger, sporty buyers. While not overly flamboyant, this coupe-like crossover’s exterior designed by CALTY (California Design Studio) is somewhat exotic with its spindle grille, head and taillight lenses inspired by artisan glass and the cabin shifted rearward as seen in the new LC500. Lexus says the interior has “tikumi” (“artisan” in Japanese) design elements. The layout of the cockpit is strongly divided between four bucket seats. Executives strongly hinted at the possibility that this flagship crossover – or a variant – might go into production.
The next-gen 2019 G-Class is all new and yet keeps its iconic boxy shape. This is MB’s longest running model series – production began in 1979. The new model retains the ladder frame underpinnings while extending the wheelbase and platform width. MB’s performance arm, AMG, helped with the redesign of the suspension system incorporating lighter steel and other materials to reduce weight. The all-new interior features a wide instrument panel with large, round gauges similar to the instrumentation on E- and S-Class models. While engines are carryover they are paired with a new 9-speed automatic transmission. Available in showrooms late this year.
MB also premiered new trim upgrades on its largest crossover, the GLS Grand Edition, along with AMG editions of the hybrids CLS53 and E53.
Mini unveiled a freshened hardtop and convertible for 2019 featuring new LED headlights, Union Jack-style LED tail lamps, available four-wheel drive, and Apple CarPlay. The powertrain lineup is carryover.
Offering a glimpse at Nissan’s design language for future compact SUVs – we’re talking 2020 and beyond – is the Xmotion crossover concept. That’s X as in “Cross Motion”. Nissan positions this design study as U.S.-style utility meets Japanese aesthetics and craftsmanship. The interior, inspired by traditional Japanese landscape design and woodcraft, features multiple digital displays for infotainment and autonomy functions.
FCA pulled out all the stops with a complete redesign of the 2019 Ram 1500. The new Ram is bigger – with a longer wheelbase wider – and taller, and yet up to 225 pounds lighter. The front end presents a powerful and aerodynamic look thanks to the streamlined LED and halogen headlights. What goes for the outside continues on inside with a complete makeover of the more roomy interior. Of course, because it’s a pickup the emphasis is on capability. Both payload and towing capacities have increased by 22- and 20-percent respectively versus the outgoing model. Ram’s lightweighting is also about improved efficiency and to that end the 1500 features an eTorque mild hybrid system that boosts fuel economy around 10 percent. Two powertrain combinations will be available at launch and there’s talk of an EcoDiesel coming in 2019. The new Ram goes on sale in the first half of this year including an off-road variant, the Ram Rebel.
Sleeker. Longer. Sporting a new, more aggressive look referred to as “technical beauty”. That describes the new proportions and design of Toyota’s flagship sedan the 2019 Avalon. It’s lower with the hood pushed downward. Passenger seating positions are lower in front and back as well. It’s longer with the wheelbase extended and there’s more rear-seat legroom than the Camry. The makeover is more than skin deep and it signals Toyota’s commitment to be a sales winner despite the weakening demand for sedans. Avalon is built on Toyota’s modular new Global Architecture platform and it is packed with new features and technologies. This includes a handful of Toyota “firsts”: Slim-line LED headlights, progressive turn signals, Apple CarPlay, available 1200 watt stereo and engine sound enhancement. Avalon sports a number of connectivity upgrades including Entune 3.0 Toyota Connected Services, a 9-inch touchscreen, a 10-inch heads up display and Amazon Alexa / smart watch integration. New safety and tech features include advanced driver assist, adaptive cruise control, adaptive variable suspension to name but a few. Engines, including a hybrid, are carryover with the addition of a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Also notable: the new Avalon was designed and engineered in Michigan and will be assembled at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant. Available in dealerships this spring.
The coupe-like styling of VW’s smallest sedan, the all-new 2019 Jetta targets “the young crowd”. Featuring a digital cockpit display, manual transmission and a 400-watt Beats audio system, the Jetta looks to put the fun back into driving. The new Jetta goes on sale in the second quarter of this year.