By MATT BUBBERS
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, January 19, 2018
DETROIT -- Auto makers use the Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place earlier in January, to sell a utopian fairy-tale future filled with ondemand robo-cars powered by clean electricity and children's dreams.
In Detroit, you see the truth - the real cars and trucks heading for showrooms in the coming model year. The vehicles revealed here aren't even close to being self-driving, and the vast majority are powered by plain old gasoline. SUVs and pickup trucks dominate the show.
"If you look at the overall Canadian market, you're seeing the shift obviously to light trucks and SUVs, and less on passenger cars; you see the same thing in the luxury segment as well," said Brian Fulton, president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Canada.
Last year, for the first time, auto makers sold more than two million new vehicles in Canada.
While light-truck sales, which include SUVs, were up 8.7 per cent compared with 2016, passenger car sales dropped 3.4 per cent, according to a report by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.
"Across the industry, we've seen this very strange outcome, where the products that increased in sales were hybrids on the one side, and big trucks and SUVs on the other. It's very clear that consumers are moving heavily - even now in Quebec - toward SUVs," said Stephen Beatty, vice-president of Toyota Canada.
In Detroit, there are new SUVs on display for a range of budgets.
Jeep will be hoping the redesigned Cherokee can help turn around the brand's fortunes in Canada. Originally launched in 2013, the mid-size Cherokee had a divisive look - to put it politely.
"I don't know if that limited it to a certain buyer, but I think the new design is going to open it up to a much wider audience.
... They took the edge off a little bit," said Mike Szymkiewicz, senior manager of product strategy and volume planning at FCA Canada.
The updated Cherokee gets a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 270 horsepower and technology that shuts it down at stoplights to save fuel. It's similar to the engine in Alfa Romeo sports cars. A 3.2-litre V-6 and 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine carry over from the current model. A polymer tailgate is among the changes that help save 200 pounds.
Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but expect it to be close to the outgoing model at around $25,000.
Jeep sales were down 15 per cent in Canada last year, at a time when SUV sales were booming. "Part of that was the transition from the old Compass and Patriot to the new Compass," Szymkiewicz said. He's predicting a turnaround this year, thanks to an all-new Wrangler and Compass and the refreshed Cherokee. "Three completely new or heavily refreshed vehicles in three crazy-hot segments; 2018 will be a strong year for the Jeep brand," he said.
Moving up to the entry-level luxury segment, BMW's compact X2 made its auto-show debut.
With a four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive as standard, it arrives in March with a base price of $42,250. The 2.0-litre turbocharged motor is good for 228 horsepower, propelling the SUV from 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds.
The X2 is more of a slave to fashion than the conventionally styled X1, which is $2,000 cheaper. Although they share the same basic architecture, the fastback X2 is lower and shorter over all. BMW claims the new car has "sporty yet urban genes."
Make of that what you will.
"We're always looking at - in terms of market research, talking with our customers and dealers - what do people really want? What could be a future trend we could explore? Again, we see so much potential in this SAV [SUV] segment," said Ingo Lasslop, product manager for BMW's compact vehicles. In addition to the X2, the company will launch a flagship X7 SUV later this year.
With the X2, Lasslop says, "We definitely think we can grab some customers that are new to FUTURE SUVS The Detroit show was not completely without spectacle this year. Even Italian makers of automotive exotica are getting into the SUV business. Ferrari is working on an SUV of its own, and in Detroit this year, Lamborghini revealed the Urus. It is, in fact, the second sport 'ute from the company, following the LM002 which was launched in 1986.
Lamborghini is claiming the Urus is the fastest SUV in the world, with a top speed of 305 km/h (190 mph). A 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8 engine puts out 650 horsepower through Lambo's all-wheel drive system, propelling the Urus from 0-100 km/h in 3.6 seconds. It rides on a modified version of the Volkswagen Group platform used by the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. The Urus will arrive in spring of 2018 at an as-yet undisclosed price. Budget at least $200,000.
Three Japanese brands took the wraps off new SUV concepts.
The Lexus LF-1 Limitless is a design study created at the company's CALTY Design Research studio in California.
"This is a concept of a highend, flagship luxury SUV," said Jennifer Barron, director of Lexus in Canada. "It's meant to be a concept, but at Lexus, concepts are always developed with the potential for further development into production vehicles."
Sales of the NX and RX SUVs were strong in Canada last year.
Barron said she expects continued sales growth in 2018 with the addition of the seven-seat RX L to the Lexus lineup.
Nissan's Xmotion concept looked less production-ready, but was a surprise highlight of the show.
The lovely interior features red carpets and a central tunnel and dashboard made of wood.
The rear doors open backward, suicide style.
Acura was calling its RDX show car a "prototype," but it was clearly an early look at an all-new version of the company's compact SUV.
It features the brand's new grille design, inspired by the Precision concept, which debuted here in 2016.
Drivers vote with their dollars in the car market. At the Detroit motor show, auto makers proved eager to offer people more of what they're already buying: SUVs in all shapes and sizes, powered by gasoline engines of all shapes and sizes.
WITH A FILE FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
Above: Jeep hopes its redesigned Cherokee can help turn around the brand's fortunes in Canada. Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but expect it to be close to the outgoing model at around $25,000.
Right: Acura called its RDX show car a 'prototype,' but it was clearly an early look at an all-new version of the company's compact SUV, featuring the brand's new grille design.
ABOVE: JEWEL SAMAD/ AFP/GETTY IMAGES RIGHT: SCOTT OLSON/ GETTY IMAGES