The Detroit motor show, officially known as the North American International Auto Show, has long marked the start of the automotive year. Detroit, like several other major motor shows, has lost some of its lustre in recent years, with a number of car firms choosing to display at other events such as CES. Most of the big European companies, and a number of US marques, are staying away in 2019, but while the number of cars being launched might be down, they still included some significant and interesting new metal.
Here’s everything from Detroit, as it happened.
A motor show is a snapshot of a moment in time, reflecting the state of the car industry in which it takes place. And what this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit captured was a state of transition – of an industry, a city and, indeed, the show itself.
This was the final time the event is being held in the chill of a Detroit January before it switches in 2020 to a summer date, allowing for the addition of a large outdoor area, complete with moving exhibits and more passenger rides. Much as Detroit itself is battling back from some tough times, so the motor show is aiming to rebuild.
That move was largely prompted by the decline in relative importance of the show in recent years, with a steep dip in the number of car firms attending and launching new models. This year’s show felt like a bridge to that refreshed 2020 event, reflected in a further dip in the number of car launches.
It didn’t help that the run-up to the show was dominated by talk of the state of the industry itself, from GM and Ford announcing restructuring plans – complete with significant job losses – to new development in Volkswagen and Ford’s new commercial partnership. It was almost easy to forget that there were still new cars to be wheeled out at the show.
But once the show started, the new cars certainly came, and what they lacked in number they made up for with sheer variety.
From an international perspective, nothing was bigger than the new Toyota GR Supra, the revival of a storied sportscar after a break of 17 years. In a way, the Supra reflected the new reality of the industry: it’s a Toyota that was co-developed by BMW alongside the recently launched Z4.
Ford also revived a classic performance car nameplate, with a new version of the Mustang Shelby GT500. While that was a machine for the enthusiasts the firm also had the new Explorer SUV – a key model for the US market and a machine that, under the firm’s new plan, could conceivably return to Europe in the future.
Mahindra made its debut at the NAIAS with the Marazzo MPV and the Roxor UV on display at the motor show. The Marazzo was designed by the Indian carmaker's team in Detroit while the Roxor, which has been mired in controversy since it launch in the US market, it Mahindra's first model in that country.
Lexus and Infiniti, the premium brands of Toyota and Nissan respectively, both celebrated their 30th anniversary in Detroit. Lexus did so with the track-focused RC F Track Edition and a new LC Convertible. The latter is officially a concept, but it was well-finished and is such a natural accompaniment to the LC coupe that it’s hard to imagine it won’t reach production.
Infiniti went more conceptual, with a QX Inspiration concept that looked ahead to its first production EV. Unfortunately, the machine broke down just before it was set to drive on stage for its press conference, but once it made it on there it showed some interesting design concepts.
Parent firm Nissan also had an electric concept with the IMs, a sporting coupe-style machine designed to prove that electric cars don’t have to be boxy SUVs. It’s not the first of its type we’ve seen, but it’s another interesting development from one of the leading EV firms.
Another notable concept came from Chinese firm GAC, which doesn’t sell cars in the US yet but chose the show to unveil the Entranze electric concept (which was notably designed in California). Of course, the show definitely played to an American audience, which meant the home firms showed plenty of big, boxy SUVs (hello Cadillac XT6) and massive pick-ups, such as the new Ram Heavy Duty 2500.
What the show may have lacked in volume of new cars, it made up for with diversity, and that was reflected in the mood of the show. In the wake of recent industry news, you might have expected a somewhat bleak mood in the show halls, but far from it.
The concept of transition was embraced, and the industry showed there is much to look forward to in the future of 2020 and beyond – not least the fact that Detroit is a lot warmer in June than January…
Detroit motor show 2019 image gallery