By Christopher A. Sawyer
If you judged the Detroit auto show by the pre-event buzz, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 7th generation of Chevrolet’s Corvette was the most important news to come out of the show. Part of a calculated PR program to place it on the cover of every major enthusiast magazine and blog at the same time, its two-stage reveal (highlighted by a pre-show event in a renovated Detroit warehouse in addition to its on-stage debut) supplied a thick fog behind which everything else was hidden.
Important though it may be to the image of both Chevy and General Motors, the Corvette was but a distraction to the real story: the continued growth of the truck and sport utility segments, and the battle royal taking place in the sedan market. Get a GM executive to wipe the Cheshire Cat grin off his or her face as they basked in the glow of the Stingray, and they would admit the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, not to mention the new Chevy Impala, are much more important to the company’s bottom line than a certain two-seat sports car from Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Mercedes introduced every permutation of the new E-Class while showing the CLA small sedan to a select assemblage of journalists at a private dinner, blunting the impact of the former. Audi launched hot versions of the Q5 and A7. Mini showed the Paceman in John Cooper Works form on a stand now too small to easily hold its increasing number of offerings. Infiniti launched its new naming nomenclature with the Q50 sport sedan at the same time that BMW took the covers off the 4 Series coupe. Kia’s Hyundai Azera-based front-drive Cadenza sedan made its North American debut while big brother Hyundai took the wraps off a concept for the next generation of its rear-drive Genesis sedan. And in a nod to financial and consumer reality, VW, Lincoln, Nissan, Honda, Acura and even Tesla showed a brace of new sport utilities aimed at the heart of the market. Here are the highlights:
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
As brash, bold and polarizing as ever.
I have never been a big fan of the Corvette, especially since the mid 1970s when it became a bloated caricature of itself; the Fat Elvis of the sports car set. An American sports car in the “Go Big Or Go Home” mold, the Corvette often used brute force when finesse would have been more appropriate. The seventh generation of “America’s Sports Car” seeks to remedy some of this by adopting technologies expected of more thoroughbred brands, but it is not the smaller vehicle rumored in the early days of its gestation. Like some throwback to the Sixties, the 2014 Corvette Stingray is longer, lower and wider.
About the only thing that’s smaller in the C7 (7th generation Corvette) is the steering wheel; everything else has grown. Wheelbase is up one inch, overall length 2.4 in, and width 1.3 in. Height, on the other hand, is down by 0.4 in. Viewed from above — easy to do when Chevrolet pins a Corvette to the wall like a butterfly in a shadow box — the styling is sleek and handsome with more than a touch of Ferrari 599 in its overall feel. Place the car on the floor, however, and everything changes. Complain about the Camaro-like squared-off taillights (I appreciated the move away from tradition in this case) and the number of grilles, gills and openings if you wish, but these are not the Corvette’s weak points. It has a gaping maw filled with egg-crate lifted from the 1953 mode though, thankfully, with less chrome, and a shape that is as refined as a weekend in Las Vegas. In comparison, the latest Dodge Viper is a paragon of restraint.
The materials used in the body include carbon fiber for the hood and roof, and a nano-carbon composite for the underbody panels. Lighter density Sheet Molding Compound is used for the fenders, doors, rear quarter panels and hatch.
After years of substandard materials and dodgy styling, the interior of the Stingray is coming closer to Porsche levels of visual craftsmanship. For example, the smaller 14.1-in diameter steering wheel now has evenly spaced flat stitches that not only look more precise, they don’t dig into fingers under hard use. Depending on trim level, the Stingray offers Napa leather, aluminum, carbon fiber and micro-suede trim, and the leather-wrapped instrument panel uses hand-stretched materials that are stitched by robots for New World craftsmanship. Two seat styles are available — GT and Competition Sport — both with magnesium frames. Passengers get a steel-backed grab bar on the center console, and the console edge on the driver’s side is finished in soft-touch materials for greater comfort while cornering. All this is topped off by reconfigurable display screens and an available head-up display.
A rotary knob near the shift lever (seven-speed manual with Active Rev Matching or six-speed paddle-shift automatic, both rear-mounted) lets the driver choose from five settings: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track. This Driver Mode Selector controls 12 functions:
- Gauge cluster configuration.
- Throttle input curve.
- Automatic transmission shift points and comfort.
- Fuel Management.
- Active exhaust feedback.
- Steering assist.
- Damping curves for the magnetorheological shocks.
- Launch control.
- Stability control.
- Traction control.
- Five levels of torque reduction and brake intervention in Track mode.
Under the skin, GM engineers replaced the steel spaceframe with one crafted from aluminum. Ninety-nine pounds lighter and 57% stiffer, it includes the use of extrusions, hollow-cast nodes and laser welding. It cradles a new 6.2-liter V8 putting out 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque; the most for any base Corvette in history. And while no one at GM is willing to tell how much the Stingray weighs, that doesn’t stop them from claiming a power-to-weight ratio better than the Porsche 911 Carrera or Audi R8.
Brash and bold, the new Corvette is polarizing; perhaps a good thing in a vehicle that must make a statement on both street and race track. Like the Cadillac ATS, which did not make a good first impression on a show stand, the Corvette may improve with familiarity on the road. However, even though its styling does not show the restraint and refinement hoped for, its mechanicals had better.
Toyota Corolla Furia
A furious Corolla for the Angry Birds generation.
Toyota calls the design language used on the Corolla Furia concept “Iconic Dynamism”, and states that it uses “uses pure and simple surface elements to create a confident, decisive and recognizable appearance appealing to more youthful consumers.” Well, they’d better do something as previous Corollas were about as exciting as wallpaper paste… and about as tasty. But with cars like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus upping the bar in the compact segment, a reputation for high quality isn’t enough to sway younger buyers anymore.
Strip off the carbon fiber trim, LED headlights and rear spoiler, tone down the rocker panels, rear fascia and exhaust tips, drop the 19-in wheels, and you’ll find the production 2014 Corolla underneath. But you’ll have to wait for the Chicago or New York auto shows before Toyota shows the real car, and releases information on the powertrain and chassis.
The Great Escape.
The small SUV sector is growing rapidly, driven by higher fuel prices and the desires of young buyers moving up as well as older buyers looking for a smaller vehicle with features comparable to those found on their large SUVs. Building a premium small SUV can be a challenge for an automaker whose claim to fame is mainstream fare. That’s because the luxury utility must share its mechanicals with the built-to-a-price high-volume model.
These facts of life caused many to question the styling of Lincoln’s MKC, especially its very Audi Q5-like side-cut hatch. (Let’s face it, the whole exterior is a very crisp Lincoln reinterpretation of the Q5 template.) The Ford Escape that gives the MKC its base uses a more conventional rear-cut hatch design; changing to a side-cut hatch would require a lot of reengineering and cost. And in a normal world where the bulk of the donor vehicle’s structure is kept intact, it would. However, Ford is a major proponent of a “top hat” strategy that places a heavily modified or new structure on the original base. It’s how the company has been able to pull 10 (soon to be 12) different designs off the basic Focus platform.
Though the MKC may offer an LED headlamp option in production, most will be fitted with projector-style lights supplemented by LED daytime running lights in front and LED taillights in the rear. Little of the vehicle’s styling will change between now and production next year, though rumors insist there will be a trio of roof options available: steel, fixed glass and a panoramic sunroof.
Inside, the story is pretty much the same with the instrument panel carrying over intact, along with the basic shape of the seats. Four-passenger seating will not be offered as most buyers prefer the ability to carry a third passenger, if necessary. In addition, the leather-covered cargo floor won’t make it past the show circuit.
Unlike the Ford Escape, the Lincoln MKC will not use either the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated or 1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder engines. I’m betting the base motor will be the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, with the option of a 3.5-liter V6. Each will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Both front- and all-wheel drive versions of each will be offered. And, should the market demand it, Lincoln can dip into the Ford grab bag and fit the MKC with the 300 hp/300 lb-ft 2.3-liter EcoBoost currently being developed for use in the Focus RS.
VW CrossBlue Concept
All it’s missing is a name that begins with “T” and on on-sale date.
The minute I toured VW’s Tennessee assembly plant, I knew it was destined build more than just the American Passat sedan. What I didn’t know was that there would be no minivan, just a midsized SUV using the same mechanicals. Or so I thought. America’s Passat was built on a stretched and widened version of the German Passat sedan (dubbed NMS) mostly because the brilliant MQB structure wasn’t far enough along to support this project.
It is now, and the CrossBlue is just the latest example of the breadth and depth of this platform’s abilities. Just introduced in Europe underneath the seventh generation Golf, MQB can be used to build any transverse-engined front- or all-wheel drive vehicle from Polo to Passat — and any variation thereof. Building a midsize SUV is relatively simple, and reportedly can be done at a much lower cost than Ford’s top hat strategy. That leaves a lot of room to add content without jacking up the cost to the customer.
Also sourced from the MQB toy chest are the MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link independent rear suspension with separate dampers and coil springs, 190 hp 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine, and six-speed dual clutch DSG automatic transmission. These are joined by a hybrid drive system that includes a front-mounted electric motor, a lithium-ion battery pack running down the center tunnel, a U-shaped fuel tank located below the middle row seats, and a rear-mounted electric motor that drives the rear wheels. This allows the CrossBlue to travel up to 14 miles on electric power alone, eliminates the need for a driveshaft to the rear wheels, and produces a total of 305 hp and up to 516 lb-ft of torque. Other than the size of the engine and the fuel used therein, the biggest difference between the hybrid dive unit on the CrossBlue and VW’s Jetta Hybrid is that the SUV sends its power to the rear wheels in Eco mode, rather than the front.
Though shown as a six-passenger vehicle, the production version will have a three-across middle seat, with the option of individual seats in high-line models. Cagily, VW gave the overall length (196.3 in), width (79.3 in) and height (68.2 in) of the CrossBlue, as well as headroom in the front (42.2 in), middle (40,2 in) and rear (37.6 in) seats, and the leg room in the middle (37.3 in) and rear (36.1 in) rows. However, it failed to announce the CrossBlue’s wheelbase and front seat leg room, though it can be assumed the former is in the 110-112-in range, and the latter is around 40 inches. This means the CrossBlue is very similar in size to Ford’s Explorer.
VW executives say the CrossBlue’s hybrid powertrain system is too expensive for the U.S. market as currently configured, but it doesn’t take much imagination to replace the diesel engine with a gas motor, and eliminate the rear electric motor. This would create a front-drive hybrid model, and give VW time to introduce other MQB-based all-wheel drive vehicles that could drive up the volume of the two-motor hybrid drive unit, while driving down its per unit cost. And it is no secret that VW’s U.S. executives harbor a strong desire for the year-old CrossCoupe Concept to join the next generation Tiguan on this architecture. At that point, the case against the cost and complexity of this drive layout (with a gasoline engine instead of a diesel powerplant) begins to fade. Look for the production model of the CrossBlue to debut at the 2015 Detroit show.
Kia Cadenza and Hyundai HCD-14
Sibling rivals show no signs of slowing down.
Kia used the Detroit show to unveil the Cadenza, a V6-powered front-drive sedan based on Hyundai’s Azera sedan. And, judging from the styling, it’s hard to understand how two mechanically similar cars can be so radically different visually. It also explains why ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer has moved from heading up Kia design to being the chief of design for the entire Hyundai-Kia group.
Given the strong rivalry that exists between Kia and its Hyundai master, undoubtedly some changes have been made to the Cadenza’s specification to distinguish it from the Azera. Those changes, however, do not extend to the direct injection, 293 hp/255 lb-ft 3.3-liter V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, or the MacPherson strut front/multi-link independent rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. However, unlike the Hyundai Azera on which it is based, you can expect the tuning of these components to be biased more towards an Asian interpretation of what a European sedan should be.
Down the aisle from Kia Hyundai pulled the wraps off its HCD-14 concept. A look at what the next Genesis sedan could look like, this concept featured a four-door coupe roofline. With its high beltline, sweeping roofline and prominent trapezoidal grille, the 5.0-liter V8-powered, rear-drive HCD-14 undoubtedly caught the eye of the designers at Audi. It’s easy to read too much into this concept, but the sleek design suggests that Hyundai may be looking to bring greater differentiation to the Genesis and the mechanically similar Equus. It also may be a shot across the bow of Kia whose Genesis–base K7 sedan has a strong European flavor to its design. It will be up to the newly appointed Mr. Schreyer to straighten out the details.
What is certain is that the next Genesis sedan won’t be missing a B-pillar like the HCD-14, though it could have rear-opening back doors. Hyundai, as proven by the Veloster sports coupe, has done stranger things. In-car infotainment systems take another leap beyond Hyundai’s stated next generation system, using 3D eye tracking and gesture recognition to activate controls, and combines with a head-up display to keep the driver’s eyes on the road.
Honda Urban SUV Concept/Acura MDX Concept
Rethinking the basics, refining the crown jewels, and hoping for the best.
Like VW’s CrossBlue, this pair were concepts in name only; thinly disguised examples of a sub-CR-V sport utility to be built on the next generation Fit platform, and a replacement for Acura’s absolutely vital MDX.
With the small SUV segment continuing to grow, Honda has seen the need to build a crossover that slots in under the CR-V. B-segment cars like the Fit, however, haven’t sold particularly well in North America, but a small Fit-based SUV would put Honda in direct competition with Nissan’s Juke and — considering the demographics of the intended buyer, young singles and marrieds at the point where their earning curve begins to increase — might tempt away some buyers of Mini’s Countryman and Paceman. In addition, by building the vehicle in the NAFTA region, it would give Honda a low-cost production base for a vehicle with global reach, while freeing up its current Fit/Jazz production facilities to satisfy demand elsewhere for those vehicles. With the introduction of the production version of this concept, it’s likely that the Fit will be dropped from Honda’s U.S. lineup.
One vehicle that will never be dropped is the Acura MDX; it is the brand’s highest selling vehicle in the Acura stable. Where the MDX has suffered is in the way that it has slipped from being an image leader to an also-ran in a very competitive market. Acura hopes to reestablish it as a halo vehicle for the brand by giving it a sleeker profile (1.5 in lower, and on a longer wheelbase than the current MDX), and filling it with technology designed to make it more capable.
That means a further refinement of the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH AWD) system of the current model, a new direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 engine, revised transmission, and a suite of safety technologies that include a multi-angle rearview camera among the offerings. To make the MDX an easier sell in warm weather states where the advantages of all-wheel drive are perhaps not as apparent (especially to non-sporting drivers), Acura says it will offer a front-drive version of the MDX. Of course, this also allows Acura to offer a lower price model that broadens the appeal and sales potential of the MDX in an extremely competitive market. The Lincoln, Alabama-built 2014 MDX goes on sale mid year.
More luxury, more torque, more weight, and fewer doors.
I’m still not sure what, if anything, the letters ELR stand for. CTS (Catera Touring Sedan) and STS (Seville Touring Sedan) were easy, ATS (A Touring Sedan) and XTS (X Touring Sedan) less so. But ELR? It sounds like a bathroom cleaner. I liked the 2008 concept’s Converj name much better, despite the silly spelling.
That aside, the baby Cadillac has changed little since its show debut in 2008, one year after the Volt Concept. Unlike that vehicle, the ELR looks remarkably like the show car, and borrows its overall shape from the CTS Coupe. Slightly rounder and less aggressive, the ELR is arguably the more handsome of the two Cadillacs.
So let’s get to the point: Is the ELR nothing more than a Volt with a prettier body, better materials and more equipment? In a word, yes. However, why reinvent the wheel when you have the basics already in place, even if they rely heavily on the compact Chevy Cruze? As a result, the ELR uses the same naturally aspirated 1.4-liter inline four producing 84 hp on premium fuel to recharge the batteries and, under extreme circumstances, provide extra power to the driven front wheels. The wheelbase is up just under half an inch, width is more than two inches greater, height is 0.4-in less, and overall length is up by 8.9 in. But the most shocking (no pun intended) difference between the Volt and ELR is the fact that the Cadillac is 289 lb heavier. I’m not certain the extra 22 lb-ft of torque liberated from the powertrain (for a total of 295) is enough to compensate, and this weight increase may explain the ELR’s 5 mile reduction in EV cruising range on a full charge when compared to the Volt.
The front suspension uses GM’s High-Performance (HiPer) MacPherson struts in front, and a doubled walled torsion beam rear axle. Unlike the Volt, however, Cadillac added a Watts Z-link to restrain the rear axle from moving sideways as it travels up and down. This should improve handling, as will the retuned dampers, springs and bushings, and the premium ZF electric power steering gear.
As I said in my review of the Chevrolet Volt: “I’m not going to fly into paroxysm of hyperbole by calling Chevy’s Volt the replacement for the legendary small block V8, or a straight and true road to a brighter future, or “the answer” to global warming/climate change/automotive pollution/acne/Chlamydia/sovereign debt or anything else. But I will say that it is amazing technology well deployed, and a fine addition to the pantheon of automotive technologies and drive systems. It just isn’t the Second Coming of Nicolaus Otto… or Rudolph Diesel, for that matter.” The same is true of Cadillac’s ELR.
Nissan Resonance Concept
Trying to recapture the magic of the original Murano.
The first generation Nissan Murano looked like nothing else on the road, it was both distinctive and distinctively styled. It was not your typical boxy utility vehicle. Large wheels and vertical taillights traveling along the fender line were its most distinctive features. Buyers loved it. Unfortunately, the second (current) generation lost much of this distinctiveness and appeal as it attempted to move upmarket. Yes, the nose looked like the face of a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica, but that’s about as far as the uniqueness went. No matter how good it may be in other areas, it no longer stands apart. It’s just another crossover.
What does this have to do with the Resonance show car? Everything. Though the production Murano will be less radical, it will carry many of the hallmarks of the Resonance Concept. Nissan’s trademark boomerang-shaped headlights, though radically stretched, will be used on the production Murano, and the rear lights will pick up this theme to give the new Murano a distinctive rear aspect similar to the first generation crossover. The deep V-shaped grille is the new face of Nissan’s SUVs and will be used on the next generation Rogue as well.
Little information was available regarding what we can expect under the hood, but it’s safe to say the new Murano will offer the same powertrains found in the Nissan Altima (a 2.5-liter four and 3.5-liter V6) mated to a CVT transmission. A hybrid model is a distinct possibility, especially in light of tightening fuel economy standards. It will mate the four cylinder with an electric motor and be available in both front- and all-wheel drive form. Look for the new Murano to go on sale next year.
Ford Atlas Concept
Annoying the competition, celebrating the brand, readying the public for change.
There was a lot of speculation about this vehicle prior to the show. This year’s Detroit show was a truck fest for Ford, highlighted by the public launch of the new Transit Connect and its (much) larger Transit van brother. Why would it pull the spotlight off these vehicles in order to show a precursor to the 2015 F-150?
Conspirators suggested that the folks in Dearborn either had: 1) big egos that wanted to steal the thunder from Chrysler’s Motor Trend Truck of the Year and North American Truck and Utility of the Year award winner Ram 1500, and blunt the introduction of the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado, or 2) the need to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the first F Series, the 1948 F-1. Still others wondered aloud if Ford was hoping to prepare the market for the 2015 model and its rumored aluminum body that is said to slice approximately 700 lb off the weight of the next F-150. Unfortunately for them, Ford didn’t say a word about aluminum, and hyped the Atlas Concept’s use of lightweight, high-strength Boron steel in its structure.
What nobody considered, however, is that all these suppositions might be correct, though to differing degrees. First, though Ford might have suspected its revamped 2013 F-150 might not be enough to hold off a near-clean sheet truck like the Ram in the “… of the year” competitions, there was no way of knowing it would not win when the decision was made to move forward with the Atlas. Second, blunting the introduction of GM’s new pickups is an Olympic sport in Dearborn, and I have no doubt that Ford wanted to show Chevy and GMC intenders that, if they’d only wait another year or two, it would have something worth waiting for. Doing this just days before the F Series’ 65th anniversary on January 16 made it that much more sweet. Plus, it gave Ford cover. It could claim ignorance of GM’s launch plans, and point to the restored 1948 F-1 sitting next to the Atlas as proof of the purity of its intentions.
However, Ford went far beyond touting the Atlas Concept’s upgraded styling, revised interior and the fact that the tailgate step can be used to lift and hold loads above the bed floor. It talked about a “new generation of EcoBoost engines” to power this truck, active grille shutters that adjust the grille opening to the cooling need in order to improve aerodynamics, and a drop down front air dam that cuts drag on the road while preserving ground clearance off it. These very items will be part of the 2015 model’s bag of tricks in order to meet or beat the 2016-2020 CAFE standards.
Aluminum wasn’t mentioned because Ford has no intention of tipping its hand regarding the use of this material in its most profitable vehicle. To allay the fears of consumers and dealers, Ford undoubtedly will roll out a series of backgrounders on the switch to this and other lightweight materials in order to bring them along slowly. Dealers will be very wary as the material requires much different tools and techniques to repair. Consumers, many of whom equate aluminum body structures with aluminum cans in terms of crush worthiness, will have to be convinced of the material’s benefits, especially in light of its higher cost. Plus, Ford can gather information on how consumers respond to its latest interpretation of the F Series design. Expect to hear more of this concept in the future.
G, you look familiar.
We talked about Infiniti’s new naming convention on the pages before, but had little information on the car that would replace its entry-level offering, the G37. That all changed in Detroit when Infiniti pulled the cover from its new Q50 sedan. Early photos showed a front end with multiple bulges and valleys, low headlights, and an odd but menacing look. Thankfully, the car looks much more handsome and cohesive in person.
Available in rear- or all-wheel drive, the Q50 is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 producing an estimated 328 hp and 269 lb-ft. driving through a seven-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid model is available, mating a 3.5-liter V6 to a 50kW electric motor for a total output of 354 hp. It also uses the seven-speed automatic, Downshift Rev Matching, magnesium paddle shifters, and can be ordered with all-wheel drive.
Multi-link independent suspension is used front and rear, carrying over the G37’s front single-pivot dual A-arm setup, but revising the layout in back. Aluminum is used extensively in the suspension design. Four-wheel discs are standard, with the option of four-piston front/two-piston rear calipers and upgraded discs with the Sport Brakes option. Seventeen-inch wheels wearing 255/55R-17 all-season run-flat tires are standard, while 19-in alloys with 245/40R-19 all-season or summer run-flat tires are available.
Another option is Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) with Active Lane Control. While Active Lane control uses a camera to detect lane markers in order to keep the car centered in its lane, the DAS decouples the steering wheel from the steering gear to allow customization of the vehicle’s response to steering inputs based on preference or road conditions. Sounds like another of those driver’s choice systems that would be better if automatic, if you ask me. The Q50 goes on sale this summer.
Lexus thinks U.S. sport sedans shouldn’t offer hybrid drive systems.
On the other end of Cobo Hall, Lexus introduced its BMW 3 Series competitor, the 2014 IS sedan. Available in rear- and all-wheel drive versions in IS 250 and IS 350 guise, the new version also will offer the F Sport package across the line. One version that won’t be sold here is the IS 300h, a hybrid model designed for Europe, Japan and select international markets.
IS 250 models are powered by a 2.5-liter V6, the IS 350 by a 3.5-liter V6. 2013 models produce 204 hp/185 lb-ft (IS 250) or 306 hp/277 lb-ft (IS 350). Rear-drive versions of the 2014 IS 350s put the power down through the eight-speed automatic transmission found in the current IS F, while the rest of the lineup is expected to use the current car’s six-speed transmission.
Lexus says it revised the double wishbone front suspension, increasing rigidity by 20% over the outgoing model. A version of the multi-link independent rear suspension found on the GS is used on the 2014 IS. The steering gear from the GS also has been adapted to the smaller car. The suspension, electric power steering and variable damper control is tuned exclusively for the F Sport model. That model also features a unique spindle grille, 18-in Y-spoke wheels, and its Driver’s Meter Cluster uses the same moving center ring found on the LFA sports car. Expect to see the IS in dealer showrooms mid year.
So there you have it. The Corvette Stingray took the bulk of the glory, but it is the sport utilities that are continuing to grow in number. Most manufacturers have at least one now, many are planning to introduce more, and those that have established players are working hard to revamp their offerings in order to remain competitive. The same is true of sedans of all varieties. Those segments are becoming some of the most competitive on the planet. Even the lowly pickup truck, an easy punching bag for environmentalists and elitist everywhere, are showing signs of renewed strength and relevance. This should be an interesting year.