As we climb out of the Polar Vortex that had a firm and frigid grasp on the Great Lakes region, we also tipped our hats to two of the most influential displays of automobile innovation and exhibition in the country and in some cases- the world. The 2014 North American International Auto Show and the Chicago Auto Show were more than just places for the minds of automotive enthusiasts to run wild and for a moment, forget about seemingly perpetual snow and sub zero temperatures that lurked outside. Regardless of weather, both shows provided the public with and undiluted look at the future of engineering and trends that will become the template for the future of the automobile manufacturing and design.
So, after the show lights dimmed and the smell of carnauba wax faded into our memories, what did we really learn?
1. America's best selling pickup loses some weight:
In a bit of a surprise to the industry, Ford announced that beginning in 2015 all F-150 pickups will now feature aluminum bodies. In a country concerned about fuel economy and personal weight issues, the switch to aluminum would appear to make sense. The shock to the industry comes in the form of the costs involved with sourcing the aluminum, retooling multiple assembly plants and the potentially higher maintenance cost to be paid by the end consumer in the event of a collision. Granted these are high costs to be paid upfront by Ford, but with an anticipated 20% improvement in fuel economy, Ford is betting that fleet companies can benefit from the fuel savings, while Ford itself can save additional money by not having to pay CAFE penalties in 2016.
2. Turbocharging is becoming the answer for power and economy:
For those unfamiliar with how turbocharging works, it is basically when exhaust from an engine drives a turbine, which in turn generates airflow that is then forced into the engine's intake, making it possible for smaller (and lighter) engines to produce greater horsepower and more torque. As great as this sounds, turbocharging was once blamed for causing premature engine wear by producing excessive heat and applying additional pressure on internal components. However with advancements in engineering, the new lower-pressured turbo offerings found in most moderately priced vehicles provide amazing fuel economy with significantly improved reliability. This new wave of turbocharged engines have now found their way into the option list of almost every major automobile manufacturer selling to the US. In fact, even the legendary Mustang is slated to offer a brand new 2.3 litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder powerplant (trust me, this will NOT be like the 1984 Mustang SVO) that is expected to make about 305 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, while promising class-leading fuel economy.
3. Luxury coupes are coming back:
To be honest, this is a trend that I was a bit pleasantly surprised to see. BMW has now tweaked their lineup and created a 2 and 4-series line of vehicles which are to become coupe variants of the 1 and 3-series sedans. This new nomenclature also paved the way for the unveiling of the muscular M235i and the sublime M4. Cadillac also chose NAIAS 2014 to unveil their sleek and handsome ATS Coupe, which also bears the redesigned Cadillac emblem and will help lead the company in future designs to hopefully bring the Elmiraj concept to reality. The most surprising coupe to make its mark upon both shows was the stunning 2015 Lexus RC F. Packing over 450 horsepower, this wonderfully sculptured (quite possibly the best looking Lexus ever, in my opinion) and seriously potent coupe is aimed to take down German performance cars proudly wearing an S, M, or AMG badge.
4. Toyota is serious about performance:
If the Lexus RC F isn't enough to make someone to reconsider Toyota as a serious contender in the world of performance motoring, then take a look at this "live" announcement from the Chicago Auto Show: Toyota Racing 2014 Announcement. Yes, it is true, Toyota is firmly planting its flag into NASCAR soil by becoming the first partner in the Daytona Rising project, enabling fans of NASCAR to be greeted by 20,000 square feet of Toyota products and branding. In addition to its commitment to NASCAR, Toyota also shows it was to seriously dominate the road in the coming years, by setting up a virtual driving experience of the attractive and alluring FT-1 concept car (fingers crossed that this can become the next Supra). The CAS was also the venue where Toyota chose to unveil their new TRD Pro Series of off-road vehicles in a dazzling display to the media and public via their Livestream event.
5. More, affordable, rear-wheel drive cars are coming soon:
As a motoring enthusiast, I know that this is simply no replacement for the driving dynamics of a real-wheel drive car. Luckily, this rationale wasn't lost on manufacturers or engineers this year either. Kia may have melted the snow for a moment in Detroit when the hot, GT4 Stinger concept graced the stage. Propelled by a 315 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0 litre powerplant (I told you turbocharging is now a good thing), the GT4 Stinger proves that performance can be affordable. Meanwhile across the convention center, Nissan was making a case for their pair of small, rear-wheel drive concept vehicles that they hope can capture the market like the Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ. First seen in Tokyo, the Nissan IDx and Freeflow concepts are a throwback to the days where Datsuns were affordable fun and combined spirited driving with reliability.
As a regular attendee of auto shows and as a follower of automotive trends, I am confident in stating that 2014 is looking to be the year that reshaped the automobile as we know it. I find it a bit ironic that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, a vehicle heralded for being groundbreaking and the new symbol of performance and style. That tidbit of automotive history stuck with me as I wandered around the floor of the 2014 Chicago Auto Show. Smelling the fresh carnauba wax in the air as the lights danced upon the mirrored surfaces vehicles spinning on a platform, I couldn't help but feel that I was witnessing a change in the industry that 50 years from now people may look back upon and say "2014? What a hell of year that was for the automobile!"
- Johnny "Bones" Basile
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Filed under: BehindtheWheel
Tags: ATS, Auto Show, Automobile, BMW, car, CAS 2014, Chicago, Chicago Auto Show, Concept Vehicle, Datsun, Daytona Rising, Detroit, drive, driving, Elmiraj, F-150, Ford, FT-1, GT4 Stinger, ID freeflow, IDx, Kia, Lexus, Livestream, M235i, M4, motoring, NAIAS 2014, RC F, Toyota, TRDPro, Turbocharging, Vehicle