Detroit auto show hails return of power and luxury

Event expected to feature new models from Ford, Jaguar and Volvo

Porsche 918 Spyder automobile on show at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Porsche 918 Spyder automobile on show at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

 

When they turn up the bright lights and loud music at Detroit’s Cobo Center, for the city’s annual motor show, it can seem a world away from the functional conference suites in which General Motors, Ford and Chrysler revealed their business plans last year.

For the US’s big three domestic carmakers, the raising of the volume levels will mark the start of a big push to boost their luxury and high-performance car sales, shift more sports utility vehicles and, ultimately, widen their profit margins.

This year’s show is expected to feature new, sporty models from Ford, including an upmarket version of its highly profitable F150 pick-up truck. Alongside this will appear two new SUVs – a first-time entry from Jaguar (inset), expected to be called the F-Pace, and a luxury compact SUV from Volvo.

The show will also mark the return to the US of Alfa Romeo, now a premium brand of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Chrysler’s Italian-based parent.

Fuel prices fall

“We’re going to see a return of glamour, speed and sex appeal,” says Michelle Krebs, an analyst for autotrader.com, the car-information site. “We’re even going to see some convertibles – which we haven’t seen for some years – and some performance trucks.”

These themes stand in sharp contrast to those playing out in the Cobo Center two years ago, when even the concept cars being shown – normally an opportunity for designers to have flights of fancy – were pointedly dull.

Other launches at recent shows have reflected their desire to produce new, more fuel-efficient vehicles to restore their competitiveness amid persistently high fuel prices.

According to Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Automotive, the more luxury-end vehicles to be revealed this year reflect a return to form after the industry’s more austere years.

Many of them, she adds, will build on existing architectures and designs but add features for which carmakers can charge big premiums.

Boost profits

Nevertheless, there will still be evidence of the continuing desire to meet the demands of new, tough fuel-economy rules.

General Motors is due to unveil a new version of its Chevrolet Volt electric car. It may also, reports have suggested, show a Chevrolet Bolt concept car that is meant to compete with the mass-market Model 3 electric car coming soon from Tesla.

New fuel-efficiency standards mean that even some performance vehicles will boast a level of fuel economy once associated with far more modest vehicles. – Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2015