2015 North American International Auto Show Highlights

The Detroit Auto Show, known officially as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), is crazy busy on press days. It generally starts Sunday night with invitations to pre-show reveals and events, followed by a very early Monday morning and a long, long day of attending reveals and walking the huge Cobo Center floor. Monday night, of course, brings more invitations for after parties followed by a Tuesday that is more relaxed than Monday, but filled with a few reveals and some time to get around the show floor and take photos of things missed in Monday’s bustle.

This year was the first time Car News Cafe had attended the Detroit show and was the first time I myself had gone (see our minute-by-minute coverage here). Overall, it’s a tiring but rewarding experience. I met a lot of people, turned some Facebook friendships into real-life ones, and hob-nobbed with industry executives and influencers on a scale you just cannot see at lesser events. Here are highlights of what you can see if you attend the show as well as a few things I saw or noticed during the press preview that might be of interest to automotive nerds like me.

Sunday Night Previews

Sunday night, I had been invited to the Infiniti preview for the Q60. This was a relatively small event, with just a few hundred in attendance, and it offered access to the car and the people behind it. The Q60 is going to production as a 2016 model to replace the current-generation, which we drove last year. It’s a beautiful design and will remain largely intact when it hits showrooms, though there is some contention over its planned powertrain.

Buick Avenir Concept - preshow1 - 1200pxA similarly-breathtaking reveal was then found after we left Infiniti and headed over to a Buick event. This was held in a former firehouse that was part of the Chrysler complex downtown. A much larger event, this one was attended by a huge crowd and had a less exclusive feel, but much more energy thanks to its larger-scale presentation. Unveiled were the Buick Cascada Convertible, meant to take on the growing 2+2 convertibles market, and the surprise unveil of the Avenir Concept. I will have much more to say about the Avenir in an article soon as it is breathtakingly well-designed. Which, of course, means it’s not slated for production, but is instead, according to Buick, meant to “showcase our direction going forward.” I did spend some time talking with a GM engineer I’ve spoken with several times before, notably on the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. That interaction gave a little insight into the Cascada, which he had a part in.

Monday at NAIAS

After braving the aftermath of overnight snowfall and deep cold, we arrived at the Cobo Center early, got our press credentials, and headed into the show. Our first conference was Nissan, as we were planning to skip Chevrolet and go back to it later for photos. This was the big unveil of the Nissan Titan XD, which you can read about here and see video of the unveil for here. Note that on that video post, I’ve commented giving time points where you can see both Tim Esterdahl and myself working the floor after the presentation. The Titan’s second-generation is impressive and I will have a lot more to say about it soon. There was a lot of excitement about this truck and it was, for me, one of the most-anticipated unveils this year.

We then headed towards the Joe Louis arena for the Ford unveiling of the Raptor, Mustang GT 350R, and the GT supercar. This required hiking all the way across the Cobo Center, through a tunnel, and into the stadium. Ford had cordoned off a huge swath of seating for its “social influencers,” which they’d flown in by the hundreds. These are mostly mommy bloggers and non-automotive types who spent the entire presentation tweeting and taking cell phone selfies. It was annoying for those of us who cover automotive and really said a lot about where Ford’s marketing efforts are going. On the other hand, the controlled stage event meant they could bring out the GT 350R and do burnouts in front of the crowd and bounce the new Raptor off the stage edges to make for a pretty cool unveiling.

2016 Ford Raptor - unveil1 - 1200px

After Ford, we planned to skip most of the presentations until after lunch, when we’d make the Acura and then Toyota unveils. So we spent the time working the show floor to get photographs and corner some influencers and executives for Q&A. I went back to the Nissan booth by way of the Chevrolet booth directly across from it, stopping to get photos and listen to a synopsis of the Chevy Bolt. At Nissan, I took a lot of photos of the three Titan XD trucks on display, shook hands with Carlos Ghosn, was approached by a marketing representative who turned out to be the boss of my regional representative and through him was introduced to Fred Diaz, who answered a quick question about the non-diesel engine options for the Titan (to summarize, they aren’t saying yet). Later in the day, I returned again to get powertrain photos from the chassis and powertrain display they had for the truck and spoke briefly with a GM engineer who was scoping it and also with another marketing rep, who recognized my name from my press tag and wanted to make the connection.

I then headed for Acura while Tim headed for Toyota to try to get in early. The Acura NSX unveil was impossible to see (headline photo is that unveil) as a huge mob of press surrounded the relatively small stage. When it became obvious I would not see much there, I left and went over to Toyota to get a good seat for the Tacoma unveiling. I returned to Acura later for photos.

Tundra Baja Truck  - damage 1 - AOA1200pxI was surprised at the Toyota booth by the Baja 1000 Tundra that just won late last year and to see it as it was as it finished the race, with a huge gouge down one side and a lot of filth covering the truck. I snapped photos and looked at the other displays before the unveil began.  Some friends from Rocky Mountain Redline found me there and we took photos together. These are the people responsible for bringing me cars to test drive from Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, Ram, Subaru, and Toyota. I’m currently highlighted as their inaugural journalist of the month on their Facebook page.

The unveil of the Tacoma itself was one of the best in the show. Rather than beat around the bush and pontificate about their product, Toyota’s main man just stood up, said “We’re introducing the new Tacoma and Tacoma TRD Sport” and the truck rolled in from stage left. He then finished with “so without dragging this on, let me just say.. this truck is BADASS!” With that, the TRD rolled in via an offroad stage section, bounding its way up to the stage. Then out climbed Toyota’s Baja race winner to wave. Simple and quick and exciting as hell. From there, I spent a lot of time looking over the trucks, listening to media interviews to see what was being gleaned, and speaking with chief PR guy Sweers off to the side as I contemplated whether I liked the desert tan paint on that TRD truck. (It grows on you and I do like it.) We returned again later to get more photos after the crowd had dispersed and to get answers to more detailed questions about the new Tacoma. Tim knows this truck inside and out and had very specific questions that generally resulted in “let me get back to you on that” answers as they consulted their engineers.

From there forward, our day was filled with photo taking, talking with representatives from various manufacturers, and seeing old friends and putting physical handshakes and facial recognition to Facebook friends.

The last event we attended was the Local Motors conference, which was downstairs in the often-ignored technology section of the show. If you attend NAIAS this year, go down to Hall E and check out the cool stuff in there. That’s where you’ll find the ride-along for the Local Motors 3D printed car, the Strati (sadly, we didn’t get to take a ride due to the timing), the U.S. Army’s equipment displays, and the awesome concepts and real-world racers from the College of Design and the Shell solar car competitions.

College For Creative Studies booth - 1200px

The Monday After-Party at Chrysler

Ford and Chrysler both invited us to events, but since we knew the Ford event would be full of those “clueless mommy bloggers” (as one journalist put it), we opted to skip it and just go to Chrysler, who was unveiling the new Ram Rebel the next day. We walked to our car, packed our stuff in, and warmed up. We drove over to the Chrysler building and found that we were almost an hour early. So we went next door to have a Coney dog – a virtual requirement if you’re visiting Detroit.

The Chrysler after-party was small, but fun. We met friends from the show floor, had drinks, talked, and spent some time with Nick Cappa and Wendy Orthman of FCA. Nick is the Ram Truck PR go-to guy and Wendy is our regional representative for Chrysler-Jeep. Both great people and fun to know. Our friends from Redline were there as well, as were several journalists and commentators. Good times.

Tuesday, an Easier Day

We got to bed late, but were able to sleep in a bit Tuesday morning. The weather and roads had cleared, so we got to the Cobo Center faster than expected. We headed on in, said “hi” to some people on our way through, and got good seats for the Ram unveiling since we were a little late to hit the Lexus conference. Too bad because those cars are great, but we got to them later for photos.

Ram Rebel unveil - 1200pxRam unveiled the new Rebel as well as the new 1500 EcoDiesel HFE, a high-efficiency package for the truck that improves MPG to a phenomenal 29 on the highway. Ram puts on a good show and though their president talked a little too much, the unveiling of the Rebel was awesome for that venue. And it deserved it, as it’s a great-looking offroad monster.

For the rest of the day, we made sure to see our friends at Honda, to check out the new Cadillac CTS-V, and to walk by the Tesla booth to make sure we hadn’t missed anything (we hadn’t). More photos, more handshakes, more “what did you do there?” questions and such were had. By noon, we were ready for lunch and headed for the media room to get it.

The Henry Ford Museum and the Airport

Before heading back to the airport for our flight to Denver and home, Tim and I went to the Henry Ford Museum. We had two or three hours to kill, so we wanted to spend it doing something non-auto show. What a great experience! If you haven’t been to this historic place, go. There are some great objects on display inside the museum to include several presidential limousines – including the one in which JFK was being driven when he was killed in Dallas. There are also some huge locomotives, a lot of steam-powered equipment – some of which is on a scale you cannot fathom without seeing it personally – and, of course, cars. Most of the cars, however, are not of Ford make, but are instead cars believed to be turning points or cornerstones of the industry as a whole. You’ll see cars like the Corvair, the Prius, some Bonneville racers, electric cabs from the turn of the century, and a lot more. Very, very cool stuff. In between that, be sure to stop in the displays showcasing aircraft and furniture, you might glimpse Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk and the old front steps to the museum which were signed personally by Thomas Edison.  Very well worth the visit.

After the museum, we headed to the airport to drop off our car, have a beer waiting for our flight, and then get on a plane.

Things You Must See If You Attend NAIAS 2015

Press BadgeThe North American International Auto Show opens to the public this week and runs for about a week’s time. If you attend, here is my list of suggested stops you should include on your tour besides the great mainstream automotive displays from major manufacturers:

  • The Local Motors booth upstairs on the show floor, which is building the next-generation of their 3D printed Strati car live, right there. Then make it downstairs to see the current-generation and get a ride in this little electric buggy.
  • Alfa Romeo is right there as well and has not only the hot new 4C roadster there, but also a showcase of Alfa Romeo race cars from the company’s long history in motorsport. You’ll see more of those here on Car News Cafe as I took prodigious amounts of photography while there.
  • Make sure to check out the Michelin booth between Subaru and Hyundai, which has some informative displays regarding road safety and how tires are made.
  • Go downstairs into Hall E and check out the Local Motors ride-along mentioned as well as the great stuff from students of design and the innovative machinery the U.S. Army is showcasing. You’ll also find specialty makers of electric and other vehicles down there that are worth noting.

We had a great time at NAIAS 2015 and you will too!

Aaron Turpen
An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.