Detroit Motor Show, officially known as NAIAS (North American International Auto Show) has been an impressive start of the automobile world into a new year for 25 years. Being a Canadian auto journalist, I have been regularly attending this great show since 2011.
Detroit this year presents a number of attractive and provocative topics from efforts to reach the passionate CAFE targets to autonomous driving to a design renaissance. Each of these topics deserve a particular attention. However, I will focus on one topic:
The main lesson I draw from this year’s show was a simple one: Whether gasoline or diesel, the internal combustion engine (ICE), the heart of almost each motor vehicle, is one of the longest-lasting and most successful inventions in the history of mankind. It has been 127 years since Mrs. Bertha Benz, Karl Benz’s courageous wife completed the first long-range automobile journey in the history. And the ICE is to stay with us for a couple more decades.
I am not telling you this just because of a 50 per cent drop in gasoline prices in the last six months. Just to the contrary, several manufacturers presented their hybrid and all-electric vehicles in a way, as if they were not aware of this drop. It is probably wise to say that, looking from a broader perspective, those manufacturers are more focused on CO2 emissions (or reduction of it) rather than the consumption itself.
About two and a half years ago, the Obama Administration set a CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) target of 54.4 mpg for 2025. In European terms, it corresponds to an average of 4.3 liters per 100 kilometers. As the name implies this figure represents the average consumption of all vehicles of a manufacturer.
This target would be much more easily (and almost immediately) achievable if a company would produce only compact and subcompact cars such as Toyota Corolla and Ford Fiesta. However, the portfolios of North American manufacturers consist of different models up to 3-ton-trucks. Furthermore, recent, low gas prices encourage people to buy more of big trucks and SUV’s, shifting the balance towards “north”. With gas prices about 1.65 dollars per gallon, the incentives to reach the 2015 target are not good and companies face a big challenge at first sight. But, with a closer look at the industry, I am glad to see that things are moving in thr right direction.
Arguably the biggest news in Detroit came from the manufacturer in Dearborn, MI. Ford demonstrated one of the biggest innovations of recent years in the industry. Starting with the 2015 model, the “Blue Oval Company” switches to an all-aluminium body in the production of its top selling vehicle, the F-150 truck. Considering the fact, that this legendary truck is the top-selling vehicle in North America for almost half a century, you will understand the scope of change and the business risk Ford undertakes. With a weight reduction of up to 317 kilograms for the F-150, Ford’s goal is to make a big difference in this category and come closer to 2015 CAFE standards.
SMDI (Steel Market Development Institute), the lobby organisation of the American steel producers, presented the latest steel applications in the automotive industry thus reminding us that the competition between steel and aluminium will intensify.
As the engines get smaller, the additional power comes more and more (on-demand) from turbo-charging instead of displacement. This is another step towards CAFE target while staying loyal to ICE.
General Motors introduced the upcoming Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle with a gas generator as range extender supporting the battery instead of directly moving the vehicle. This system eliminates the range anxiety, which is still an impediment for electric vehicles, with a market share of about 1 per cent in North America. Nevertheless, you should not expect a big change for electric vehicles as long as the gas prices stay so low.
Realistically we can expect more popularity of hybrid vehicles that can combine the advantages of conventional engines and cleaner driving while using the existing infrastructure. No charging stations are required (except plug-in hybrids to a certain extent).
The German Schaeffler Group presented a number of innovations such as new automatic transmissions, decoupling systems for four-wheel vehicles, new roller bearings that reduce friction, and new variable diameter pulleys for CVT transmissions.
Conclusion: With hundreds of innovations and improvements, driven by tens of manufacturers and hundreds of suppliers, we have a good chance to reach the 2015 CAFE targets while keeping ICE. The principle will be the same, but we will have much more efficient and effective engines.
All-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles still remain largely experimental with a tiny market share.
No matter how much one gallon of gas will cost in 2020, the industry looks capable of reducing CO2 emissions from 172 to 130 grams per 100 kilometers.
With the 2008 financial crisis in the almost distant past, The North American Automotive Industry is capable of achieving this goal.
Highlights from Detroit 2015
The new MKX is a bold statement that Ford is very serious about making Lincoln a luxury brand that can survive in the long term.
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