As certain as snow squalls and sub-zero wind chills, the North American International Auto Show blows into town this month. But while things might be frigid on the streets of Detroit, plenty of hot new stuff can be found inside Cobo Center.
Marking its 30th anniversary this year, the NAIAS has become the nation’s premier car show, and for good reason. It offers literally something for everyone. It kicks off with the annual media preview that draws more than 5,000 global journalists and many of the world’s top automotive executives to the Motor City. As the show opens to the public on Jan. 20, the turnstiles are expected to spin furiously with at least 700,000 automotive fans, friends and family likely to swing through Cobo.
In years past, that might have been more than enough, but auto show organizers say they’re “adjusting” to the times, reaching out to new audiences to reflect some of the dramatic changes set to reshape the auto industry in coming years. “We’ve really turned this into six shows in one,” says Rod Alberts, the president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which organizes the annual automotive extravaganza.
As always, the cars are the stars at the NAIAS, with hundreds of new models on display. At last count, that’s expected to include about 45 cars, trucks, crossovers and concept vehicles making either their global or North American debut.
With light trucks now accounting for nearly two-thirds of new vehicle sales, it’s no surprise pickups and “utes” will dominate the media conference schedule. Each of Detroit’s Big Three will make some big news — Chevrolet weighing in with an all-new Silverado, Ram with the complete makeover of its 1500 series pickup, and Ford with both the reborn Ranger and a major update of its F-Series line.
On the utility vehicle side, there will be an assortment for every budget, from the entry-priced next-generation Nissan Rogue up to the exotic Lamborghini Urus, which the Italian marque is billing as the world’s fastest ute.
At $200,000-plus, the Urus will be one of 28 models on display at The Gallery, a show-inside-the-show focused on the world’s most exclusive brands. In prior years, the one-day event was held at the MGM Grand Detroit. This year it moves to Cobo on Jan. 13, and about a dozen of the vehicles will stick around for the public days — including the eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom, which is making its North American debut.
Toyota will unveil a new full-size Avalon, Volkswagen is reinventing its Jetta, and Honda is taking another go at the hybrid Insight. Infiniti hopes to steal the show with a fastback concept called the Q Inspiration, while Lexus will introduce its luxury crossover concept, the Lexus LF1 Limitless.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz each plan to show off three new models. BMW will introduce the i8 Coupe plug-in hybrid sports car, the electric i8 Roadster and the little X2 crossover. Mercedes will bring the AMG CLS53 hybrid sedan, the two-door AMG E53 Coupe and Cabriolet, and an updated G-Class ute.
Whether you’re a journalist, industry insider or simply looking to buy a car, you’ll likely hear about several current trends at this year’s NAIAS, including:
■Semi-autonomous features. A number of the latest models, including the Cadillac CT6 sedan, Audi A8 and Tesla Model 3, now have them, and the first hands-free and even fully driverless vehicles are expected before decade’s end.
■The rise of electrics. The Chevrolet Bolt and second-generation Nissan Leaf are ushering in a wave of new, long-range, reasonably priced battery-cars.
■Request a ride. A growing number of Americans are beginning to switch from owning their own vehicles to relying on car- and ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and GM’s Maven.
This “mobility” revolution will be front and center during Automobili-D, one of those shows-within-a-show.
Automobili-D gives a glimpse into what many believe is the future of transportation: electrified, connected and self-driving vehicles. Scores of tech company exhibitors from 11 countries will occupy the first level of Cobo, with 10 speakers or presentations planned for the Atrium Stage from Jan. 14-16. Better yet, Automobili-D will remain open for the first two public days of the 2018 NAIAS.
This is, of course, the Motor City, and auto show organizers will once against give automotive insiders a chance to kick the tires and get up-close measurements of what the competition has to offer during Industry Days.
There’s even something for those who like their cars classic. For the third year, The Drive Home, a vintage road rally will see collectors from across the country heading for Cobo Center. The event began on January 3rd in Boca Raton, Florida and will wrap up with a cruise down Woodward on Jan. 12.
Capping the first week and setting the stage for the NAIAS public days, there’s “prom night,” the annual Charity Preview black tie preview that, over the decades, has raised tens of millions of dollars for local children’s charities.
If you go
If you’re looking to attend one of this year’s NAIAS events, or follow the coverage, here’s the schedule:
- The Gallery will take place on Saturday, Jan. 13 from 6:30-11 p.m. in the Cobo Atrium. Tickets are $250 apiece.
- Press Preview days run Sunday-Tuesday, Jan. 14-16.
- The Industry Preview opens on Wednesday, Jan. 17 from noon to 9 p.m., and again from 7 a.m.-p.m. on Jan. 18, with tickets at $110.
- The Charity Preview throws open its doors at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19. At 9, you’ll be able to rock the night away courtesy of this year’s special performers, Motown’s own Four Tops. Tickets are $400, of which $390 is tax deductible.
- Public Days hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Jan. 20-27, and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 28. Early access is available for handicapped individuals at 8 a.m. daily. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for seniors and children ages 7-12; under age 6 free.
If you have questions about the Charity Preview, call (888) 838-7500. For ticket information, call (248) 283-5173. You can also find out more at www.naias.com.