Tony James reports industry highlights of the automotive cr'me de la cr'me exhibited at the 2012 Detroit Motor Show.
The Detroit Motor show continues to reign supreme and not just because of its early-year slot. The big three US car makers – Ford, GM and Chrysler – are back in the ascendancy after several years in the doldrums. They continue to re-establish their credentials in the face of continuing pressure from their European rivals. Similarly, although the Japanese giants are still reeling from last year's tragic earthquake and tsunami, they are far from a spent force.
Things got off to an impressive start for the visitors as the Hyundai Elantra and Range Rover Evoque took the US Car of the Year honours, a measure of how much competition the Big Three American carmakers face on their home turf.
But you couldn't keep the home side down for long and two of the big three – Ford and GM – fired their opening salvos with impressive effect. Ford began by unveiling the new Ford Fusion, a model that gave strong hints about the appearance and make-up of the next Mondeo that we will see in Europe next year. The US Fusion is a mid-sized saloon, and the new model is the first of ten related cars, to be produced at a combined rate of one million a year including replacements for the Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy MPVs.
Over at General Motors, we have a company that has stated that its intention to attract young buyers with two sporty small Chevrolets. These, it says, will look and feel like sports cars, but cost around $20,000 (£13,000) in the US. The concepts, called the Tru 140S and the Code 130R, are four-seaters that can achieve 40mpg.
The early news set the scene for a Detroit Show with a buzz about it. You could detect it last year but this time round there is even more confidence among the carmakers.
There is small chance of the market returning the 16 million plus of the mid-2000s, but the industry has shaken out and now finds it can still make money in a market hovering around 13 million.
Like most shows these days, most companies were talking green, but there is still a heavy reliance on the internal combustion engine on this side of the Atlantic. Petrol is still considerably cheaper than in the UK, but reduced mileage per gallon and CO2 is at the forefront for all the carmakers with 40mpg the Holy Grail.
But what about the UK contenders? It's a shame Jaguar Land Rover did not have a stand allowing it to soak up the accolades as the Range Rover Evoque took the Truck of the Year title. Mini showed off the new Roadster for the first time in the US and Bentley was also there, taking the wraps off two Continental V8 models, the new 4.0 litre, twin turbocharged GT coupé and GTC convertible.
The new Bentley V8 engine delivers maximum power of 500bhp and an extraordinary peak torque of 487lb ft. It can reach 188mph but can also achieve outstanding fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions for the luxury performance sector and can travel over 500 miles on a single tank of fuel.
Star of the show: Lexus Hybrid
Amidst the splendour of Detroit it is usually difficult to single out one model, but Lexus has truly found a winner with its new design concept for a hybrid 2+2 sport coupe. "We are in the middle of the biggest change in Lexus's history, inspired by a new generation of distinctive design," said Karl Schlicht, general manager, Lexus product and marketing planning division in North America.
"The new GS embodies this with its sculpted spindle grille as our symbol of change. The next chapter of Lexus evolves with this coupe design concept. With its striking looks, this concept hybrid 2+2 hints at the design cues that are coming in a wave of new Lexus models over the next two years."
Challenged by Lexus in Japan to design the future hybrid sport coupe concept, the Calty design studio in Newport Beach, California, sought to move the definition of Lexus design forward with avant garde beauty and advanced technology, while still keeping the brand within reach of the majority of premium buyers.
The concept car's glass roof has a lightweight, cantilevered pillar with a glass-to-glass juncture inspired by modern architecture. Distinctive elements include a kick-up window graphic and polished aluminium trim. The greenhouse design improves visibility for the driver as well as adding to the sleek lines of the car.
The interior design is driver-focused and the cockpit is designed to feel both open and secure. The driver is surrounded by deeply scooped side panels and a high, curved console, which create a focus on the controls and the road ahead.
Twin 12.3in LCD screens provide information and navigation displays. A touch-screen in the centre console is used to control the audio system, climate controls and navigation, with a pop-up touch-screen keyboard for more complex commands. Similar touch-screen surfaces on each door are used to operate the windows, mirrors, seat positions and personal entertainment settings.
Multi-level meters set directly in front of the driver layer analogue and LCD technologies. The bottom layer displays temperature, fuel and the background for the Eco meter; the middle layer is the tachometer's mechanical ring; and the topmost layer provides indicators for the tachometer, speedometer and Eco meter.
British luxury on show: Bentley Continental GT
The newV8 engine in the Bentley Continental GT and GTC may have been co-developed with Audi, but it has been subtly modified to give it the essential Bentley characteristic of lots of torque over a wide section of the rev range, says the company's new engineering chief, Dr Rolf Frech.
"It was common work with Audi, but we had to make sure we defined our own targets and made a Bentley out of it," Frech, who joined the company from Porsche in November, last year, said. The engine develops more power in the various Audis that use it, but in the Bentley it has more torque from low speed – 660Nm in a constant line from 1,700rpm to 6,000rpm. As a result it gives the V8 Continental a different character to the existing version powered by a W12 engine. It's sportier than the W12 with a different sound. There are also faster gearshifts through the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
Perhaps the most ground breaking technology of all is variable displacement – deactivating cylinders when not needed. Bentley is a pioneer of this technology that entered service in the Mulsanne in 2010. For the new V8, the system has evolved. Drive at a steady speed or decelerate and four out of eight cylinders go idle, unrecognisable to the driver or the passengers. The engine management system – a black box which calculates as many as 180 million instructions per second – closes down the valves in four cylinders so that they act merely as springs. Press on the throttle, however, and the engine seamlessly roars back to full capacity and the driver is instantly delivered the full power of the V8.
The future for Ford: The Ford Fusion
Although Ford has enjoyed mixed sales success around the globe, it has remained a stalwart of UK fleet sales so any hint about what its future may hold is welcome. And the company did just that when it unveiled its Ford Fusion at the Detroit Motor Show. The US Fusion is not tall like the Fiesta-based offering familiar in Europe but a mid-sized saloon, and the new model is the first of ten related cars, to be produced at a combined rate of one million a year, that will be revealed between now and 2014.
In Europe that means the Mondeo family and replacements for the S-Max and Galaxy MPVs. A new Mondeo will be shown later this year, almost certainly at the Paris Motor Show in September, for launch in 2013.
The Fusion will be launched with 1.6- and 2.0-litre versions of Ford's turbo-charged direct-injection Ecoboost petrol engines, and these will inevitably be fitted to the next Mondeo along with all-important diesels of similar capacities. But there will also be hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, and Ford has confirmed that these are also intended for Europe.
Ford says the hybrid will better 47 miles per US gallon on the American highway test cycle, and the plug-in will top 100mpg in similar circumstances. It claims the Fusion range will have "game-changing fuel efficiency".
The Fusion's styling is said to reveal "the new face of Ford". There is an Aston Martin-esque grille, while the rear is reminiscent of the current Mondeo saloon. The international design team behind it, based in America, set out to create 'something people could see from 100 feet away'. It was engineered around a modified version of the current Mondeo platform by a US-based team led by Brit Adrian Whittle. *