Contradiction at Cobo – Reflections on the 2018 Detroit Auto Show

2019 Ram 1500

When I left the media center at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I turned to Steph to say I might write a roundup piece this week, but I wasn’t sure what angle to take. It’s true this year’s show was truck-focused, and I wanted to go beyond the obvious theme (which Jack eventually took on here) and see if there was more to the show that was getting lost in the truck madness.

“Maybe I will find inspiration on the open road,� I joked.

Instead, the “open road� greeted me with snarled traffic near Detroit and whiteout conditions a couple hours later in Southwest Michigan/Northwest Indiana. So, as I tried to keep a Camry pointed forward and not sideways while surrounded by insane open-road truckers whose response to the weather was to drive even faster, I realized I wasn’t going to come up with some grand, sweeping theme for this year’s show.

Instead, I have a few random musings compiled below.

Side note: If you’re curious, the Camry acquitted itself well in the white stuff, with the exception of the driver-aid systems – the snow clogged sensors so badly that the dashboard was aflame with all sorts of dire warnings about how these aids were temporarily disabled. More on that below.

Without further ado:

  • Outside of trucks trucks trucks, the main theme of the Detroit show was contradiction, especially with Ford. Jim Hackett talked about his GT350 and its loud exhaust at the same presentation in which the company continued to drone on about the future of mobility and the cities of tomorrow. Not only that, but Ford launched a new Bullitt trim for the Mustang shortly before pissing off almost everyone by hinting that a future “performanceâ€� crossover with a battery electric powertrain could use the Mach 1 name, of Mustang fame.
  • Shortly afterward, Ford teased the upcoming Shelby GT500, a car that’s far from a BEV crossover with performance intent. I get that automakers are looking to please both performance enthusiasts as well as future-looking consumers who welcome more electrification (and perhaps more autonomy), but Ford’s mixed messaging gave off the impression that the company does not have a coherent vision for the future. And yes, a coherent vision could include both old-school performance vehicles and electric and/or autonomous vehicles – if articulated correctly. Ford, however, looks like it doesn’t know what it wants to do.
  • Speaking of autonomous vehicles, as mentioned above, I experienced some system failures on my drive home thanks to inclement weather. This isn’t to pick on Toyota, since these issues could have happened in any car, but it’s a reminder that there’s a way to go before this tech is ready for prime time, no matter what PR spin you may hear out of NAIAS.
    2019 Ford Ranger, Image: Ford
  • I might be insane or have bad eyes, but I detect a hint of current-gen Toyota Tacoma in the new Ford Ranger. That’s not a bad thing, and regardless if I am seeing things or not, the new Ranger does look good to my eye.
  • Based on everything I’ve read about it, both in the media proper and on social media, the new Silverado has the most divisive styling of the new crop of pickups. There seems to be no middle ground. For the record, I like it.
  • Circling back to the Blue Oval: What the hell is Ford doing with the EcoSport? One model on the show floor had such poorly assembled trim pieces that one of our writers was able to move a piece of trim that should be stationary up and down with ease. It looked and felt cheap, as if Ford was so desperate for a subcompact crossover that it didn’t care to put an effort into improving build quality as it brought the model to the U.S. for the first time. I’m not someone who subscribes to the (arguably xenophobic) belief that a car built in India can’t be well made, but at first glance, the EcoSport feels so shoddily put together that I’m already mentally prepping for the first stories about consumer complaints. Regardless of where this thing is built, Ford needs to step up its game.
  • On the other hand, I like the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt, but I can bet that unlike the car used in the movie, it’s not something that can be afforded on a “detective’s salary.â€� The last time I got bored and built a Mustang GT on Ford’s consumer site it came close to $40K. A quick Google search shows that the average salary for detectives varies from $52K to $75K, depending on the source. Sure, a detective making $75K might have enough cash for a Bullitt depending on his other bills, but the gumshoe making $52K is gonna have to stretch a bit – and that’s assuming dealers don’t mark this car up, which they will.Hyundai Veloster N
  • The other car that intrigues me is the Veloster N. Unlike with many performance trims, the performance doo-dads actually make this car look better than the “baseâ€� models. Not to mention that the numbers sound good. If Hyundai prices this right and gets the tuning right, the GTI has a real challenger on its hands – one that’s not named WRX or Civic Si (neither of which are available as hatchbacks, of course).
  • Some things never change: Truck wars are as active as ever. Between Chevrolet taking shots at Ford over diesel power specs, and Ford claiming its four-cylinder Ranger will lose nothing compared to V6 models, the usual, um, “contests of egoâ€� remain. The average car buyer doesn’t care, of course, but truck guys now have new fodder for Internet flame wars.

The Detroit auto show is always interesting, and this year was no exception, even if it was a little strange. Chicago follows less than a month from now, and New York not quite two months after that – we shall see what weirdness may follow.

[Images © 2018 Bozi Tatarevic/TTAC, Ford, TTAC staff]