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2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 2: The Future of Mobility

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2017 Detroit Auto Show - Day 2: The Future of Mobility

This article was originally published Wednesday, January 11, 2017 on SHEIMagazine.com.

For the auto industry, Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize couldn’t have come at a more symbolic time: slowly but surely, the world’s largest carmakers have pivoted decades of strategy to solve entirely new problems. At this year’s 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, an apprehensive excitement pulsed the show floor. Volvo’s DriveMe pilot; Chevy’s Bolt EV; everywhere one turned, the awesome wonder of an autonomous, electric-drive future seemed inevitable.

While V12 revs still blared over loudspeakers, their throaty howls seemed as compensatory as they were triumphant. Maximized touring cars had had their day; now, it was the turn of a new breed.

Bob Dylan said it best: "the times, they are a-changin’." This is the future of mobility.

 

CHEVROLET

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

In a world full of hype and headlines, tangible progress isn’t just an exception – it’s a paradigm shift. After less than one year on the market, Chevy’s Bolt EV (GM’s first mass-production Electric Vehicle, unveiled at last January’s show) is shaping up to be just that leap.

The Bolt is a compact, all-electric hatchback with room for 5, priced starting right around $35,000 after tax credits. It also boasts a 200 mile range, and a respectable 6.5 second sprint to 60mph.

Most significantly of all, it’s actually in production.

While dreams of tomorrow are all well and good, a sustainable, EV-only future society can only be achieved one way: through making electric cars. Here, Bolt truly shines. Unlike other headline-grabbing EV’s in its segment, the Chevy Bolt – a reasonably-priced, sensible electric hatchback with room for groceries and the dog - is available for purchase at dealerships nationwide.

If it weren’t for the Bolt’s sky-high trophy count (2017 North American Car of the Year, CNET RoadShow’s Vehicle of the Year, Car and Driver 10Best Winner), that fact alone would be worthy of praise. Instead, celebrate this: there are finally consumer-friendly electric vehicles available to the public at large. Even without a manual, the Chevy Bolt EV is a paradigm shift for mobility.

 

VOLKSWAGEN

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Nearly a year and a half after Dieselgate, Volkswagen appears to have doubled down on its renewed commitment to sustainability. Case in point: the I.D. BUZZ concept, a self-driving electric Microbus unveiled Monday during VW’s press conference.

Touted as the world’s first “electric multi-purpose vehicle equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode,” the I.D. BUZZ features a roomy hardwood-and-plastic cabin with space for 8 passengers and their luggage. The interior is playful, intuitive, and surprisingly plush. For example, the two big leather bucket seats typically reserved for driver and copilot can be rotated so passengers face each other when autonomous driving is engaged.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Considering VW’s promotional reel showing bearded and flannelled urbanites using the I.D. BUZZ to facilitate “city limits” getaways, details like the modular cabin go a long way towards selling the concept.

While engaging in purpose and not shy for looks, it remains to be seen whether Volkswagen’s I.D. BUZZ will ever make it to production. Given the sparse nature of the concept (and VW’s storied history of whipping out refreshed Microbus concepts to liven up a slow news day), there’s a good chance the I.D. BUZZ remains buzz.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

 

AUDI

Audi’s groundbreaker: an SUV the size of the continent. Oh yeah – and it’s a hybrid, too.

Unveiled Monday morning, the Audi Q8 is a full-size luxury SUV that will first reach the market in 2018. Even with a swept, sporty roofline, the Q8 is formidable: it’s columnade grill, frameless doors, and Robocop taillights are as angular as they are aggressive.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Better yet, since the Q8 is built on Audi’s new lightweight Q7 platform, this full-size is no slouch for speed. Under the hood, a 333hp engine is mated to a 100kW lithium ion battery, sending the Q8 to 60 in a mere 5.4 seconds (or, if you choose to engage the hybrid drive responsibly, to a combined range of 621.4 miles at full stocks.)

Did we mention that it’s a hybrid?

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

The true significance of the Audi Q8 comes from its target segment. It’s no secret that Americans buy full-size luxury SUV’s – the success of the Range Rover Sport, Cadillac Escalade, and others are all testament to this love. However, what’s just as apparent is the pollution these same SUV’s cause: many get less than 20mpg combined in their standard trim. Given the runaway sales of its smaller SUV’s like the Q5, Audi’s new Q8 could be the competitive pressure needed to clean up one of the industry’s least-sustainable sectors.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

 

BMW

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

For a company that made its name on straight-six performance engines, BMW appears an unlikely candidate for the role of “EV innovator.” Yet, in the five years since BMW i (the brand’s plug-in electric-only branch) was launched, the Munich-based luxury brand has staked its claim as the segment leader in EV development. With a stable of plug-in vehicles that includes the i3 compact car, i8 supercar, and countless “iPerformance” variants of mainline models like the X5, it’s safe to say that BMW’s electric credentials are more than secure.

As this year’s press conference headline was the all-new 5-Series sedan, BMW wasted no time in utilizing the platform to its fullest. Moments after the big reveal, the brand revealed the first-ever electrified 5-Series: the 530e iPerformance sedan, a plug-in hybrid built on the brand-new sedan platform.

Compared to the old 5-Series, this new platform is eons sportier while retaining its dignified business-like interior. For those seeking both the feel of a BMW sedan and the warm fuzzies that come with saving the planet, the 530e iPerformance appears a perfect compromise.    

 

VOLVO

To understand Volvo’s world-changing DriveMe XC90, first see the world through selfless eyes. “There’s a wider aspect to the driver-car relationship than simply the person in the driver seat,” said Dr. Robert Broström, Volvo’s Senior Technical Leader, User Experience.

The Swedish luxury brand has built its name worldwide through an uncompromising focus on safety – not just for its customers, but for the world at large. Volvo famously introduced the first three-point seatbelt in 1959, only to release the patent to the public that same year. Then-Volvo managing director Alan Dessell is quoted as saying: “The decision to release the three-point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety.”

So, when it came time to pilot technology that could potentially end auto accidents as a whole, Volvo appears predestined to succeed. Simply put, security is luxury: no matter how plush the leather, time spent worrying about the other aspects of that driver-car relationship (especially the ones you love in the backseat) could never be luxurious.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Enter DriveMe.

Starting January 9, 2017, Volvo will undertake the largest-ever real world test of self-driving technology. Around the Swedish city of Gothenburg, 100 families will receive Volvo XC90 SUV’s equipped with the “Volvo Autonomous Brain,” a hidden sensor package that allows for – when the conditions are right – true autonomy.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Not “Lane Assist”; not “Autopilot”; bonafide, Level 4 autonomous driving.

According to Broström, the DriveMe test represents the “logical next step” towards Volvo’s “Vision 2020” pledge, an initiative that aims to reduce the number of people that die or are seriously injured in accidents involving Volvo cars to zero over the next three years. Authentic self-driving would remove both error and stress from the driving equation, aligning perfectly with Volvo’s mission of providing safety, serenity, and luxury through its vehicles.

Photo by  Benji Bear

Photo by Benji Bear

Ambitious? Certainly. Yet, coming off one of the strongest 2016’s in the industry (S90 unveiled, Uber partnership announced, XC90 wins North American Truck of the Year), Volvo appears poised to - and laser-guided towards - shaping the future of mobility. 

 

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2016 NAIAS - Day Two: American Innovation & Japanese Design

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2016 NAIAS - Day Two: American Innovation & Japanese Design

Originally published Wednesday, Jan 13 on SHEIMagazine.com.

SHEI Magazine had the opportunity to cover this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) during the show’s press preview days Jan 11 & 12, 2016. Because we were on limited passes and only had two hours of floor access per day, we had to divide the show in half to do it justice.

On Tuesday Jan 12 (Day Two), we covered the latest in American Innovation and Japanese Design from some of the world’s leading automakers. This year’s headlines: the all-electric Chevy Bolt, a Ford pickup that does 100 mph off-road, Lexus unveils a flagship coupe, Acura’s beautiful oxymoron, and more. Read on below.

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Chevrolet

Not all electric vehicles are German-engineered concept cars that cost more than your house. In December 2010, Chevrolet unveiled the first-generation Volt, a Prius-sized hatchback that promised to save the world for a mere $41,000.

There’s a reason you don’t see many first-gen Volts on the road today. Even after redeeming a $7500 government tax credit, $33.5k was a pretty penny to pay for an EPA estimated 35 miles of range per charge. Gas was pricey in 2011 – but not $950/mile pricey. Plus, a lack of developed charging infrastructure meant that you really only had 17 miles (give or take) of range. Sure, you also had an efficient gas engine under the hood that bumped your combined range to 380 miles, but that’s not why you paid 50% more than a same-year Prius (which dropped jaws worldwide with a reported 550-600 mile gas range). You bought a Chevy Volt for the early adopter cool points that came with owning unrealized potential rather than an exhaustively final product.

Now, Chevy is back with an all-new electric vehicle that promises to make good on the attainable electric future it promised five years ago. The Chevy Bolt EV, shown here in orange, leads with numbers: 200 mile electric range, 200hp equivalent, all for $30k MSRP after tax credits. While the Bolt is an AWD electric 4-door, a Tesla this is not. Which is to say there’s nothing gimmicky about the Bolt. It is innovative precisely because it is not a straight-line drag racer that happens to plug into a wall. Like the Volt before it, all signs indicate the Bolt is being positioned to be a habit-changer rather than a showpiece. The range is good; the technical suite inside is as pretty as they make it; and above all else, the price is right. In short, it may actually have an effect on the world at large instead of just the automotive press.   

The 2017 Chevy Bolt is significant because it’s a humdrum commuter car that just happens to be an EV. Practicality is boring, yes, but being cool never paid the bills. Just ask Consumer Reports. Electric vehicles have yet to truly diffuse into general consumption, but a $30k hatch with enough room for 2.4 kids and some groceries may just lead the charge.  

Ford

Photo: Kristen EisenhauerNow that the environmentalists among us have been sated: Ford Performance’s 2017 F-150 Raptor SuperCrew is a twin-turbo V6 that can hit 100mph offroad.

It is big. It is aggressive. It has shock assemblies the size of toddlers that supposedly let the overland monster eat potholes at triple-digit speeds while maintaining full driver control. Whereas the Bolt is a sterile and practical solution to society’s energy problems, the Raptor exists to make sure those problems don’t go down easy.

The 2017 Raptor isn’t all blunt force trauma, however, that TTV6 is a 3.5L EcoBoost (think Ford GT), that when mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, becomes a surgical instrument. Shifts are sure to be optimized and snappy. Asking about MPG ratings would be missing the point, but the 500-pound-plus of weight that Ford Performance teased out by adding an aluminum body may ironically make the Raptor one of the more fuel-efficient trucks in the Ford range. You’d need to have it on the right Terrain Management setting (the new model promises six - Normal, Street, Weather, Mud and Sand, Baja, and Rock) of course, but hey, you can’t traverse the Rubicon Trail every day.

Somedays you just need to commute. Through Mud and Sand. At 100mph. Dear Santa…

Buick

As part of GM’s post-bankruptcy rebuilding efforts, the largest member of the Big Three has invested vast sums into its higher-margin upmarket brands. Last year was luxury Cadillac’s turn to show off: the unveiling of the all-new ATS-V and CTS-V models at the 2015 NAIAS stole headlines worldwide. “American luxury is back!” proclaimed the automotive press. BMW M and AMG-Mercedes finally had a colonial equal. A few booths away, little brother Buick smiled meekly behind a rebadged Opel Cascada.

One year later, the spotlight is on mid-market Buick. Only someone forgot to tell Buick they were mid-market. In fact, someone forgot to tell them they were Buick. Otherwise, I simply can’t explain the brilliance of the Avista Concept. Buick’s new 2+2 coupe concept is a 400bhp, RWD coupe that defines the word swooping.

Simply put, the car is breathtaking. It is undeniably stylish, both understated and aggressive, and with lines that evoke Maserati’s Alfieri concept from year’s past. A teardrop body full of uninterrupted sinew is an homage to the front-engine coupes of years past. Even the paint catches light differently when applied to this body. The Buick Avista is an American Aston-Martin in the looks department. GM is understandably mum about possible production (the door trims are 3D printed onto the car), but if any version of the Avista goes to dealerships, I’ll be the first in line.

Lexus

Lexus burst onto the US market at the 1989 NAIAS with an assertion: you’re paying too much for a luxury car that doesn’t always work. That assertion came with a segment-beating price tag, a 4.0L V8 engine, enough technology to raise Stuttgart’s eyebrows, and plenty of legroom, to boot. Before long, the 1989-1994 LS 400 was winning “Car of the Year” awards. The same “Car of the Year” awards BMW/Mercedes had won years before. Assertion, asserted.

Since then, Lexus has expanded to offer reliable luxury in all shapes and sizes. From crossovers to hatchbacks, if Toyota producers the chassis, you can bet a leather-clad luxury model exists. One model in the Lexus lineup remained notably absent, however, where was their large luxury coupe? Finally, we have an answer – and it is spindly.

The 2017 Lexus LC 500 checks all the 6-series/S Coupe boxes. V8? Check. Big V8? 5.0L, 467bhp/389 lb.ft. of check. RWD? Check. Luxurious interior packed with space-age tech? Check.

Jaw-dropping exterior? Check plus. The brand’s characteristic spindle grill is the conversation piece, set in silver against flaming metallic red. Massive, angular haunches join right-angle taillights at the trunk lid, setting up a roof line that’s more supercar than executive jet.

A multitude of forward-facing vents round out the LC 500’s subtle aero features. And since it’s Lexus, these wild aesthetics were likely purpose-built for some purpose the engineers calculated as necessary to the driving experience. Did I mention the LC 500 starts on this side of $100k, when its high-performance German cousins cost $10-20,000 more? I think Lexus likes NAIAS for thumbing its nose at the competition. Assertion, asserted.

Honda

The Honda Civic won North American Car of the Year. It’s quite good, quite athletic, and affordable as always. If I were in the market for an efficient grocery-getter my teenage son wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive, I would choose a Civic. The NAIAS awards panel agreed. We’re all very proud of Honda.

Between this and the Bolt, I’ve fulfilled my practicality quotient for the month. If you excuse me, I’m going to go do donuts in the parking lot. Moving on…

Acura

I’ve saved the best for last.

Acura stunned the world at last year’s show when it showed off the long-anticipated NSX, a $150k hybrid supercar over a decade in the making. Catching my first light rays off that car is a memory I won’t soon forget. Even if that experience has been nearly overwrittenInception-style by a vision of the future so breathtaking it makes the i8 look Neolithic. Meet the Acura Precision Concept.   

The Precision Concept is Acura’s design language made moving sculpture. I can’t do Michelle Christensen’s latest justice through words. Just look at it.

Gravity-defying cantilevers angle towards the car’s back quarters like lines in space racing towards the exhaust pipes. Sinister rushstroke intakes adorn a front fascia that finally, finally ditches the “Beak” grille of Acura’s past in favor of a new “Diamond Pentagon” design (first photo). The effect is marvelous geometry to rival the art of Golden Age Arabai. 22-inch wheels keep the 200"-plus length in proportion to finish out the exterior.

On the other side of the Precision Concept’s delicate skin, the interior is Peugeot Onyx levels of bare to gorgeous effect. Brushed metal, vibrant minimalist displays, and leather abound.

The icing on the cake: Acura’s new “Jewel Constellation” headlights. Coincidentally, also my new phone wallpaper.

Acura, you have my attention - and if the early headlines are to believe, the world's, too. The Precision Concept is my pick for "Best in Show."

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Enjoyed Day Two of our 2016 NAIAS coverage? Stay tuned for more photos/articles throughout the week! Be sure to check out Day One show highlights here, or visit the author’s website for more great articles

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