2012 Detroit Auto Show Wrapup: Automakers Move With Purpose

By Joel Arellano | January 13, 2012
The Automotive.com team noted a unifying theme at this year's Detroit Auto Show. It underlined virtually every debut, from the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion to the Nissan Pathfinder SUV crossover concept to Toyota's NS4 concept. That theme was purpose. The automakers, now more than ever, are focused on introducing vehicles that could hit the sales floor within the next three, four, even five years, barely the life cycle of today's cars. Yes, there were the standard pie-in-the-sky concepts like the Smart ForUs, uh, pickup truck, but they numbered less than the fingers in one hand. Of the near forty vehicle debuts at the auto show, most were either in production, production ready, or could easily be built using today's technology and resources. Ford Motors Co. kept its focus on the here and now with the debut of the Lincoln MKZ concept in Detroit to be followed by the production model at the New York Auto Show in April. And production versions of GM's Chevrolet tongue-twisters—the Code 130 R (pictured) and Tru 140 S coupe concepts—could be developed now: Coupe styling? Check. 40 mpg powertrain? Borrow it from the Chevrolet Cruze. Less-than $20,000 MSRP? Spread the cost globally. GM says it created both concepts based on input from its "Millennial" target market (i.e., 40 years and younger) and plans to approach them again in selecting the concepts' interior designs. The automaker's strategy is similar to the one it used in selecting, then developing, the Chevrolet Spark subcompact. Most of the press predicts one or possibly both concepts could be green-lit into production sometime next year if not sooner.
The Japanese automakers introduced the most concepts at the Detroit Auto Show, with two—the Lexus LF-LC and the Acura NSX—getting the most press buzz, to the chagrin of the Detroit Three. Most of the so-called "concepts", like the Nissan Pathfinder concept and the 2013 Honda Accord Coupe Concept, are thinly disguised versions of the real deal. In fact, Nissan's e-NV200 electric van concept is currently buzzing around Europe for testing. But even the Acura NSX presages the production version, which Acura insists will hit the streets in three years. The Lexus LF-LC most likely is a preview of the next-generation Lexus SC coupe...and maybe even the return of the Toyota Supra. If you think the styling's too out there for Lexus, remember that the LF-LC's grill can already be found on the upcoming Lexus GS, On the other hand, the Toyota NS4's swoopy profile is already found on many of today's (non-Toyota) vehicles, especially the Honda Civic. The NS4's features—like the glass roof, "active" safety system, and plug-in hybrid powertrain—could easily find themselves in a production car which Toyota plans to debut by 2015. A dinner with auto parts supplier Continental AG revealed it already has safety systems similar to the one found on the Toyota NS4 concept. The past five years have been tough ones for the automakers: GM and Chrysler's bankruptcy; Toyota's "sudden acceleration" issues; new CAFE regulations, and last year's devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Current economic conditions both here and abroad are forcing automakers to take hard and purposeful look, not only at today's consumers, but those in the next five to ten years.