2014 Chicago Auto ShowPosted on February 11th, 2014
Nation’s largest consumer show heats up McCormick Place
By Nina Russin
Chicago is the third of four major US auto shows, and has the distinction of being the most heavily attended. With over 1,000 new cars and trucks on display, special indoor tracks and interactive activities, the show held at the McCormick Place convention center attracts over a million visitors each year.
While Chicago lags behind Detroit in the number of new vehicle reveals, it has historically been a show to watch for big surprises. The first Mazda Miata, Ford Taurus SHO and Toyota Tundra crew cab were all revealed in Chicago. This year Nissan pulled the wraps off its Frontier Diesel Runner technical study, Kia unveiled an all-electric Soul, Subaru debuted the 2015 Legacy and Volvo unleashed Polestar versions of the 2015 S60 sedan and V60 wagon.
The theme of connected cars ran throughout the show, with a special display by Continental, which has partnered with Nokia to do research and development. The concept that first emerged in the early 1990s has grown wings thanks to smartphone technology that is allowing OEMs to connect drivers with navigation and traffic data, repair services and the cloud. Within the decade, autonomous cars are a realistic possibility.
Nissan and Cummins partner on the midsize Frontier
Nissan has producing trucks for the US market since the late 1950s when it introduced the first Datsun pickup stateside. The midsize Frontier continues to be a core product for the automaker, with sales up 13 percent and six market share points over the past year.
Although Nissan has yet to announce production plans for a diesel version, the Frontier Diesel Runner technical study powered by a 2.8-liter, 200-horsepower Cummins turbo diesel engine is a strong indication that Nissan is serious about alternative fuels. The automaker has also announced plans to offer a diesel version of the next-generation Titan, slotted for the 2015 model year.
The Frontier concept drew its fair share of attention, thanks in part to its bright red exterior and see-through hood. Paired with a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the Frontier Diesel Runner offers a 35 percent fuel economy increase over the current V-6 gasoline-powered truck.
Kia electrifies the Soul
Attracting the attention of the media at an auto show isn’t rocket science. Pack the stand with free food, good music and in Kia’s case, a nattily attired hamster and the journos will follow. Kia unveiled its all-electric Soul crossover to the tune of some native Chicago electric blues, as well as the NIRO concept: a three-door hatch that competes in the subcompact B segment.
The Soul is Kia’s first electric vehicle for the US market, distinguished from other models by two-tone paint, a special grille, wheels, headlamps and tail lamps. The grille incorporates three charging ports, including a quick charge port that can recharge the battery to 80 percent in about 30 minutes.
The 27-kilowatt Lithium-ion battery has a range of 80-100 miles. A 109-horsepower electric motor drives the front wheels. The Soul EV maintains 91 percent of the gasoline version’s cargo space.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the slimmed down hamsters, but they’re growing on me.
Toyota TRD Pro Series offers serious off-road performance
Toyota’s racing arm is debuting a new series of performance packages for the Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner, focusing on off-road driving. Toyota has been a familiar face in the desert-racing world for over three decades, with luminaries such as Ironman Ivan Stewart setting performance records.
TRD Pro Series packages are available on 2014 models. They include redesigned suspensions with Bilstein shocks, skid plates, unique front grilles and badging. Toyota debuted the newest members of the TRD family on a specially prepared indoor off-road course inside McCormick Place.
Subaru celebrates 25 years of Legacy
The name, Subaru, is for many consumers synonymous with compact crossovers and wagons. But the Legacy sedan that first came to the US in 1989 has played an important role in the brand’s growth stateside. Like its wagon counterparts, the Legacy gained appeal among buyers with active lifestyles by offering standard all-wheel drive and a fuel-efficient four-cylinder boxer engine.
The 2015 model continues in this tradition with more fuel-efficient engines and new safety technology. Although the exterior maintains the same dimensions as the outgoing model, the back seats are slightly roomier. An acoustically tuned windshield reduces noise intrusion to the interior. Infotainment features on 2015 models include Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, Aha and Pandora internet radio.
Chevrolet City Express powers small businesses
Chevrolet’s new City Express compact cargo van joins the growing legion of like products from Ford, Nissan and Fiat. With a turning circle of less than 37 feet, the City Express is easier to maneuver through crowded urban thoroughfares than full-sized vans, yet offers similar cargo capability: 122.7 feet of cargo space. The load floor behind the front seats is seven feet in length, and the cargo bay has multiple mounting points for customizing the interior.
A two-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 131 horsepower and 139 foot-pounds of torque, paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The van’s center console serves as a mobile office with storage and power points, while a fold-flat front passenger seat doubles as a worktable.
Polestar beefs up performance on new Volvo models
My friends and family know that I’m a Swedophile, with a fondness for Volvos. I love the automaker’s human-centric approach to design and engineering.
Unlike the Volvos of yore, the new generation competes with the best Europe has to offer in terms of power and performance. For 2015, Volvo introduces a new family of four-cylinder engines that utilize a combination of supercharging and turbocharging to deliver unprecedented power.
At the Chicago Show, Volvo unveiled Polestar-tuned versions of its new V60 wagon and S60 sedan. Polestar is the motorsports arm of Volvo, having previously introduced a tuned version of the C30 compact hatchback.
For 2015, Polestar modifies the new T6 engine to deliver 345 horsepower: a 42 horsepower increase over stock. Polestar-tuned models also feature Brembo brakes, recalibrated transmissions, 3.5-inch exhaust pipes and special 20-inch wheels with performance tires. Rear spoilers, unique steering wheels, pedals and seats complete the packages.
With or without umlauts, the Polestar packages promise to delight driving enthusiasts.
Das racing autos
Last year, Volkswagen introduced the Beetle GSR- a race-tuned version of the car- in Chicago. For 2014, Volkswagen partners with Andretti to compete in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series. Drivers compete against each other and the clock on complex urban courses.
The team will feature two drivers: Tanner Faust and Scott Speed, both with extensive racing experience under their belts. They will drive specially tuned GRC Beetles with all-wheel drive and turbocharged 560-horsepower engines.
I have to say that the cars, and their loud exhaust notes are pretty fearsome. Could a production version be in the works’ This writer certainly hopes so.
The idea of intelligent transportation is by no means new. In the early 1990s, there were several experiments involving a magnetic infrastructure under the highway that would power autonomous cars.
In addition to the chicken-and-egg debate over who would pay for the infrastructure, there was resistance from the public to the idea of cars that could drive themselves.
Recently, Google made news with autonomous cars, demonstrating that the idea might once again grow wings. Continental has partnered with Nokia to do research and development on the concept, leading to a new generation of connected cars within the decade.
In Chicago, I had the opportunity to talk with Johann ‘Hans’ Hiebl, vice president of Continental’s infotainment and connectivity business unit about the project. Although OEMs still face the challenge of convincing a somewhat recalcitrant public, the advent of smart phones and integrated telematics has resolved the infrastructure challenge.
We are already seeing OEMs leverage smart phones for automotive infotainment systems, including in-car apps, navigation, service and maintenance reminders. The app, Waze, utilizes social networking to build upon existing navigation services.
The next step, according the Hiebl, is to bring data from car sensors out of the vehicles for analysis, keeping the vehicles and owners anonymous. By doing this, Nokia hopes to improve the quality and accuracy of current mapping software, so that it can include real-time updates and road markings.
The information can also be used to build mapping software where none currently exists.
Continental is conducting research among European drivers, to assess conditions under which they might be amenable to autonomous cars: stop-and-go traffic and steady state highway cruising among them.
We are already seeing passive safety systems incorporate technology such as automatic braking when the driver fails to recognize a stopped vehicle ahead or a pedestrian in the car’s path. Lane-keep systems prevent the driver from inadvertently straying into the adjacent lane.
Ford is among the automakers to offer automatic parking technology that recognizes appropriate spaces and automatically moves the car into it in parallel or perpendicular fashion.
The next step is to include such functions as lane changing at higher speeds.
Hiebl emphasizes the importance of a sophisticated human-machine interface that will be key in developing consumer confidence. He projects some type of autonomous vehicle network as early as 2025.
The Chicago Auto Show continues through February 17. For more information visit the show web site.
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