2015 Chicago Auto ShowPosted on February 17th, 2015
Nation’s largest consumer show fills McCormick Place
By Nina Russin
The history of the Chicago Auto Show dates back to 1901: the same year Walt Disney was born on a cold December day, Winston Churchill made his maiden speech in the British House of Commons and baseball’s American League launched its maiden season.
During its 107-year history, Chicago has become one of the four biggest auto shows in the country and the most heavily attended by consumers. The Chicago Auto Trade Association reported sales of 250,000 tickets for the 2015 show prior to the box office opening.
Sandwiched between the holiday season and the onset of spring, the Chicago Auto Show entices parents and their kids to break free of the confines of their homes at a time when the weather is frigid and daylight scarce. The McCormick Place convention center is large enough to hold something for everyone, from indoor test tracks to a special edition SpongeBob Toyota Sienna minivan for the kids.
Media days for the 2015 show took place on February 11-13. The show opened to the public on February 14 and runs through the 22nd.
NISMO magic takes center stage
Nissan kicked off the media preview with the unveiling of its NISMO GT-R and 370Z roadster concept. Nissan’s performance arm continues to expand its offerings to include everything from the OEM’s supercar to the Juke subcompact crossover, connecting the company’s passion for racing to street performance.
At its press conference, Nissan announced that GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough is joining fellow GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez – and NISMO racer Michael Krumm – as drivers for the GT-R LM NISMO at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June.ˇ
At the show, I had the chance to speak with Hiroshi Tamura, Nissan’s Chief Product Specialist for A, GT-R and NISMO about how the company designs and engineers its NISMO products. Kinesiology plays a big part in the engineering effort, so the vehicles become natural extensions of the people who drive them.
Engineers use the famous Nurburgring track to conduct chassis testing. Tamura explained that the suspensions have to offer the driver crisp response without sacrificing ride quality. Active safety features give drivers the confidence to push the envelope on a variety of road surfaces. Steering must be responsive but not dicey.
NISMO interiors are case studies in ergonomics. Tamura and I sat down inside the GT-R where he showed me the Recaro seats. They must compromise between keeping the driver properly positioned and having enough play to be comfortable.
There is an inch or two on each side of the seat bottom to allow the driver and passenger to move back in the seats for upright positions or slouch a little bit during less aggressive driving.. Alcantara is a soft material that is also capable to holding seat occupants in position.
Black is the dominant color throughout NISMO interiors. A red stripe at the top of the steering wheel gives the driver a position reference. On a similar note, higher rpm numbers on the tachometer are red, so they stand out. Numbers in the gauge cluster are large enough for drivers with imperfect eyes to see.
The steering wheel needs to have a small diameter for driver control, but cannot obscure the gauges behind it. Listening to Tamura describe the way his team designs an interior reminded me of purchasing running gear: shoes not too hard but not so soft as to make them unstable and clothing that can function over a wide range of temperatures for longer races.
Next on the docket for Nissan is the unveiling of the 2016 Maxima at the New York Auto Show in April.
Kia and Mitsubishi unveil active lifestyle concepts
Building on the successful Soul platform, Kia unveiled its Trail’ster concept: an all-wheel drive version of the crossover designed to go off the grid. From its roll-back canvas roof to polished Billet wheels fitted with Pirelli winter tires and the interior interior inspired by outdoor gear, the Trailster is a Soul with endurance athletes in mind.
An integrated roof back enables owners to carry their bikes, skis or snowboards. Skid plates under the car and some extra ground clearance give the Trail’ster the ability to travel down fire roads without getting damaged by rocks and roots.
The all-wheel drive powertrain consists of a 1.6-liter turbocharged gasoline engine rated at 185 horsepower supplemented by a 35-horsepower electric motor that drives the rear wheels. A lithium-ion battery pack supplies power to the electric motor.
Mitsubishi’s GC-PHEV concept builds on the Montero’s off-road heritage. The plug-in hybrid seats up to four passengers. Seats swivel around a tech hub in the middle of the car where occupants can share phones and tablets.
Chevrolet announces production plans for Bolt EV
Chevrolet, which unveiled the Bolt electric car at last month’s NAIAS show, announced in Chicago that the vehicle will go into production. The new Bolt EV will carry a base price of about $30,000 after the federal rebate. Driving range is 200 miles, to eliminate the range anxiety that prevents many potential customers from committing to electric cars. Chevrolet will build the new Volt at its Orion assembly plant outside Detroit.
Honda takes the wraps off the 2016 Pilot
Honda focused on its light duty truck lineup, giving the media a glimpse at drawings for the next-generation Ridgeline. The OEM also unveiled the third-generation version of its eight-passenger Pilot: a sport-utility vehicle built on a unibody platform.
The new Pilot is about 3-1/2′ longer than the outgoing car, translating to more cargo space. New exterior features include LED headlamps with automatic high beams, daytime running lamps and tail lamps, available 20-inch wheels and a panoramic sunroof.
Inside, designers improved third-row access with a one-touch entry feature. A reversible cargo lid has an easy-to-clean surface on one side and carpeting on the other.
Push button start is standard. Buyers can add a heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats, HondaLink with a satellite linked navigation system, and a Blu-ray compatible rear seat entertainment system.
For 2016 Acura updates its midsized MDX sport-utility vehicle and introduces an all-new compact RDX with a new advance option package, active safety features that include pedestrian sensing and standard rear air conditioning.
Ram Laramie Limited brings full-sized truck functionality to the luxury market
Imagine the king of the rodeo dressed up for a night on the town. That’s the philosophy behind the Ram Laramie Limited: a high luxury version of Ram’s full-sized light and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Available in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, the Laramie Limited comes fully loaded with all the comforts of home, including the nicest leather upholstery one could imagine. Instrument panel gauges are inspired by high-end wristwatch designs.
A unique grille and wheels distinguish the upscale pickup trucks on the exterior. The exterior also features special side moldings and chrome trim. Remote start is standard. Buyers can choose from seven exterior colors to contrast with the black interior.
The newest members of the Ram truck family roll into dealerships during the second quarter.
In 2012, Ford introduced its first Interceptor sport-utility vehicle and changed the market for police vehicles, long dominated by passenger cars. A Police Advisory Panel composed of law enforcement experts from around the country gave engineers the information they needed to construct the best purpose-built police vehicles money could buy.
The all-new 2016 models come with a choice of two EcoBoost engines and a six-speed automatic transmission. Level III ballistic door panels protect vehicle occupants. A rearview camera comes with a washer and surveillance mode that enables officers to keep an eye on the area in back.
Active safety features include a pursuit rated all-wheel drive system and roll stability control.
2016 Ford Explorer raises the bar for midsize sport-utility vehicles
It has been 25 years since the debut of the original Ford Explorer: the vehicle that arguably started America’s love affair with midsize SUVs. Although the engineering team’s focus was on raising the bar for the all-new 2016 model, they were also aware of the car’s legacy and the importance of continuing to appeal to Ford loyalists.
At the auto show, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at the new model and learn more about its technology from chief program engineer, Arnie Groeneveld.
“The 2016 Explorer is a new look, new engine and new series,” he began. On the exterior, everything from the A pillar forward is new. LED low-beam headlamps and halogen high beams frame several new grille designs. Engineers achieved a five percent aerodynamic improvement from subtle enhancements such as new air curtains positioned near the lighting assemblies in front.
A flush mounted roof rack reduces the coefficient of drag and helps with water management, preventing water from dripping on occupants when they exit the vehicle during a rainstorm.
A new 180-degree front view camera helps drivers see areas normally obstructed by surrounding trees or buildings when they move out of an alley or into an intersection. Both the camera in front and the 180-degree rearview camera come with washers and a protective film that sheds water.
The new Explorer comes with the kick-activated liftgate that also appears on the current Escape crossover, so drivers can open up the back hands-free. Groeneveld, who is the father or triplets, find the feature especially handy.
Wheel designs for the 2016 models are all new. A new Platinum trim level appeals to customers coming from conquest luxury brands. The Platinum grade comes fully loaded with the buyer’s only choice being between captain’s chairs and a bench seat in the second row.
Engineers enhanced their park assist system that automatically pulls the vehicle into a parallel parking spot to include both perpendicular parking and a park out feature for 2016. Side sensors on the flanks of the vehicle monitor the exterior for pillars that might be in the driver’s blind spots.
On the interior, updates to the instrument panel include a redesigned center stack. The Sony audio system now has tactile buttons: the result of customer feedback. The driver can control Ford’s terrain select system using a rotary knob on the center console to modify throttle mapping and shift points for surfaces such as sand, mud and snow.
A new gauge cluster enables the driver to pull up a display showing the balance of power between the wheels. He can also monitor specific tire pressures at each wheel as part of the tire pressure monitoring system.
Infotainment features include a backlit USB port, smart charging and a 110-volt inverter. Redesigned front seats focus on better lower lumbar support. The center armrest is closer to the driver for greater comfort. Platinum model vehicles have multi-contour seats that automatically shift the driver and front passenger’s positions periodically to avoid fatigue on long road trips.
A new steering wheel has a thicker armature. Thinner A-pillars enhance the driver’s forward visibility. Engineers also changed the wiper blade placement to make it easier for drivers to see out the front.
Inflatable rear seatbelts are an option for families with small children.
Engine options on the 2016 models include a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine that replaces the former 2-liter block, with 270 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. The four-cylinder engine can tow up to 3000 pounds. Buyers can also opt for the larger 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6.
Toyota debuts a refreshed Avalon and special edition Camry and Corolla
The 2016 Toyota line-up will include a refreshed Avalon premium full-sized sedan as well as special editions of the compact Corolla and midsize Camry. Special editions appeal to younger buyers with more emotive design.
Buyers of the newest Avalon can choose among five grades for the V-6 model. There are two suspensions: one that focuses on comfort for the XLE through Limited grades and a more aggressive suspension for the Touring model.
Changes to the exterior include new upper and lower front grilles, redesigned front and rear lighting and new wheels. The new Avalon gets the latest edition of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system and tire specific tire pressure monitoring.
The special edition Camry and Corolla stand out from other models in their line-ups with unique wheels, special exterior colors, premium Entune audio and Qi wireless charging on the Camry.
For more information on the Chicago Auto Show visit the show web site.
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