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Automakers Go Big with Detroit Auto Show Reveals

DETROIT ­– For a while in 2016, it looked like cars would make a push back to the top of the sales charts in the United States. But as gas prices dropped and buyers were once again willing to spend more money on larger vehicles, trucks and SUVs locked down the top spots once again.

With many benefiting from the surge toward large vehicles, they put SUVs center stage Monday at the North American International Auto Show. Some automakers used the occasion to push sedans — Toyota President Akio Toyoda joked “Why should SUVs get all the glory?” when he revealed an updated Camry — but it was clearly the bigger vehicles that drew the most interest.

After introducing convertible versions of its A5 and S5 sedans, Audi’s vice president of sales and marketing, Dietmar Voggenreiter, revealed the brand’s Q8 concept SUV. While the production model is still a couple of years away, the Q8 is being designed with the company’s “25th Hour” concept — that returns time to drivers through technologies and vehicle features — in mind.

“We integrated our best technologies into this show car,” Voggenreiter said. “It will open up a whole new segment to us. Our customers demand more models like this. [They demand] SUVs, modern technology and luxury.”

The five-passenger SUV will be available as a plug-in hybrid and will set the design standard for Audi into the future, he added.

Lexus, meanwhile, turned to its LS model at the auto show, revealing the fifth generation of the car. In addition to an updated exterior, the car features an all-new suspension and chassis that’s 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

Among the technology features is the industry’s first pedestrian detection system to be coupled with an avoidance system. Should a pedestrian be detected in front of the LS, explained Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken, a warning will be put up on the car’s heads-up display. If the driver does nothing, the car will automatically slow down and steer to avoid a collision.

Inside, the car “embraces two fundamental elements of its Japanese roots” in hospitality and craftsmanship, Bracken continued.

“This is reflected in subtle touches, such as beautiful interior ambient lighting inspired by Japanese lanterns and armrests that appear to float next to the door panel,” he said. “Also in the spirit is the available air suspension system activated by a smart key, which lowers the car and opens the seat holsters to welcome drivers as they get behind the wheel.”

While drivers are increasingly favoring SUVs over minivans, Honda is making a new push to take the top spot in this segment with a redesigned Odyssey. Most of the highlighted features are inside the van, including a camera system for parents to keep an eye on the back seat, an entertainment system for the back rows and a “Magic Slide” seating system for easier access into the third row while also easing the installation of children’s seats.

“This new Odyssey raises the stakes for family-friendly packaging, performance and technology in the minivan segment,” said Honda’s vice president of America, John Mendel. “In all aspects of its design, the new Odyssey is made to keep every member of the family happy, no matter the seating position, no matter the destination.”

Meanwhile, one week after keeping its title as the best-selling car in the U.S., Toyota announced a redesigned Camry that will be in dealerships later this year. While not much is available in the way of groundbreaking innovations, the car has been redesigned and two new trims are available, the XLE and XSE. Three engine options are featured: a hybrid, a V6 and a four-cylinder.

“The all-new 2018 Camry is, without a doubt, the most captivating mid-size sedan we’ve ever produced,” said Bob Carter, Toyota’s vice president of automotive operations. “It delivers on everything Camry owners have come to expect from America’s best-selling car, and adds to it, jaw-dropping design, more advanced technology, cutting-edge safety systems, and stirring performance that raises it to an unparalleled level of excitement.”

German manufacturers BMW and Mercedes Benz both discussed their plans for SUVs, although it was a much larger focus for BMW as the automaker unveiled its X2 crossover concept.

The model is set to fill a gap in the brand’s X-series of SUVs and offer an option to younger drivers and those with active lifestyles.

BMW also showcased its update for the 5-series on the heels of a 26% drop in sales across the series’ models last year. The new lineup includes the 530i, the 540i and the M550i.

“The 5-series is the core of the brand. It’s one of those products that makes a huge contribution to the group in total. So here in North America, the biggest market for the 5-series we’re unveiling the car for the very first time,” said BMW board member Ian Robertson.

Mercedes Benz previewed several models including the all-new E-Class Coupe making its world debut at the Detroit auto show, the first revision to the GLA crossover since it was introduced in 2013 and two new models from performance-based brand AMG in the GT C Coupe and GT3.

Chairman Dieter Zetsche discussed the company’s plans to use technology across all models and the addition of 10 electric vehicles to Mercedes’ lineup by 2025. Zetsche showed off the Concept EQ crossover, designed with the company’s new “Four Pillars” corporate strategy in mind. The pillars, referred to as CASE, are “Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric,” Zetsche explained, and “each of these pillars has the power to turn our entire industry upside down.”

Closing out the media preview for automakers Monday was Infiniti, which showed off the QX50 concept, a preview of the company’s semi-autonomous driving technology that takes over “the boring parts” of driving like stop and go traffic, the company said. First introduced last spring in Beijing, the midsize SUV also features Infiniti’s Variable Compression Turbo engine, designed to combine features of gasoline an diesel engines to maximize fuel efficiency.

The SUV, said Infiniti President Roland Kreuger, is close to being production ready. Pricing and fuel efficiency rating was not available at the auto show.

American automakers also stuck to larger vehicles at the North American International Auto Show as Chevrolet revealed its 2018 Traverse and Ford refreshed its F-150 pickup and announced plans to bring back the Ranger midsize pickup in 2019 and the Bronco badge as an SUV in 2020. Chrysler didn’t have a press conference at the auto show, but revealed the Portal minivan prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

The North American International Auto Show, held at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, will be open to the public Jan. 14 to 22.

Pictured: Deitmar Voggenreiter, Audi vice president of sales and marketing, reveals the company’s Q8 concept Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.