Commentary: What This Past Auto Show Season Taught Us

WAPA EV Day at the 2019 Washington Auto Show
All Photos by Randy Stern

OK, class, what have we learned – or, taken away – from this past auto show circuit?

I hope the answer is as simple as “a lot.” It is not that easy. This auto show circuit was laden with good news cottoned with some palace intrigues and storylines that even the blogger with the lowest traffic among every else can pick up on.

There are some storylines developing that can set the course of the next several months – and, years – towards the future of the industry and the trends that will take hold as soon as this is published.

From the floors of McCormick Place, the Minneapolis Convention Center, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and of all other auto shows that I did not set foot upon, this is what I have gleaned as possible outcomes from the 2018-19 season.

IS LINCOLN BACK? Back in 1983, Ford’s luxury division introduced the Fox platform-based Continental Mark VII. It’s aerodynamic design and integration of brand-specific design elements – the Mark grille and the Continental tire hump – sparked the brand’s upsurge in the luxury car market. Lincoln would eventually become the top-selling luxury car brand in the USA a couple of years later. That spirit has returned to Lincoln by a trio of SUVs, starting with the bold Navigator. Once the leader in large luxury SUVs, the Navigator has returned to success through innovation and new design elements that now dictate the direction of future Lincolns. The latter was evidenced by the introduction of the mid-sized Aviator and compact Corsair during this auto show season. These two new models offer Navigator-inspired design to go along with advanced engineering and technology now expected from a luxury SUV. The Aviator Grand Touring with its high-performance plug-in driveline could be the driver for a long-awaited resurgence at Lincoln. If the momentum is there, Lincoln will take its place in sales and product leadership among the German and Japanese luxury nameplates in the next decade.

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SUBARU’S GLOBAL ARCHITECTURE TRANSFORMATION COMPLETE? Well, almost. However, two key vehicles are now shifted onto the flexible new Global Platform at Subaru – the 2020 Legacy and Outback. With every new product on the Global Platform, there is a form of transformation that both evolutionary (exterior) and next-level (interior) in design and quality. The new interiors are stunning and will take Subaru further along in terms of offering vehicle owners will be more proud of. This also marks the return of turbocharging for its mid-sized offerings – replacing the big 3.6-liter Boxer six-cylinder with a turbocharged four-cylinder Boxer. This is more of a fuel economy statement than one for performance. There is no question that Subaru have hit the mark in these two upcoming vehicles. However, there is only one more vehicle left to be converted to the Global Platform – the WRX. We’re waiting, Subaru…

ELECTRIFICATION IS THE FUTURE – I REPEAT… It is a reality that we’ll live with for the next umpteenth decades. The fact that plug-in stations are growing everywhere to support a space that everyone claims will grow by leaps and bounds into the next decade. There are some signs that electrification is now slowing down. Enthusiasts are continually embracing Tesla, despite the backlash at the top of the company. Rivian’s deal with Ford has the debate over EVs heating up, even though they themselves have introduced two of the most compelling EV concepts in recent memory. Hyundai and Kia are also challenging the EV norm with lower-priced models based on their smaller vehicles. Even Nissan has pushed its Leaf into 200-plus mile range territory. These are just full-battery electric vehicles. The talk has also been amplified for plug-in hybrids, thanks to Lincoln and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Yet, questions continue to probe General Motors as to heir next move since canceling the Chevrolet Volt. More to come in 2020…

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THE YEAR 2020 IS NOT A “JETSONS” FANTASY AFTER ALL: If you were hoping for the day we will be flying around in cars like George Jetson and his family – think again. The automobile is more Earth-bound and conventional than we thought they would be. There is nothing futuristic about the two latest Cadillac models. Not even the 2020 Toyota Corolla. Perhaps Rivian has some futuristic looks, but they are as far as the spacemobiles seen in any depiction of the year 2020 some decades ago. And, we should be happy. But, did Hanna-Barbera thought we would have a larger Chinese automotive industry if Nixon did not meet Mao in 1972? Nor did they see the growth in India as an automotive producer and a consumer market? That is why a lot of cartoons are actually fictional in their storytelling and purely for entertainment purposes.

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