Chrysler set the mood for 2016’s Detroit auto show by unveiling a new minivan. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Pacifica (it’s a fine vehicle as minivans go), but it doesn’t elicit the pulse-pounding, visceral response that 2015’s Ford GT supercar generated. There were a few head-turning designs, but most of the show focused on practical cars that need to do well for automakers to profit, not the vehicles that lead 10-year-olds to put posters on their bedroom walls.
General Motors Chief Engineer Jeff Yanssens calls the more subdued atmosphere of the show a result of timing. Throwing together a cool, low- volume supercar is fairly easy to do for automakers. Designing high-volume production cars takes more time.
“Coming out of the downturn, all of the automakers realized they needed to revitalize their brands, so we started re-engineering our most important vehicles. That’s what you’re seeing at these launches,” Yanssens says.
During the show, top designers from Ford, GM, Honda, and Chrysler talked to about their new offerings.
North American International Auto Show www.naias.com Chrysler Pacifica
Timothy Kuniskis, head of passenger cars for FCA US LLC, says Chrysler avoided the pitfalls that have plagued other manufacturers who have tried to reinvent the Mom-mobile. There was no discussion of making the 2017 Pacifica, a replacement for the outgoing Town and Country, cool or hip. It’s a minivan designed for parents.
“It has dual sliding doors. There’s no mistaking it for what it is. The customers that have minivans love them, so we didn’t find the need to call it anything else. We’re just saying this is the best minivan available.”
Family-friendly features include charging ports for mobile devices for rear-seat passengers, more entertainment options, and a quieter cabin. A plug-in hybrid version of the minivan (Chrysler is opting to only label it as the hybrid) features a 16kWh battery pack, enough for about 30 miles of electric-only driving.
www.chrysler.com/en/pacifica/ The plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica has enough battery capacity for most drivers to go electric-only in typical daily driving, saving the gasoline engine for road trips. Buick Avista
One of the few exciting concept cars at the show, the Buick Avista features the flowing curves that designers love to sketch but rarely make it into the finished sheet metal. Ed Welburn, General Motors vice president of global design, says unlike some concept cars, the design team made an effort not to overthink the Avista.
“It wasn’t an exhaustive number of sketches that came up with this. It started with one really cool sketch, and we just went with it,” Welburn says.
Typically, he adds, automakers use concept cars to test out ideas on what car buyers might like or what design cues provoke positive responses. The Avista, on the other hand, was more an artistic expression from designers.
“We need to understand customer need and what fits the market. But sometimes, you need to do something like this,” Welburn says.
www.buick.com/avista Buick’s Avista concept car is a two-door, four-seat coupe. General Motors has no plans to build the car, but it received positive reviews in Detroit. Lincoln Continental
Continental designers focused on the idea of “quiet luxury,” with the upcoming flagship sedan for Ford Motor Co.’s luxury brand. Rick Mason, senior designer at Lincoln, says the Continental team wanted to create a peaceful environment for drivers, not throw lots of technology and showy features in their faces.
“This is about designing an experience. There’s a lot of technology here, but that technology supports the environment we’re trying to create. We want to make everything about this car as effortless as possible,” Mason says.
One example, the door handles on the car are single metal pieces with no moving parts. Drivers don’t push in a button or pull on a latch. Grabbing the handles activates a motor that pushes the door open. After sitting down and pulling the door back, the motor re-engages to make the final latch connection.
“It’s the little touches like that, like there’s a chauffeur closing the door for you, that defines luxury,” Mason says.
www.lincoln.com/2017-continental/ Door handles on the 2017 Lincoln Continental have no moving parts. A switch in the handle activates electric motors that open the doors. While the Continental includes high-tech features, designers say they didn’t want to inundate drivers with bells and whistles. Acura Precision
Along with the Buick concept car, the Precision from Honda’s luxury brand was the other notable cool new car on display in Detroit. Michelle Christensen, exterior principle lead designer for Acura, says the Precision reflects where Honda wants to take the Acura brand. So the Precision is more a roadmap than a vehicle the company plans to produce.
“This is our vision statement for the future. It’s our way of showing how to convey the performance of the vehicles through their designs,” Chistensen says. She adds that the design team wanted to take as much inspiration as possible from the Acura NSX supercar that goes on sale this year. Like the NSX, the Precision is very low to the ground.
“We were having so much fun with that basic shape that we wanted to pay more attention to the roof. People are going to see the top of the car, so we wanted to make it look great,” Christensen says.
The rear glass on the car curves at odd angles, something made possible by milling a mold and forming the glass around it, she says. Christensen acknowledges that such extreme design features aren’t likely to land on many production vehicles as they’re very expensive to manufacture. However, “We have some curved glass on the [Honda] Odyssey [minivan], so some level of this is possible.”
http://fv.acura.com/precision-concept The rear glass on the Acura Precision curves to follow design lines from the car’s roof and sides. Acura’s Precision concept features suicide doors to create a wide opening for rear-seat passengers.