January 11, 2016 — The CES hype fest from Las Vegas last week is over. Just scanning the headlines, one would think none of will be owning or driving vehicles in the next couple of years. The reality, however, is that the cars are still the stars and will likely drive record attendance this year to the North American International Show in Detroit which kicks off its media days today.
The Banks Report will provide periodic updates from the show this week as approximately 50 vehicles are scheduled to be unveiled over the next two days.
The auto show follows the Consumer Electronics Show that was held in Las Vegas last week, which saw nearly 500 automotive manufacturers and suppliers exhibit the latest in vehicle and transportation technology. The growing popularity of the show in Vegas had some “pundits” questioning whether the auto shows are relevant any more. The reality is, the U.S. still takes its cars serously — the industry is seeing record sales and that could continue in 2016. And the auto show is where the manufacturers unveil the majority of their products.
While the official start of the Detroit show is today, festivities kicked off last night as Buick unveiled what may be a new design direction for the brand while Mercedes Benz took the wraps off its new E-Class sedan.
Buick, in what was a loosely guarded surprise, unveiled its Avista concept last night. The brand is beginning to make “surprises’ on the eve of the auto show a habit, following last year’s unveiling of the Avenir sedan concept.
Neither vehicle is expected to become production vehicles, but supposedly signal what will be a more exciting design focus for Buick in the future. The Avista is proving to be a hit with the automotive media, however. It’s a 400 hp sports coupe and would be an exciting vehicle for Buick to have in its portfolio. Exciting is one thing, whether it makes sense is another.
Although Buick set a record for global sales in 2015 at 1.23 million — with nearly a million sales coming from China, its U.S. sales dropped 2.4% after five consecutive years of sales increases.
In addition to the Avista, Buick also showed off three new vehicles scheduled to go on sale this year — 2016 Cascada convertible which is slated for showrooms in February; 2016 Envision compact SUV; and the 2017 LaCrosse sedan. The Envision addition was announced in November. Buick, which is importing the Envision from China, is hoping the vehicle fills a glaring hole in the compact SUV category. The three are the first of seven new vehicles Buick will bring to the market by 2018.
The question for Mercedes Benz is whether the new 2017 E-Class unveiled last night be able to regain the panache previous versions held in he midsize sedan segment. The segment saw sales plunge nearly 7% last year continuing the trend of recent years in which it has lost significant ground mostly to crossovers.
Meanwhile, the E-Class, once the segment leader, has come in second to the Lexus ES the last three years with sales dropping 25% last year.
This E-Class might be a difference maker though. It very well might be one the most technologically vehicles on the road once it hits the showrooms this June. It is the only production-rated vehicle to obtain approval to test autonomous driving in Nevada.
Many of the technological features provide the E-Class with semi-autonomous features. The car will practically be able drive itself on highways with its “Drive Pilot” package, which can change lanes, accelerate and brake as needed. The vehicle will also have remote parking capabilities.
The E-Class also will have a voice-activated infotainment system. The system also can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel which means the driver will rarely have to remove his hands from the wheel.
The powertrain, though, moves to a 4-cylinder engine, down from a 6-cylinder package in previous models. It is turbocharged but its 241 hp is about 60 less than last year’s E-Class. But Mercedes will add additional powertrain packages in the future.