Walk through the Hall A entrance to the Detroit auto show at the north end of Cobo and you’re standing on the gridiron. The automotive Super Bowl. You can almost smell the testosterone.
A long purple carpet marks the scrimmage line separating the Ford and Chevy teams.
These two arch-enemies face each other across the carpet with armies of firepower.
Up front are the fleet-of-foot athletes. At the fore of GM’s arsenal is its Pro Bowl superstar, the all-new 755-horsepower, supercharged V-8 Corvette ZR1 supercar — fire it up, and its flame-throwing exhaust and explosive roar will shame Tuesday’s meteor display.
Its opposite is another legend, the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt in a Highland Green jersey, just like the original ’68 that Steve McQueen rode into battle in the movie of that name. Indeed, the original car — recently restored — is lined up next to it. Flanking the ’Stangs is a ruby-red, carbon-fiber Ford GT — wearing a heritage 1966 LeMans livery.
Across the aisle, the ZR1 is backed up by a menacing red Corvette Grand Sport and orange “Hot Wheels” edition Camaro SS.
But the real might is farther back.
Detroit’s pickup titans have rolled out all-new models of the Chevy Silverado, Ford Ranger, and the first-ever diesel-powered F-150. An all-new Ram 1500 pickup looms nearby.
The Super Bowl of trucks is on! Are you ready to rrrrrrrumble?!
Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne talks truck wars, Chinese vehicles, and electric and autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Detroit auto show with Detroit News autos team writers Ian Thibodeau and Nora Naughton. Tom Gromak, The Detroit News
Four truck reveals in the same show are as rare as Halley’s Comet, so enjoy the moment.
In 2014, the lightweight all-aluminum Ford F-150 rocked the auto show and the trucking world braced for an aluminum future. Didn’t happen. What happened instead was a mid-size truck future.
General Motors countered Ford’s move by moving into mid-size pickups, with the Colorado and Canyon. Four years and an 83 percent boom in mid-size sales later, Ford is catching up with the competition with the F-150 Junior, the steel-bed Ranger. It’s built Ford Tough (the only frame-mounted bumper in segment) and loaded with technology (Raptor-like descent control).
Meanwhile, Chevy shows its first Silverado since the aluminum F-150 broke the sales barrier. The reveal Chevy makes its bed from good old-fashioned rolled steel — part of a mixed-metal strategy (aluminum doors, hood, tailgate) that tips the scales 450 pounds lighter than the last generation. The Silverado also begs to differ on engine strategy. Ignoring Ford’s move to turbo-6s, it boasts the small-block V-8 — and a new diesel.
Not to be outdone, Ford called an audible with its own 3.0-liter diesel, the first F-150 oil-burner. It looks out over the display like Simba on Pride Rock.
Ahem, says Ram, can I butt in here?
The innovative 1500 wowed truckers with its intimidating cross-hair grille and smooth ride in 2009. Now, as the Silverado and F-150 put on ever-fiercer masks, Ram detours to a more-subtle SUV-like grille. It’s part of a stylish package that includes a 12-inch console screen on premium trucks — call it the Tesla trim — and storage boxes for the bed. Which, by the way, is made of steel.
GM Product Chief Mark Reuss trash-talked at Silverado’s introduction last week: “The working end of every pickup is the bed. It’s like the head of a good hammer. I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer.”
Oh, it’s on.
For all the heavy artillery at the Detroit displays, there is surprising elegance elsewhere.
While you could hear the hard-rockin’, strobe-lightin’ truck reveals a mile away, Audi quietly brought in its all-new, second-generation Audi A7 onto its show stand and just left it there for its first North American sighting.
The German beauty, with its long sportback and roomy rear hatch, is a luxury icon. But look close and its redesign has some unmistakable Yankee touches. Its muscled shoulders have been to the Camaro gym, while its horizontal rear-LED light mimics Lincoln. Inside, the Audi contradicts years of European design by moving from remote, dial-controlled infotainment systems to a Cadillac-like haptic-touch interface.
Audi’s influence on other floor models, however, is unmistakable. Across from the Ram display, the Kia Stinger GT is hard to miss. With A7-like specs for an A4 price, the Stinger redefines Kia as an upscale mainstream brand. And there’s Buick’s lovely Regal Sportback, appearing in Cobo for the first time, with a wardrobe that will force folks to look away from SUVs and consider a sedan again.
Utes, utes, utes
Speaking of the devil, SUVs dominate the show floor this year, just as they dominate the market. Everyone’s got something new but four stand out.
I wish you could see the wild 650-horsepower Lamborghini Urus, the “Super SUV” the Italian super-car maker unveiled in Midtown. But the Urus won’t be in Cobo. The $85,000 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will be — and it beats the $200,000 Lambo zero-60: 3.5 seconds to 3.6.
Acura is going back to its sporty roots with the sculpted RDX, which will grow A-Spec and Type-S performance badges, just like the good ol’ days. Speaking of badges, SUVs are so hot that Ford debuted its hot-rod ST trim on the Edge crossover before the Fusion sedan.
And China’s GAC will enter the U.S. market next year with an SUV, naturally. The three-row Trumpchi GS8 will cross the Pacific to take on the formidable Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer. It will change the brand name — which means “legend” in Chinese — to something, um, more politically neutral.
Good things come in 3s ... and 19s
The show features big reveals this year — but as always, there are delicious details. Like the three-door Hyundai Veloster — back for a second-gen with three new trims — and the three-wheel Slingshot roadster next to the equally eye-popping BMW i8 Roadster.
Want to see the fastest production car in the world? The 277-mph Koenigsegg Agera RS is on the Michelin stand.
Then drop by the Subaru stage and check out the new three-row Ascent SUV. See if you can find all 19 cupholders.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
Detroit auto show
Location: Cobo Center, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit
Dates: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 20 to Jan. 27; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 28
Tickets: Adults, $14; age 65 and older, $7; children 7-12, $7; 6 and younger free when accompanied by a parent or guardian. To order tickets online or to learn more, visit naias.com.
Parking: Joe Louis Arena Garage, 900 W. Jefferson; Millennium Garage, 432 W. Congress; Ford Underground Garage, 30 E. Jefferson.
Writer: Henry Payne Designer: Jamie Hollar Editor: Greg Tasker