The Detroit auto show this year was noticeably more upbeat than in years past, but the biggest disappointment by far was not seeing either of the new GM pickup trucks — the upcoming full-size half-tons or the smaller Chevrolet Colorado platform. Many expected timing to be just right for some kind of concept-looking debut. But we got nothing.
With year-end sales pointing to better times ahead of us, most of the manufacturers showed off their newest fuel-efficient technologies and small-car prowess. This seemed a little odd because the small-car segment saw only small gains in 2011 and is not a huge chunk of the total market. On the other hand, light trucks — which include vans, crossovers, SUVs and pickups — made up about 57 percent of the market this past year, with pickups making the biggest “comeback” in sales.
Interestingly, you wouldn’t know any of that on the show floor, with sedans, small-car hybrids and electric vehicles making the most noise during the media preview. Still, there were a few sports cars, a minivan, a few interesting concepts and a microcar masquerading as a pickup.
The Craftsman CTX 9500 became the first tractor ever to be shown at the auto show in Detroit. The CTX goes on sale in February and is called a tractor (instead of a lawnmower) because the blade attachment can be removed and replaced with other equipment. The PTO-type gear can be setup to help spread rock salt, help provide hydraulic power, or run a blade off the front. It even has cup holders. The largest engine is a 30-horsepower Briggs & Stratton, and the vehicle offers traction control and a rear locking differential. Would be nice to see Craftsman back at the show next year with a small pickup model.
This specialty-project Toyota Tundra debuted at the 2011 SEMA show, and we shot a video of the truck because the custom-built bed had two hinged outer panels that revealed tons of shelved storage area in the bed wall. The entire skin was sprayed with Rhino Lining to give it a tough, roughened outer texture. Big wheels and tires, as well as a mild lift, give the DC Shoes Tundra the perfect stance to be a solid support vehicle for any enduro or motocross race.
Powertrain and technology innovator ZF displayed their new eight-speed hybrid transmission, with a great cutaway available for internal viewing. This transmission is currently in the Audi Q5 hybrid that the German automaker showed in its booth. This front-wheel-drive-biased unit offers a rear driveshaft that engages when front slip is detected. Also, the front driveshaft is internally mounted to protect the inner and outer shafts. The unit is reported to be able to support almost 600 Nm (about 442 pounds-feet) of torque. When asked if there was any reason this transmission couldn’t go into a RWD pickup truck or be mated behind a V-8, they told us this was the transmission slated for the new Nissan Titan until the project (which was to share the current Ram platform) was killed. Some have speculated it could make it into the new GM and Ford half-tons as well.
In the basement of Cobo Center, we saw this. The company name is GoShichi, and it gives automotive mobility to people who use wheelchairs. This is not a small modification to a pickup truck, but the solution is pretty cool. Both driver-side crew-cab doors are cut and removed and welded into a single piece, and then a huge extendable arm and lift is installed in the rear seat area. The result will pick up and drop off a full-size wheelchair and occupant and allow the driver to operate a truck with hand controls for throttle and brake. The setup can be personalized to accommodate all sorts of chair variations and handle up to 750 pounds. The unit’s warranty is three years and 36,000 miles.
Ford’s unveiling of the Fusion took center stage, so Ford trucks were scarce. (We assume they bring in the Super Dutys for consumer days.) In fact, we found only two pickup trucks in the entire display: one Raptor on lift display and an F-150 with a huge Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award in the bed. Interestingly, the Raptor lift had a kiosk where attendees (journalists and consumers) could cast a vote as to which engine is more appealing in the Raptor: the EcoBoost or V-8. No doubt Ford is collecting data to see if there is a business case for putting the smaller V-6 in the Raptor. We’re guessing Ford will figure out it could sell plenty of Raptors with the twin-turbo V-6. And the fact that Ford is asking the question leads us to believe it has already decided. Anyone recognize the gentleman at the far right?
Students at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., had an amazing display of some their creations. This Jeev pickup (short for Jeep-like vehicle) caught our eye because it displays some interesting technology. The Jeev runs on battery power that acts as a platform foundation of the truck. The batteries are powered and charged by a wind and water turbine housed in the bed that sits directly behind the electric-hydraulic motor that powers the wheels. The camper pod over the bed is held in place with rails and acts as a storage trunk. The “Tweels” use aggressive rubber treads, an aluminum center mounting plate and flexible urethane spokes. The wheelbase and overall length of the regular cab Jeev sits right in between the two-door and four-door Wrangler, and the vehicle easily accommodates two adults and some gear. We’re guessing the Jeep guys spent some time huddled around this model.
The 2012 Ram Express Quad Cab 4x4 we drove at the show gave us a chance to experience the new 65RFE six-speed transmission. It certainly isn’t perfect, but having access to all six gears via the tap-up/tap-down selector sure feels better. The first gear is still too tall and seems to rob some of the Hemi’s thunder (but it still makes a nice noise). Pricing (View this monroney photo) for our vehicle was right on $30,000, and the truck we drove had several extras, bringing the total to $35,000. The interior stays the same and still has the trailer brake controller in the wrong place, and it retains the odd Dodge name at the top of the center stack and Ram near the bottom. We’ll assume some of the more obvious issues to be addressed in the next refresh, which we believe will happen in 2014 or sooner. We clocked more than 100 miles on our visit to Detroit and averaged 16.8 mpg, doing most of our driving on city streets, and two long jaunts to and from the airport.
Fiat, the parent owner of Jeep and Maserati, finally gave the Italian supercar maker its own SUV in the form of the Kubang. The new Maserati is all Jeep Grand Cherokee underneath except for the engine — expect a 500-hp Ferrari 4.0-liter V-8 under the hood. Some have speculated the starting price will never get below $120,000. Oddly, Maserati had two stunningly tall supermodels draped in revealing gowns that were clearly meant to distract the predominantly male audience from looking too closely at the vehicle. We thought it funny a vehicle this expensive couldn’t have its own nameplate set straight.
Via Motors garnered quite a bit of attention as it showed its new powertrain option for new full-size SUVs, work vans and pickup trucks. Via’s booth had a Chevrolet Suburban 2500 on display; however, we were told the pickup truck choice was limited to half-ton vehicles only — a better match for the capabilities of the powertrain, Via told us. The eREV system has an eight-year warranty and will be most attractive to municipalities and utility companies that will need the portable power availability for both working in remote areas or providing neighborhood support when issues regarding grid usage are at risk. Still, the price was $80,000. No doubt those costs will come down over time and don't include any state or federal rebates and their is something to the idea that your truck could have enough power to run your neighborhood and charge your neighbors electric car if the power goes out.
Quite possibly the funniest vehicle at the show, the Smart For-us mini pickup could only be described as a “pickup” by someone who’s spent too many years in Europe. There’s no question that issues such as “responsible powertrains” and “smaller-footprint engineering” will be key priorities for any future vehicle designs, but we don’t think we’re at this stage yet. This little concept doesn’t just stretch the definition of useful and functional; it mangles it to the point of perversion. If we wanted something small and capable, I think we’d opt for the Craftsman CTX and pull a bed trailer behind us that would have more cargo capacity and volume than For-us. And I'm sure it'd be cheaper, too. Not much here that's likely make it to production but it did give a small-car company a chance to play with the idea of a more versatile cargo deck.