The end of an exhausting set of days is behind us, and Detroit's 2013 North American International Auto Show is in the books. Here are some of our highlights as we wandered the manufacturers' floor displays. For the most part, all the automakers did a pretty good job, with Chevy and Ford getting the most buzz with their spotlighted vehicles. Probably our favorite down-sized display was Chevy truck's walk through history with its cabinet of trucks from the last 100 years.
Ford Atlas Concept
Without a doubt, the vehicle of the show was a wonderful last-minute surprise that Ford called the Atlas concept. Say what you will about the look, there is likely to be quite a bit of styling and function details that will make it to production. Whether these features and designs show up on the next F-150 or (we think more likely) on the next Super Duty, we'll have to wait and see, but we like the way the automaker is thinking — once Ford got wind that GM was going to save its big-bang hit, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, for the Detroit auto show, Ford pushed the concept truck into the spotlight. We're not sure this counts as a "bitch-slap" or Kanye West moment like some have noted, but it was fun to watch it play out. We have no doubt it has people meeting and planning, especially at GM and other truckmakers. Our favorite piece of technology on the Atlas? By far, the idea of trailer park-assist could be the game-changer.
Ford Commercial Lineup
Lost in the avalanche of drama surrounding the Atlas concept, Ford debuted to the public its new Transit vans. Ford expects commercial fleet markets to grow as much as 29 percent in the next three years, putting the automaker in the best position of all the U.S. truck- and van-makers to benefit. Also, we keep hearing from the engineers that the baby Power Stroke will be impressive and more powerful than many expect. To recap, the Transit will have three body lengths, four body types, three roof heights and five seating configurations. Finally, does anyone else notice the similarity between the grille shapes of the Atlas and the new Transit?
Chevy EcoTec3 innards
Although much of the buzz in the Chevy booth was about the new Corvette, this auto show was the first time most of the media (certainly the international media) had a chance to see the new Chevy Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. There were three trucks from both brands on display to show the various levels of feature content and trim packaging, but, alas, no dedicated announcements, press releases or conference. What it had was good display of the parts responsible for providing the coolest features of the new EcoTec3 engines: the VVTi cam phaser, the direct-injection fuel rails and cylinder shut-off (or AFM) controller.
GMC Bed Capacity
On the GMC side, as you might expect, things were a little more sophisticated. Even the bed display was antiseptically separated from the rest of the truck — compartmentalized in a dedicated display — to show off the dual-reinforced bed tie-downs that allows for much more creativity when figuring out how to safely strap down your gear. In fact, we found retaining-wall logs paired with a tool chest to be one of the most creative (maybe odd) displays on the floor.
Ram Truck Stripped Frame
The stripped Ram HD 3500 on display next to a fully dressed Ram HD 3500 gave us a chance to see the inner workings of the larger, reinforced crossmembers that allow the new HDs to get such monster gross combined weight numbers (be sure to check out the video). Still, there are some issues of exact maximum payload numbers (especially in regards to max fifth-wheel numbers) and maximum conventional towing numbers that need to be addressed. We're told by one of our Ram insiders that until the rest of the segment goes full blown into the J2807 procedures and requirements, it doesn't make sense for Ram to step out. However, knowing that trigger could be pulled at any time, it make sense to us that the Ram engineers have calculated a lot of these numbers with all the procedures and requirements in mind.
Jeep 3.0L V-6 TD
Although clearly not a pickup truck, we still think its worth noting that the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT still has some import to us as it sports the 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi, offers a 9-inch corporate rear end, a 7,200-pound towing capacity and has a dedicated towing detent on the sporty Selec-Track center dial. Once the Tow setting is selected, the suspension can tighten, load leveling gets more aggressive, the transfer case splits power 50/50 and the new eight-speed automatic transmission holds gears longer at launch and downgrades. That kind of integration would work quite nicely on a pickup, as well. Additionally, the Grand Cherokee will get a 3.0-liter 60-degree V-6 turbodiesel that makes 420 pounds-feet of torque for 2014, and we see no reason why that VM Motori wouldn't fit into a 2014 Ram 1500. We'll stay optimistic until we hear otherwise.
Via Motors X-Trux
One of very few trucks that had us stop dead in our tracks was this concept truck from Via (pronounced Veee-ahh). We noted earlier how special the Via press conference was due to the high-flying female acrobats over the media seats, but this truck was even more impressive. Essentially, Via bolted two of its 400-horsepower-producing electric motors together along with a traditional transfer case to create an 800-hp 4x4 ready to blow away everything on the street or through the desert — and do it all with software controls. We'll have more on this truck later, but it is the brain child of Via board member and former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz (who, by all accounts, had his way with the exterior design team) as well as quite a bit of spectacular engineering from a pair of brothers from Utah. We've been told it will be a little while before we can get behind the wheel, so stay tuned.
Gibbs Quadski ATV
After seeing Craftsman show a lawnmower (albeit a pretty cool lawnmower) at last year's NAIAS, we were not surprised to see something like this on the show floor. Gibbs has spent the last 15 years getting this new product going, and now it has arrived: Behold, the first amphibious ATV we've ever seen at an auto show. You may have seen the Gibbs Quadski reviewed by Car and Driver or Popular Mechanics, both offering relatively high praise for the dual-sport bedtoy. The Quadski uses a single BMW-sourced engine, converts from one medium to another with the push of a button and is reported to be able to maintain speeds of 45 mph (on land). Early reports noted the Quadski was to go on sale two months ago; there have been some delays, but Gibbs is taking orders. Pricing is likely to be north of $35,000.
Cars.com Work Vehicle Award
Over the last few years, Cars.com has been getting a bit of a reputation for throwing one of the biggest and best parties at NAIAS. We usually have a good band at the party and take the opportunity to present a few award to some of the vehicles we think have been standouts throughout the year. Yours truly got to present the Work Vehicle Award this year at the party, where the Ford F-150 took home the prize. The award is an interesting one because we define the category of "work" so broadly that it allows cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups to compete against one another. We include hypermiling commuters, head-honcho statement cars, family-carrying beasts-of-burden, and work-horse pickups all against one another. After many long hours of debate, we had a winner. Congrats to Ford.
Toyota Chose to Endeavour
Although there was a lonely Tundra and Tacoma in the newly designed Toyota display, there was no truck news to be had. Rumors are flying fast and loud that a new Tacoma or Tundra is just around the corner, but we couldn't confirm them. However, we did note that if ever there was an argument for the absolute necessity of a standardized test for determining maximum tow ratings (meaning SAE's J2807), it would be the fact that Toyota is making such a big deal about towing the Space Shuttle Endeavour 200 yards over a Southern California freeway overpass. We would also like to note that Toyota is the only truckmaker to be adhering to the J2807 towing with all its vehicles (in fact, it has been for several years). We expect that someday consumers will be able to compare Toyota's SAE-calculated towing numbers with the rest of the segment, but it won't be soon.
What We Drove in Detroit
While in Detroit for the auto show, we were able to drive a 2013 Ram 1500 crew cab SLT 4x4 with the Pentastar engine and new eight-speed automatic transmission. We like this combination; ours had the full navigation system, the big center console and the air-ride suspension. The truck was priced right at $40,000 and gave us 20.1 mpg over the 100-or-so miles we drove while in town. Granted, we don't normally lightfoot the throttle, but we weren't doing anything crazy. Most of those miles were done around town, to and from the convention center, with a jaunt to Ann Arbor, Mich., and a local design studio that I can't say anything about yet.