Detroit 2018: A trade fair in descent - guest contribution by Jens Meiners

Mercedes-Benz New Year's reception on the eve of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) 2018. World premiere of the new Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Mercedes-Benz New Year's Reception on the eve of the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). World premiere of the new Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

The Cobo Hall at Detroit Rover has seen better days. The exhibition center, which was opened in 1960 and is at least on the inside from the 90s, has been the location of the auto show organized annually by the Detroit dealer association since 1965.

In the heyday, the “wedding in heaven” between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler was celebrated; Ford presented itself with a conglomerate of international premium brands and GM launched one product after another under long-faded brand names such as Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Chrysler's concept cars were legendary, no one presented themselves more elaborately than the Auburn Hills brand.

The New Beetle established the rapid rebirth of the Volkswagen brand on the US market, and the trade fair was free of such surprises this year. In fact, the picture was extremely ambiguous. Some manufacturers use the fair traditionally for world premieres, presentations and network maintenance. Others have reduced their presence to a minimum. And other manufacturers are completely missing.

Mercedes-Benz belongs to the first category. The world premiere of the remodeled G-model in a brilliant show in the discarded Michigan Theater was probably the highlight of the fair. The star guest was the actor and ex-governor of California, "Terminator" Arnold Schwarzenegger, who boldly deviated from the given script in a dialogue with Dieter Zetsche, which the Daimler boss parried quickly.

The new G justifies the effort: The off-road icon, which was once developed for military use, takes the biggest step in her career and still remains a real G. The second major trade fair premiere is only of national importance: the VW Jetta, which for the first time is no longer available in Europe and that is completely on the safe side with its conservative design for the USA.

The hugely successful new pick-up models of the Americans - Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Ranger - are likely to go abroad in large numbers at home. With the classically elegant Q-Inspiration study, Infiniti shows the first work of BMW's chief designer Karim Habib, Nissan surprises with the futuristic Xmotion study, and the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept car reinterprets a crossover.

Lexus LF-1 concept Photo: James Lipman /

The large, inexpensive Toyota Avalon and the pretty Hyundai Veloster shine among the series cars. The Jeep Cherokee gets a facelift that makes it look a bit more ordinary than before. And in addition to a concept car, the Chinese GAC group is showing the entire sales range of its own Trumpchi brand. This brand name has been hastily deleted for the US market for obvious reasons, but it can still be seen on the cars in various places.

The exhibition areas of Alfa Romeo, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln and Genesis present themselves without any novelty. At Audi there are not even contact persons from the parent company in Ingolstadt. No other brands appeared at all - including Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover and exotic cars like Bugatti. But because the dealers don't want to miss the opportunity to present their cars anyway, the public experiences what is probably the most unprofessional supercar exhibition ever. A Bugatti Chiron simply stands around on the carpet - without lighting or any form of staging.

So Detroit is certainly not the fair of the exotic, but it is clearly not a fair of electromobility either. After all, you are in the Midwest, and there is healthy skepticism about this expensive and environmentally questionable technology. Instead of utopian eco-mobiles, the local industry prefers to score with diesel engines, which are now slowly emerging from the niche in passenger cars and even being aggressively brought to the fore in pick-ups.

In this context, manufacturers from Japan and America should welcome the fact that the Germans - with the exception of BMW - have given up the diesel engine on the US market. The Germans are subject to the erroneous assumption that US customers are particularly concerned with the topic of the "diesel scandal". This is only the case with the few owners who believe that they can still get something out of the way financially. As modest as many manufacturers appear this year, the suppliers present themselves as innovative. ZF announces excellent figures and shows technologies and electronic architectures for autonomous driving. At Schaeffler, powerful electric motors and axles can be seen. Development Board Member Peter Gutzmer expects an electric share of up to 2030 percent by 30, which in turn means that 70 percent of the fleet will still be wholly or at least partially powered by a combustion engine.

However, many of the most interesting technology topics overlap with the CES in Las Vegas, which took place just a few days earlier. If it wants to regain its old importance as a car show, NAIAS should consider a change of concept, maybe even a change of location - because the level of bureaucracy in the Cobo Hall is amazing. A summer auto show in Michigan, perhaps alternating with the IAA and surrounding the Woodward Dream Cruise classic car event, could save the status as the most important US trade fair from Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles. (ampnet / jm)

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