Detroit Auto Show: New Models Take Center Stage

By John Stewart

This week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, many cars and trucks that could be important to SEMA-member retailers and manufacturers were debuted. Among those likely to be of interest to enthusiasts and the companies that serve them are the ’14 Corvette, ’14 Lexus IS and ’14 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Also shown was a “concept” version of what is thought to be Ford’s next F-Series pickup. If there was a single theme to the show, it was about enhancing mileage without sacrificing performance.

’14 Corvette

’14 Corvette

The seventh-generation Corvette is said to be the fastest, most powerful standard Corvette in history. An all-new LT1 6.2L small-block V8, which produces an estimated 450 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque, powers the car. The engine also generates 50 lb.-ft. more low-end torque than the previous 6.2L engine, matching the 7.0L LS7 engine from the ’13 Corvette Z06 from 1,000 to 4,000 rpm. The engine’s performance comes from advanced technologies, such as direct injection, Active Fuel Management and continuously variable valve timing.

The LT1 is mated to either a six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission or a TREMEC TR6070 seven-speed manual with Active Rev Matching. The Corvette retains its distinctive rear transaxle layout for optimal, 50/50 weight balance. The car is expected to be capable of accelerating to 60 mph in less than four seconds.

The LT1 will be backed by a choice of active exhaust systems. The standard system offers a 13% improvement in airflow and features a pair of butterfly valves that contribute to greater refinement at cruising speeds when the engine is operating in fuel-saving V4 mode. An optional dual-mode active exhaust system offers a 27% improvement in airflow through the use of two valves that open a lower-restriction path through the mufflers.

According to Chevrolet spokesmen, the latest Corvette represents a completely new design, sharing virtually no parts with its predecessor. Compared to the previous generation, which uses hydroformed main framerails with a constant 2mm wall thickness, the new Corvette’s frame features main rails composed of five customized aluminum segments. Each segment is tuned, varying in thickness from 2 mm to 11 mm, to tailor the gauge, shape and strength properties to optimize each frame section with minimal weight. The frame will be assembled at a new welding shop at the Bowling Green, Kentucky, Assembly Plant using a unique laser welding process with very fine tolerances of about 0.001-in.

Other innovative materials include a standard carbon-fiber hood and roof panel, and underbody panels that incorporate carbon-nano composite that combines traditional composite material and carbon fiber, which allows lighter underbody panels without a loss of strength or stiffness. The fenders, doors, rear quarter panels and the rear hatch panel are made with a lighter sheet molded compound than the previous generation to save approximately 37 lbs. versus the previous body structure. The chassis features 35mm Bilstein monotube shocks or 45 mm Bilsteins with the Z51 performance package.

Brembo will provide calipers and discs and assemble those components into full corners at its newly expanded Homer, Michigan, site. The four-piston, two-piece aluminum calipers were designed specifically for weight savings and drag reduction, with virtually no distortion from high thermal and torque loads, even under the most demanding conditions. The calipers are anodized for superior corrosion resistance.

The new Corvette’s wheelbase is approximately 1 in. longer than the previous generation, with front and rear tracks that are almost 1 in. wider. Those changes are designed to provide greater stability, especially at high speeds, while the turning radius is decreased by approximately 2 ft. to allow for quicker turning.

The ’14 Corvette will have five driving modes that alter 12 different systems, including the optional electronic limited-slip differential that’s part of the Z51 track package. In “eco” mode, the all-new V8 will shut off four cylinders for maximum fuel economy, while in “track” mode, Chevy engineers say the new Corvette will pull more than 1.0 g of cornering force.

The ’14 Corvette is expected to launch this fall. Prices probably won’t be announced until late summer.

’14 Lexus IS

’14 Lexus IS

According to Lexus spokesmen, every aspect of the IS has been engineered with renewed focus on engaging performance, agile handling, accurate response to driver input and highly communicative feedback. The IS will be available in rear- and “all-weather drive” versions of the IS 250 and IS 350. There will also be a further evolution of the high-performance F Sport model, with some F Sport equipment available across the entire model range. For Europe, Japan and select international markets, the IS 300h will be offered—the first IS to feature Lexus Hybrid Drive.

The newest IS is larger, with more rear-seat comfort and a bigger trunk. Rear- and all-weather drive versions of the IS 250 are powered by a 2.5L V6 gas engine. The IS 350 features a 3.5L V6 gas engine. The IS 300h will employ the Lexus Hybrid Drive powertrain, based on a newly developed 2.5L Atkinson-cycle engine.

The new IS offers up to four switchable driving modes—ECO, NORMAL, SPORT and SPORT S+ (S+ available on IS 350 only)—to optimize vehicle systems to suit the driver’s preferred combination of fuel economy, comfort, performance and handling characteristics.

The IS 350 RWD features the eight-speed, Sport Direct Shift (SPDS) automatic transmission from the IS F high-performance sedan with quicker shifts, full torque converter lockup and throttle blips in manual mode. The new IS is the first Lexus model to adopt G force Artificial Intelligence (G-AI) control in Sport mode. This system automatically selects the optimal gear and downshift pattern in response to G force and maintains the selected gear through a corner.

The all-new Lexus IS will go on sale in mid-2013.

Ford Atlas Concept

Ford Atlas Concept

Ford’s Atlas is a pickup concept that showcases ideas Ford could incorporate into the next F-Series pickup when the line is redesigned for the ’15 model year. Styling philosophy remains consistent with the Ford F-Series brand, but there are a host of new “smart” features that directly attack the problem of fuel economy in pickups, and add utility.

It has been widely reported that Ford intends to make extensive use of aluminum in order to make the truck about 700 lbs. lighter, for fuel economy reasons. Also to enhance fuel economy, we can expect that a version of the twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 will be offered, along with a start-stop ignition.

The concept also sported active aerodynamic elements to clean up air flow, which is a primary culprit affecting highway mileage in boxy vehicles, such as pickups. These included active grille shutters that automatically close on the highway, a drop-down air dam and power running boards that retract when the truck is running. Active wheel shutters, capable of closing at highway speeds, use self-charging batteries that collect energy from the wheels’ motion. All of these ideas, and others, would save more than 2 mpg on the highway without diminishing towing or hauling capacity.

Other features showcased on the Ford Atlas Concept were based on utility. There is a dual-purpose tailgate step and a dynamic hitch assist that can precisely line up the truck’s hitch with the trailer coupling. LED headlamps and taillights are brighter and longer lasting than halogen or HID lights. The concept also has hidden cargo ramps that stow beneath the cargo box and can be quickly set up to enable easy loading of wheeled cargo.

Other utility features included multiple tie-down points integrated within the cargo box walls and load floor, along with 110-volt electrical outlets in the cargo box to charge power tools. An integrated roof-carrying system adds functionality and cargo capacity.

The interior features thin, lightweight seating in comfortable leather to create extra legroom for rear passengers. “Floating” instrument pods and glove-friendly buttons and controls keep the interior functional, with rugged yet stylish design elements.

It’s not clear how many of these features will make the production version of the new F-Series pickup, or what the cost will be, but it seems obvious Ford is intent on exploring every possible option.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

’14 Jeep Grand Cherokee

For the ’14 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the big news is the availability of a 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 that will deliver 30 mpg. The 24-valve, dual-overhead cam diesel V6 produces 240 hp, 420 lb.-ft. of torque and is designed to offer clean-diesel technology with low CO2 emissions. The diesel will enable a driving range of more than 730 miles and towing capacity of 7,400 lbs.

The Grand Cherokee will also offer the 5.7L V8, which has been enhanced with variable valve timing and cylinder-deactivation technology to improve fuel economy by 5%, up to 21 mpg on the highway.

There will also be a new, eight-speed automatic transmission that boosts fuel efficiency across all powertrains while improving Grand Cherokee’s 4x4 performance with a lower crawl ratio. Further improving fuel economy is a new Eco Mode for 2014. Eco Mode optimizes the transmission’s shift schedule and, in V8 models, enables cylinder deactivation. In addition, the Eco Mode activates Grand Cherokee’s air suspension system, lowering it to “Aero Ride Height” when the vehicle speed remains between 52 mph and 56 mph, or exceeds 56 mph.

Jeep also announced that the ’14 Grand Cherokee will continue with three 4x4 systems, the Quadra-Lift air suspension and Selec-Terrain traction management system with a new Selec-Speed control.

Shelby Wide Body and Focus ST

’13 Shelby GT500 Super Snake Wide Body

Shelby American Inc. displayed the new, 850hp ’13 Shelby GT500 Super Snake Wide Body, as well as the new performance-tuned Shelby Focus ST. The two cars are the newest high-performance vehicles available from Shelby American.

Shelby American takes the stock 662hp ’13 GT500 and boosts its performance to a street-legal 850 hp while keeping it 50-state emissions legal and tuned to run on 91-octane pump gas. Adding Shelby's new Wide Body option makes room for tires that can put that kind of power to the pavement. The optional wide-body package will allow you to put a 345 or even a 355 wide tire on the back, giving the Super Snake much more traction.

Even though the new Wide Body Super Snake will have Mustang lovers drooling, it is the return of Carroll Shelby's beloved "Pocket Rocket" that may be the biggest news in Detroit.

Designed in the Shelby facility next to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the front-wheel-drive Shelby Focus ST is a driver’s performance car with an affordable price.

New Ford Racing suspension pieces lower the car, and wheel and tire upgrades improve grip and traction. The bigger Shelby spec brakes with drilled rotors enhance stopping power. The exhaust is a product of a Shelby/Borla collaboration.

According to reports, the post-title package for the ’13 Shelby GT500 Super Snake starts at $28,995 (662 hp) and $39,995 (850 hp). The wide-body option adds another $14,995, not including the base GT500. The ’13 Shelby Focus ST post-title package begins at $14,995, not including the Ford Focus ST, and will be limited to 500 per model year.