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Motor City Makeover: Highlights From 2019 NAIAS

By David Hakim

As domestic manufacturers shift away from sedans and coupes, trucks and SUVs continued to dominate the 2019 North American International Show (NAIAS), held in the heart of the Motor City. With less emphasis on autonomous vehicles at this year’s show, many of the manufacturers are focusing offerings on trucks and SUVs that are powerful, highly capable and technically advanced. Many of these will make great raw material for aftermarket parts manufacturers.

Just like the horsepower wars of the ’60s, some of today’s truck (and even SUV) buyers will brag about horsepower and torque, but then it leads into towing capacity, and even how much drywall and lumber they can haul in the bed. But for the most part, with sales of light- and medium-duty trucks, along with SUVs, once again booming due to lower gas and diesel prices, the show floor resembled a parking lot at Home Depot or Lowes.

But don’t think the OEMs have totally given up on building hot cars. The demand might be limited, but there are still ravenous gearheads out there willing to plunk down their hard-earned paychecks on something that doesn’t have a bed or falls into some “utility” category. This year’s introductions saw the return of nostalgia-based, iconic performance car nameplates, such as the Toyota Supra and Shelby Mustang.

With all that, here’s a snapshot of what the automakers unveiled at the 2019 NAIAS in Detroit.

’19 RAM 2500/3500 Heavy Duty

’19 RAM

The ’19 RAM 1500 has been out in force for more than six months, and offers aftermarket companies endless possibilities, from a street cruiser to off-road prowler. With the 5.7L Hemi under that long hood, there are already performance parts that will bolt on and increase the power levels well past the factory’s 395hp rating.

At NAIAS, the ’19 RAM Heavy Duty was center stage, claiming the most powerful and capable pickup in the segment. Equipped with the Cummins engine, the RAM HD is rated to tow up to 35,100 lbs., with never-seen-before earth-moving torque of 1,000 lb.-ft. at just 1,800 rpm. Horsepower also got bumped to 400 at 2,800 rpm. The new cylinder block is made from compacted graphite iron and weighs more than 60 lbs. less than the previous-generation engine, while pumping out way more torque. RAM engineers also played with the exhaust manifold and developed an improved variable-geometry turbocharger with laminated heat shields that delivers boost pressure up to 33 psi.

All ’19 RAM trucks have a completely redesigned interior with new, authentic premium materials, colors and textures, including hand-wrapped leather instrument panels for unexpected luxury throughout the cabin. There’s also more than 100 safety and security features, including exclusive active safety systems in all models: adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and AEB with trailer brakes. Plus, there’s a Uconnect 4C NAV with a 12-in. fully configurable screen, including SiriusXM 360L with a thumping 750-watt, 17-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Apple CarPlay is an available option.

’19 RAM Power Wagon

There’s also a new RAM Power Wagon coming in the second quarter of 2019. The ’19 RAM Power Wagon comes with a 410hp 6.4L Hemi V8 with cylinder deactivation and variable cam timing (VCT) that also makes 429 lb.-ft. of torque under its sculpted aluminum hood. Along with the loud n’ proud stripes, the Power Wagon receives a more aggressive grille. The ’19 RAM Power Wagon will also have a unique suspension with a factory suspension lift, locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting sway bar and a 12,000-lb. winch. What’s also new to the Power Wagon this year is a 360-degree camera, which includes forward-view camera gridlines to help navigate obstacles. An all-new and integrated front-mounted WARN Zeon-12 with a new synthetic line won’t kink or fray and is more maneuverable.

’20 Shelby GT500

’20 Shelby GT500

When the ’20 Shelby GT500 was dramatically lowered from the stage, Blue Oval gearheads got a car that can play with the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon and Hellcat. And it should—Ford claims this is the most powerful Ford production car ever, based on the GT500’s hand-built supercharged 5.2L aluminum alloy engine. Their engineers and marketing folks are being coy with the official horsepower numbers, only saying that it will be well north of 700. One trick engine piece is the inverted 2.65L roots-type supercharger with air-to-liquid intercooler tucked neatly in the V8 engine valley.

Only one transmission will be offered in ’20 Shelby GT500—a TREMEC seven-speed dual-clutch unit that can shift smoothly in less than 100 milliseconds, much faster than a human doing it himself with a manual gearbox. The dual-clutch transmission will incorporate a number of drive modes, including normal, slippery, sport, drag and track, and features line-lock and rpm-selectable launch control through selectable Track Apps.

Michelin tires, Brembo brakes, revised suspension geometry, new electronic power steering, lighter-weight coil springs front and rear, and Ford’s next-generation active MagneRide will make the ’20 Shelby GT500 a legit track car. According to Ford spokesmen, the ’20 Shelby GT500 will be an honest 11-second quarter-miler and with drag radials and some aftermarket parts, could be a low-10-second machine when it goes on sale later in 2019.

’19 Ford Ranger

’19 Ranger

Midsize pickups are making a comeback, and Ford’s new Ranger is leading the convoy. Shown to the public for the first time at this event last year, the Ranger is now hitting the dealer’s showroom (production began in October) and fills a sweet spot among buyers with best-in-class payload and towing. 

With EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, Ranger is the most fuel-efficient, gas-powered midsize pickup in America, thanks in part to its 2.3L EcoBoost gasoline four-cylinder engine. The engine, making 270 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, betters many V6 offerings in the midsize truck segment.

For towing and payload, Ranger comes in at 7,500 lbs. of towing capacity with the 2.3L and available tow package and 1,860 lbs. of maximum payload.

’20 Ford Explorer ST

’20 Explorer ST

Ford introduced an all-new ’20 Explorer, a complete redesign of the model it replaces. Engineers made sure to incorporate smart new technologies, including Ford Co-Pilot360, with myriad driver-assist technologies from pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, to blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert.

Powering the ’20 Ford Explorer will be the 2.3L EcoBoost engine, and enthusiasts will be happy to know that an optional 3.0L turbocharged EcoBoost V6 producing 365 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque (on 93-octane gas) will be available.

Plus, the new Ford Explorer ST is coming soon to play with the likes of the Dodge Durango SRT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport HSE and other hot-rod SUVs. Motivating the Explorer ST will be a 400hp twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6 engine churning out 415 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s borrowed from Lincoln, but they’re okay with it. What the Explorer ST provides is a 143-mph people hauler. Look for an even crazier trim level known as the ST Track Package coming soon. Both ST models will ride on 21-in. aluminum wheels and upgraded brakes with red-painted calipers.

’19 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

’19 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Another player in the midsize truck market is the Chevrolet Colorado. Now going on four years, the Colorado has a solid foothold in the segment and delivers surprising good performance for its owners. The top dog in the line is the ZR2 package that includes front and rear locking differentials, 2-in. lifted suspension, tapered front bumpers for increased tire clearance for rock crawling and off-roading, more aggressive grille and hood, 17x8-in. wheels with 31-in. Goodyear Wrangler tires and much more. Chevrolet claims the Colorado ZR2 is the most capable off-road truck in its class.  

Powering the Colorado ZR2 is a standard 3.6L V6 and a 2.8L turbodiesel is also available. With many Colorados in more sedate trim, the demand for owners to upfit to more off-road capability through aftermarket parts is likely to be high in coming years.

’19 Chevrolet Silverado

’19 Chevrolet Silverado

First shown in pre-production form at the 2018 NAIAS, Chevy’s fullsize workhouse is all new for it ’19-model-year debut. Chevy scores best-in-class for towing and payload, but once again, customers will be looking to add more power and off-road capabilities, or to personalize their Silverados to fit their lifestyles.

Silverado is available with a slew of engines, including the LS series small-blocks that high-performance aftermarket companies have tons of goodies for. Chevy does offer numerous packages, including the new RST package that adds a street-performance appearance, and the LT with body-color trim, full LED lighting (foglamps, headlamps and taillamps) and up to 22-in. wheels with all-season tires. Those who deal with mud and trails can order the LT Trail Boss, which adds off-road equipment to the LT, including a 2-in. suspension lift and the Z71 Off Road Package, including locking rear differential, skid plates, Rancho shocks, 18-in. wheels and Goodyear Duratrac off-road tires.

’20 Subaru WRX STI S209

’20 Subaru WRX STI S209

Subaru debuted its stunning, first-ever STI-infused S-line vehicle at Detroit with its limited-edition. Those who thought Subaru was getting away from the tuner market, think again. The S209 will be a giant slayer with an estimated 341 hp from the legendary EJ25 2.5L turbocharged Boxer engine.

The S209 also received new body work that includes wide fenders, front canards and a rear wing.

The WRX STI S209 has a track-focused suspension, and will roll on 19x9-in. BBS wheels and 265/35 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600A tires. Brembo six-piston brakes with high-friction pads will haul the S209 down in a hurry.

The interior on the WRX STI S209 will have a serial number badge on the center console, and S209 badges fixed to the headrests of the Recaro seats dashboard. Approximately 200 units of the STI S209 will be built and have been earmarked exclusively for our shores. With two exterior color/BBS wheel combinations, they are WR Blue Pearl/gray wheels and Crystal White Pearl/gold wheels. Subaru has not announced pricing but will let us know later this year.

’20 Toyota GR Supra

’20 Toyota GR Supra

Along with Ford’s resurrection of the much-hallowed GT500 at the NAIAS in Detroit, Toyota took the wraps off its much-revered nameplate—the GR Supra. Finally, Toyota is back in the rear-wheel-drive sports car market. Its hardcore enthusiasts are for jumping for joy, and so should the aftermarket industry.

The ’20 GR Supra will share many components from the BMW parts bin, but that’s a good thing. The engine is a BMW B58 turbocharged, direct-injected 3.0L inline-six that puts out 335 hp and 365 lb.-ft. of torque. Transmission choices come in one flavor only, a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. Top speed is estimated at 155 mph with 0–60 coming at 4.1 seconds.

Toyota engineers tweaked the chassis and suspension to achieve a near 50/50 weight balance and keep weight just under 3,400 lbs. through the use of aluminum and composite materials. The initial run will have 19-in. wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires measuring 255/35ZR-19 in front, 275/35ZR-19 in the rear. Later Supra models will come standard with 18-in. wheels.  

The ’20 Toyota Supra will be built at the BMW Magna Steyr assembly plant in Graz, Austria, and will be on sale later this year.

’19 Jeep Gladiator

’19 Jeep Gladiator

Introduced late last year at the LA Auto Show, Jeep’s new Gladiator pickup has been the talk of the automotive press and off-road enthusiast community. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator shares numerous components, and has best-in-class towing and 4x4 payload that is up to 7,650 lbs. and a 16,000-lb. payload capacity. All Gladiators come with a 5-ft. steel bed and crew cab only.

Powering the Gladiator is the 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine that delivers 285 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The 260hp 3.0L EcoDiesel engine will be available starting in 2020, and it will kick out 442 lb.-ft. of torque. Gladiator transmission choices are standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic transmission.

We can expect to see numerous Jeep Gladiators at this year’s SEMA Show since it’s likely Wrangler specialists will find direct crossover opportunities and quickly embrace the new Gladiator.