Thoughts from the 2014 North American International Auto Show

Andy Williams was off by a month. Auto industry insiders and enthusiasts know that January is the most wonderful time of the year, as it brings the annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Since 1907, automakers have used the event to showcase fresh designs and innovative technologies. New models are introduced with suitable razzmatazz, and concept cars tantalize us with possibilities for the future. I set out to Cobo Center this year excited for everything, but with three particular must-sees on my checklist.

Chevrolet wowed crowds last year with the return of the Corvette Stingray (it took “Car of the Year” honors at this year’s event). For the 2014 show, the Bow Tie gives us the 2015 Corvette Stingray Z06. With 625 horsepower surging from its 6.2 liter V-8, the Z06 is a legitimate supercar. No, it’s not going to sell in any significant quantity, but these halo dream machines are what make NAIAS so much fun.

The 2015 Chrysler 200. Chrysler makes a play for the mid-sized market.

The 2015 Chrysler 200. Chrysler makes a play for the mid-sized market.

Chrysler is making headlines with its introduction of the next generation 200. This car could be a coup for the Pentastar. There’s a lot of money to be made in the mid-sized segment, and Chrysler wants to increase its take. The 200 also builds on shared design and technology from parent Fiat – efficiencies that can help the company thrive. Analysts will keep a close eye on the 200’s sales, but what really caught my eye is the 200’s rotary dial transmission shifter. I’m a fan of the traditional floor-mounted lever, but buttons and paddles have their supporters, so why not a dial?

2015 Ford F-150, well lighted and well lightened.

2015 Ford F-150, well lighted and well lightened.

Ford made its 2015 Mustang splash last month, so its NAIAS presence is heavily focused on the aluminum-bodied F-150. This is a big play by the Blue Oval. The venerable F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for close to 20 years (and the best-selling pickup forever – well, at 43 years, practically so!). But fuel efficiency is vital for environmental and economic reasons. With the 2015 F-150, Ford improves gas mileage by converting much of the truck’s body structure from steel to aluminum and dropping 700 pounds of curb weight in the process. It’s a breakthrough, but it surely takes courage to invest in expensive new metalwork and try major experiments on your most popular product.

The Mustang lover's dream jukebox.

The Mustang lover’s dream jukebox.

The F-150 gets the headlines, but don’t think that the Mustang is ignored. Prototypes of the 2015 model are there for ogling, and The Henry Ford’s own 1962 Mustang I concept car and 1965 Mustang Serial Number One production car are on prominent display. Best of all, though, Ford has created a sort of museum to Mustang’s place in popular culture. Head upstairs into the gallery and you’ll find everything from die-cast models, to Avon cologne bottles, to movie posters. (Yes, Bullitt is there.) There’s trivia too. Who knew, for example, that “Mustang” is one of the most popular computer passwords? Or that a Mustang was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars? My favorite display consisted of a jukebox playing nothing but Mustang-related songs, from Wilson Pickett to Vanilla Ice. “Rollin’ in my 5.0” indeed.

On a final note, there is a real treat in seeing Cobo Center itself this year. The new atrium and Grand Riverview Ballroom (fashioned from the old Cobo Area) are absolutely breathtaking. Detroit has much to be proud of this year – on both sides of the NAIAS showroom doors.

Visit thehenryford.org/onwheelstour to learn about our 2014 THF OnWheels Tour. To see our Mustangs in action at the 2014 NAIAS, check out our Facebook page. And for all things cars, make sure to sign up for THF OnWheels.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford