The term “American-made” is a bit confusing these days. When the Toyota Camry is considered the most American-made vehicle on the market, perhaps our sense of pride and place becomes tangled in the globalized web that is the world of auto manufacturing. What’s the line between foreign and domestic anymore? For all intents and purposes, we believe the United States dominates the car industry. While it’s true that China actually out-buys America in vehicles sold, America ranks 3rd in vehicles per 1,000 people (the no. 1 and 2 spots are from much smaller countries), whereas China ranks 99th. In other words, America is very much still the auto industry’s darling, and GM and Toyota are essentially vying to be the world’s greatest auto seller. Here’s what we saw this year at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.
Toyota Camry steals headlines
Who would have believed the world’s best-selling sedan and Supreme Sultan of Boringness would steal one of the nation’s most heavily attended auto shows? Not many people, most likely. The eighth-generation Camry is longer, wider and—if you ask Toyota—comes in variations of “sexy or very sexy.” Its ceiling is also lower, and you sit lower in the cockpit, giving it a sportier look and feel. At the end of the day, it’s still a Camry. Whether you get the 3.5-liter six-cylinder, the four-cylinder or the gas-electric hybrid, you’re getting one of the most reliable four-doors ever built. If it looks a little nicer, so much the better, but no one ever bought a Camry because of—again, in the words of Toyota—it’s “more sexy.” Still, pedestrian detection and lane departure warnings come as intriguing standard options.
Ford F-150 is still cool
The top American seller, the Ford F-150 is the local pride and joy of the auto market. The new edition offers a diesel and 10-speed transmission, as well as a 3.3L V6 and 2.7L EcoBoost gasoline options. As usual, their marketing department excels (just watch the new commercial, posted below, and tell us it doesn’t put some hair on your chest), and what they call their pickup’s high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy body is lighter and more powerful than older steel models. Updated cruise control lets you set the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, so you’re not constantly slowing down for every Prius chunking up the left lane. A pre-collision assist program is a great way to convince a skeptical significant other that yes, you do need this big truck, because of safety.
Honda Odyssey is cool again… for some reason
We’re groaning, too. But for every gas-guzzling hotrod, electric wonder-car and badass truck that hits the market, there’s an equally necessary minivan. If we get over the boringness for a moment (recall Camry), there’s a particular importance to redesigns of vehicles that are often intended to hold large numbers of young people in the back. They carry our future, if you think about it. Anyway, the 2018 Odyssey has a “magic slide” second row that makes it easier to get kids in and out. A rear-facing camera, CabinWatch™, complete with night vision puts eyes in the back of your head. CabinTalk™ is the intercom system that lets you scold children without raising your voice, even interrupting their video games and movies. Which, in the wrong hands, could be a pretty hilarious delivery system for dad jokes. The vehicle is also a roaming 4G LTE, Wi-Fi hotspot with streaming video. So that’s cool, right?
Waymo’s neat self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Minivan
It’s puzzling even to us that two minivans made our list, but Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica is no ordinary minivan. Obviously not something that’s going to hit the general market, this vehicle tech is more of a sign of things to come. Google (Waymo), Apple and Uber are all in a competition to be the first to fully automate the auto industry, and the race is on. Google’s “Waymo” project intends to launch a rideshare program in California in the near future using these vehicles, and if they’re successful, it will go a long way toward seeing more programs like it. For now, human drivers are left in place to take over test drives as necessary, but someone will be the first to do away with that human safeguard, and that’s when things will get really interesting. Until then, it’s mind-blowing that we’re probably going to see this happen in our lifetimes.
Watch list: China vs. U.S. Government
Keep an eye on how this develops, as there’s great potential for China to reshape the global auto industry. It’s been well-established that the incoming President-elect has threatened to tax Mexican-made vehicle imports, should American auto plants relocate there. A number of car manufacturers have stated they will not close their American plants, while Toyota has warned that the Camry would see a $1,000 price increase if a proposed 35% import tax were adapted. The auto industry is not in total agreement over the “best” approach, but there is a newcomer on the block looking to shake things up: China.
One of China’s larger auto companies, the Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC), has returned to Detroit for the second time with the GS7, an SUV, the GE3, an all-electric with a touted range of 190mi on a single charge, and the EnSpirit concept car, a plug-in hybrid that the company claims can travel up to 435mi. The quality of these cars has yet to be truly tested, and it’s yet to be seen how American buyers will receive Chinese autos in a market that’s essentially dominated by Japanese, American and even Korean enterprises.
Will the political climate also have an effect on how well Chinese cars sell in the States, or will buyers gravitate toward the best value for their dollar, regardless of the country of origin? We live in interesting times, to say the least.