Everything you have read or heard about Detroit or what it went through in past ten years is still more difficult to grasp than a personal visit to the city.
My fellow travelers on the plane warned me beforehand to watch out and to avoid certain areas of town. When I landed on a Sunday afternoon, I thought it would be a shame in spite of all of that to spend the day sitting in my hotel room, so I went for a stroll downtown.
I was surrounded by many factories and smoke stacks while driving on the highway. When I reached the city I was surprised to see empty streets without all those legendary buildings that had once belonged to the largest US and global corporations. Slowly, I was approaching a tall glass building that used to be the headquarters of the world’s leading car producer and without a doubt a beautiful building as well. The exhibition center and a neighboring hockey stadium of Detroit Red Wings stand right next to it.
Press day on Monday marked the opening of the most famous auto show in its category. The North American International Auto Show is one of a kind. Here are only few of my observations that offer a certain view on the state of automotive industry today.
Kia introduced the model K900 as the largest limousine in its category. Positioning is vital for launching a new model to the market since it demonstrates its aspirations. K900`s main competitors are Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series and Audi A6 and its most distinguishing features are elaborate design and a very competitive price that is 30 % lower in the US than in Germany. I am wondering about the success of a launch in the remaining markets including Europe.
The youngest member of the luxury German brand Porsche from compact SUV`s Macan was the second new arrival. Porsche Macan positions itself between its bigger brother Cayenne and other subcategories. The technology in K900 offers all advantages of a Cayenne in spite of being a smaller family car suitable for couples with children who prefer luxurious SUVs.
There was very little rear seat space to my surprise and I have no doubt that with a full load the vehicle seats only two adult passengers and their children or is suitable only for travelling shorter distances in cities.
Another German sports car manufacturer that doesn’t fall behind its competitors introduced not only a concept, but a fully functional electric BMW i8 that we all hope will soon enough be on the market. I can assure you, though, that I remember the Detroit auto show mainly as evidence of recovery of the automotive industry since the show was filled with low to mid-range new arrivals.
The German brand Audi is a success also in the US with more than 158,000 cars for the first time, record sales of more than 17,000 vehicles in December 2013 and total sales of 1.5 million vehicles globally. Each brand eagerly introduced its new arrivals as well as studies at the show and I have no concern about continuing technical progress.
I noticed many young Asian looking visitors that tirelessly swung among all exhibited cars and took notes and pictures without a break; pictures of details such as teeny welds and other detailed parameters an ordinary person would not even notice. Industrial spying was the only correct conclusion I could have arrived at. Industrial spying used to be secretive and much more sophisticated in the past than what I could witness in Detroit. I can only hope it will be to customers’ advantage in the end and the biggest players in the automotive industry will be able to prove their technological leadership in the coming years.