NAIAS 2019: The Most Exciting Reveals & Looking Ahead

  • The 2019 North American International Auto Show enters its final weekend in Detroit.
  • Here is a look at the most exciting reveals and a few predictions for the future of the show.

The 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is often considered the premier event of the automotive industry’s show season. As usual, it was full of exciting new models, innovative technology, and manufacturer announcements. However, this year’s show also left the industry with some questions as NAIAS faces big changes over the next few years.

By now, you’ve likely heard that this year’s show was the last to be held in January.

Setting The Stage

In 2020, NAIAS will take place in June. There are several factors involved in this decision, one of the most heavily-discussed being the show’s timing in relation to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. For several years, these two shows have occurred nearly back-to-back. And CES has become a popular event for showcasing the latest in automotive technology.

Recently, we’ve seen major automakers spend time and resources on concept vehicles and autonomous technology to be unveiled at CES. These decisions may lead them to skip NAIAS entirely. This year, there was almost as much talk about the brands that didn’t attend NAIAS, like Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW, as there was about new vehicle reveals.

However, looking beyond the impact of CES, there are other practical reasons for moving the show to a new time of year. Overall, we’ve seen brands become more selective about auto shows. Going to Detroit, New York, and Chicago during a three-to-four-month period can be an expensive undertaking. Holding the show in June gives automakers time to breathe if they choose to attend CES or other regional auto shows. It also opens up additional opportunities for promoting new models.

Before we get to that and other predictions for 2020 and beyond, let’s discuss what we saw in Detroit this winter.

NAIAS 2019 attendees enjoy a virtual reality machine that simulates driving an Acura NSX. Photo: NAIAS.

NAIAS 2019 Highlights: Future Tech & Everyday Cars

This year, NAIAS can almost be considered an “anti-CES” for several reasons. The biggest of these might be a greater focus on practical features and vehicle trends that both enthusiasts and average drivers alike are looking for, and actually able to purchase. As exciting as it is to learn about futuristic concepts – like applications of virtual reality – it will likely be a while before consumers adapt these technologies in their cars.

To that end, NAIAS has always taken pride in how the show’s focus is cars, trucks, and SUVs.

Yes, in recent years this has come to include innovative technology like passive safety features and infotainment systems. However, for the most part, what you’re seeing on the floor is available to purchase in the coming months. With this in mind, it’s not surprising the trends we’ve seen across the industry and in dealer showrooms over the past year showing up big at NAIAS.

Once again, this meant a strong showing of trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, all of which have ruled the past few years. But there were exceptions.

The 2020 VW Passat this year at NAIAS showed that not all affordable sedans are going out of style with the SUV boom.

NAIAS 2019 Highlights: Most Exciting Reveals

Perhaps surprisingly, this year we also saw a number of new sporty cars and sedans make a splash. This might indicate that this class hasn’t been completely buried by larger SUVs and/or abandoned by automakers as many industry experts believe to be the case.

Here’s a brief list of what grabbed industry and consumer attention this year:

2020 Toyota Supra: This year’s show brought the return of the fabled Supra sports car. This iteration shares its platform and mechanicals with the BMW Z4.

2019 Ram Heavy Duty: The Cummins diesel engine provides an incredible 1,000 lb-ft. of torque. And it can tow 35,000 lbs. A great example of the unstoppable momentum of high-output vehicles these days.

2020 Mustang Shelby GT500: This was highly-anticipated and is one of the few “cars” remaining in FoMoCo’s lineup. Also worth mentioning: it has over 700 horsepower!

2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 on display at NAIAS. The new Shelby is powered by a hand-built, aluminum alloy 5.2-liter supercharged V8.

2020 Cadillac XT6: This is now Cadillac’s largest crossover, taking its place alongside the XT4 and XT5. (The Escalade, another large offering that may come to mind, is actually a full-size body-on-frame SUV).

2020 Ford Explorer: This important SUV in Ford’s line reverts to a new rear-wheel drive platform.

2020 Kia Telluride: Kia is attempting to move upmarket with this new large crossover.

2020 VW Passat: We might be seeing fewer sedans across the board, but the new Passat is completely redesigned and now represents VW’s largest sedan offering.

North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards

Car of the Year: Genesis G70. Genesis is a luxury brand owned by Hyundai. This model offers serious competition to other luxury sedans, particularly in a class said to be suffering as more drivers are enticed by crossovers.

Utility of the Year: Hyundai Kona (and another big win for them). The Kona comes with a traditional gasoline engine or as an EV. The EV option is being touted by industry experts as one of the most-accessible, mass-market electric options available currently.

Truck of the Year: Ram 1500. The truck’s comfort and convenience features have become almost as important as its power, torque, and towing figures.

2019 Ram 1500. Photo: FCA US LLC.

Predictions For 2020: Warmer Temps & New Opportunities

As I mentioned, moving NAIAS to June has the potential to create new opportunities for automakers and revitalize the auto show in Detroit. Industry experts and enthusiasts love to complain about travelling to Detroit in January for the show, so the change of season, while it may seem trivial, might help draw larger crowds. The warmer weather means that brands can more readily take advantage of available outdoor space, creating an opportunity for them to expand their displays.

Additionally, many new model-year vehicles are launched in late summer. Having the show take place shortly before the new car season might push more automakers to have a strong presence at NAIAS next year. This timing will create a larger opportunity to introduce consumers to new offerings that will be entering showrooms soon after the show.

In the long run, this could be beneficial for sales and the industry as a whole.

West Jefferson Avenue facing the Cobo Center where NAIAS is held in Detroit. A heavy snowstorm this year canceled some of the show’s scheduled events. Photo: NAIAS.

Predictions For 2020: More Focus On Cars (Concept Or Otherwise)

Giving a cushion of time between CES and NAIAS might also result in more concept vehicles and innovative technology features for the Detroit show. However, as the show remains an industry event, rather than a destination for the most buzz-worthy tech, I think it’s a safe bet that the focus will remain on cars that consumers can purchase and drive in the near future, regardless of when the show takes place and which brands choose to exhibit there.

Richard Reina is the Product Training Director for CARiD.com. He enjoys restoring and driving old cars with a special love for anything Italian. Richard is also passionate about music and is a huge Beatles fan.

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