Henry Payne Blog

If America’s politicians were cars, here’s what they would be…

Posted by hpayne on January 19, 2017

By Paul Ingrassia and Henry Payne

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day, when President Barack Obama will pass the helm of America’s ship of state to a new president, Donald Trump.  Here at The Revs Institute we think of it as the car of state.

The occasion got us to pondering a question perhaps more amusing than profound: if America’s leading public officials were cars, which models would best express their political personalities?  We came up with the following list, and present it with equal opportunity for amusement (we hope) for all.

The Grand Trumpeteer. This vehicle combines the head of the new president, Donald Trump, with the body of a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Trumpeteer only comes in one color, flaming orange. Its steering is suspect as it tends to want to bulldoze through obstacles instead of drive around them. The Grand Trumpeteer is specially equipped to allow Tweeting from behind the wheel, at any hour of day or night, though it’s unclear just how safe this practice will prove. It’s made in America, with no imported parts. Despite its assertive road manners, the Gand Trumpeteer has very thin sheet metal. Sales are virtually nonexistent in California, Massachusetts, Oregon and or New York.

The Hillarius. It’s a cross between Hillary Clinton and a Toyota Prius hybrid (what else?). This car is frequently seen in other elite coastal enclaves but less often in the industrial Midwest; last fall it never drove into the state of Wisconsin. The Hillarius’s electronic package originally included a private email server, but that was discontinued. The car was a successor to another model, the Billius, but it never equalled the Billius popularity. The Hillarius’s passionate supporters will never be seen driving a Grand Trumpeteer.

The Pension. This crossover between vice president Mike Pence and a Ford Fusion is short on glamour but, its backers claim, is long on reliability. The car displays a definite bias to steering in the right lane, but the Pension seems practical enough to steer occasionally into the center of the road. The Pension can maneuver in places where the Grand Trumpeteer can’t, or won’t, so you can expect to see this car undertake some delicate journeys during the next few years.

The Barackade. This is President Barack Obama endowed with the automotive attributes of the Cadillac Escalade. Last year the Barackade went into overdrive to stop the Grand Trumpeteer, but to no avail. Despite that, however, the Barackade enjoys high popularity ratings for a model so long in the tooth. A successor model is probably in the works somewhere, but no one is exactly sure just what that model will be.

The Subernie. Subaru is a natural automotive personality for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While the Subernie has adherents nationwide it is especially popular in the Northeast. The Subernie’s standard left-wheel-drive induces profound oversteer. Many Subernies sport bumper stickers opposing fracking, despite the inconvenient truth that without fossil fuels Subernies couldn’t go anywhere.

The Jolt. This crossover model combines Jeb Bush with the all-electric Chevy Bolt. The Jolt was an early favorite last year among pundits and pollsters. But its fortunes nosedived when the Grand Trumpeteer derided it as “low energy” and ran the Jolt off the road.

The Punster. This vehicle blends the sensibility of a political pundit with the lane-changing ability of a roadster. Such nimbleness was handy last fall when most pundits predicted the Hillarius would triumph over the Grand Trumpeteer, but then quickly switched to explaining why the GT won. In recent years the Punster has been prone to wildly inaccurate steering, causing many to question the car’s relevance. But Punsters seem to have found a safe enclave on cable TV.

The Ryverado. This vehicle, made in the American Midwest, is the automotive embodiment of House Speaker Paul Ryan cast as a Chevy Silverado pickup truck. It isn’t the most exciting vehicle on the planet, but so far the Ryverado has displayed an ability to haul heavy loads and stay on the road in slippery conditions. It is unclear just how the Ryverado and the Grand Trumpeteer will share the same highway without occasionally bumping into each other.

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Henry Payne’s 10 best from the Detroit auto show

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

I am tempted to name Lightning McQueen of “Cars 3” a Top 10 pick. One of the most-watched auto shows on the planet, Detroit tempts more than just car companies. Below Cobo’s show floor are 100 businesses showing off the next era of mobility, for example. And there’s IndyCar, displaying a next-gen racer to debut on Belle Isle in 2018. Or life-size Lightning flogging the latest installment in one of my favorite animation franchises, “Cars 3.” Ka-chow! But for all his Owen Wilson-infused personality, Lightning can’t hold a candle to other toys on the floor.

From the sleek Kia Stinger to the Ford F-150 skyscraper, the 2017 show is a delicious buffet. Here are my Top 10:

Kia Stinger

2018 Kia Stinger

Good timing, Stinger. Big Three muscle mostly sat out this year’s show, giving the Nurburgring-tested, five-door Kia coupe the performance spotlight. First shown as the stunning Kia GT concept in Europe in 2011, the Stinger makes a statement of Kia’s intentions to be more than a builder of mainstream appliances. “This is a Kia brand that surprises and challenges,” says design boss Peter Schreyer. The same length as its doppelganger — the $70,000 Audi A7 — Kia says the Stinger will be targeted at the $40,000 BMW 3-series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class.

Audi Q8

Audi Q8 concept

Speaking of Audis, VW’s luxury brand unveiled the Q8 crossover as a sleek, two-row coupe version of its SUV flagship, the Q7. That’s a niche market, but the stylish Q8 previews the bold, six-lace rework of Audi’s famous large grille. Inside is the next-generation, best-in-luxury Virtual Cockpit instrument display — but more significant is the expanded heads-up display that accurately overlays information on the road ahead (an arrow indicating exact road turn-in, for example). Look for it in 2018.

Volvo V90

The V90 will be available with both T5 FWD and T6 AWD

SUVs like the Audi Q8 have rendered station wagons all but extinct in the U.S. The gorgeous V90 wagon urges us to reconsider. The V90 provides plenty of utility with all-wheel drive and a roomy interior. That interior also shares “Thor’s hammer” headlights, posh materials and tablet console screen with the award-winning XC90 Volvo SUV. Just to be safe in ute-crazed USA, however, Volvo jacks up the V90 2.5 inches and badges it the V90 Cross Country.

Honda Odyssey

2018 Honda Odyssey

OK, enough about exteriors. Let’s talk interior innovation. The 2018 Utility of the Year Chrysler Pacifica sets a high bar with its Stow ’n’ Go middle seats and a dresser-drawer of console storage. But Honda thinks customers want better second-row communication. So the Magic Slide middle seat allows you to glide a car seat-bound child within reach — and a microphone system lets you talk directly to third-row occupants. As for the exterior, well … how about hiring a Volvo designer?

Volkswagen Tiguan

The VW Tiguan has a longer wheelbase and three rows

Rocked by Dieselgate, Volkswagen is eager to get back to the business of building vehicles. The new Tiguan aims for the meat of the U.S. market and checks all the boxes: longer wheelbase (by 10.4 inches), 57 percent bigger trunk, three rows of seats (very unusual for a compact ute), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

GMC Terrain


You had me at the C-clamp headlights. I protested bigger brother Acadia’s extreme makeover at last year’s show as too vanilla. The Terrain does it right in the dog-eat-ute compact segment (see the Tiguan above). The front peepers and Nissan Murano-like floating roof are elegant (though creating a blind spot bigger than Rhode Island). Shedding nearly 500 pounds, the turbo-4 powered Terrain should ride as good as it looks.

Ford F-150

Ford F-150

The king of trucks just gets better. The grille ditches Ford’s signature three-bar for a wider, “double I-beam” take. Nice, except the base models get grille “nostrils.” Ugh. I’d jump straight to the handsome Lariat trim. Under the aluminum hood, Ford’s smorgasbord of engine choices gets the first diesel in the light duty’s long history. The hits keep on coming: Wi-Fi hot spot, pre-collision assist, smartphone connectivity, new wheels and … I could go on all day.

Toyota Camry

The eighth-generation sedan has gone through a total

“Sexy and really sexy,” said Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda, introducing the all-new Camry’s base and sport versions. A hilarious chairman? A sexy Camry? Together they stole the media show, and that was appropriate. Toyoda has pushed his designers hard to make their appliances more appealing. The racier sheet metal also telegraphs a more capable chassis as the Camry gets lower and stiffer. To emphasize the point, Toyoda also introduced the new NASCAR Camry. Va-vroom.

Nissan Vmotion concept

Nissan Vmotion 2.0

Vmotion echoes the Chrysler Portal concept in its roomy approach to ride-sharing autonomy. So why the saucy exterior? Because the Vmotion also explores future design for its family sedans. Carve these racy lines into an Altima and it’ll make the Camry look vanilla again.

Dodge Challenger GT


Dodge quietly sneaked its first all-wheel drive pony-car coupe into Cobo for its first show. Quietly, because the GT is not endowed with an earth-shaking V-8. The AWD system comes mated only to a 305-horsepower V-6, but that’ll do for motorheads pining to power-drift their Challengers through snow drifts. Finally, an all-season Woodward dragster.

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Cartoon: Sessions Racist

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Payne: How I went 3-for-3 on Car of the Year

Posted by hpayne on January 10, 2017

Predictably, the charming, retro-musical “La La Land” (that, and it’s got heartthrob Ryan Gosling) swept the Golden Globes this weekend — the first of an expected dominance of the awards circuit.

The Chevy Bolt electric vehicle is the “La La Land” of automobiles.

Bolt EV added to its bulging trophy case Monday morning by taking home North American Car of the Year to open the Detroit auto show. Judged by a flock of independent auto journalists from across the U.S. and Canada, the prestigious NACTOY is given to car, utility and truck of the year. I am one of those car-crazy judges, and like my colleagues I voted for the Bolt as car of the year. I don’t know a juror who didn’t.

The Bolt, the first battery-powered car to get over a 200-mile range for under $40,000, is that good. It beat out worthy competitors that would have won in any other year. The Genesis G90 is the flagship of Hyundai’s new luxury brand. I like everything about it. Its chiseled body cut from a block of marble. Its spacious interior. Its Saturn-like, simple pricing strategy. Third finalist Volvo S90 is a stunning sedan (though its sister XC90 SUV took away last year’s truck trophy so it seemed familiar).

But how do you say no to a mini-Tesla Model S?

With a similar 60 kWh battery as the base Tesla, the Bolt EV is a mini hot hatch. At our NACTOY test of the nominees in October, I flogged the stuffing out of the little beastie over Hell, Michigan’s twisties. Squalling tires, instant torque, regenerative paddle for braking. It was (almost) as much fun as my favorite, $40K VW Golf R hot hatch. And it will comfortably sit four.

“We set out to make, not only a great EV, but a great car,” said GM electrics guru Pam Fletcher. Mission accomplished.

The other categories were more competitive, though I thought both had obvious standouts.

For the first time, we separated utes because, well, they are the dominant vehicle sold. That and it was getting silly lumping small SUVs with ginormous trucks. Last year the subcompact Mazda CX3 crossover was matched against the Nissan Titan. We couldn’t let that happen again.

With the herds properly separated, the Chrysler Pacifica stood out as best utility (and got my vote). Chrysler may be struggling as a brand, but it still sets the bar in a minivan segment it created. Replacing the Town & Country, the Pacifica redefines the boxy segment with a sleek design any soccer mom (or dad) can embrace. Innovation abounds from the kick-open sliding doors to the 30-mile-on-one-charge hybrid variant. Inside, the Pacifica is a rolling IKEA store with Stow ‘n’ Go seats and drawers (yes, drawers) for front storage.

My vote wasn’t unanimous, however, as I gave points to Mazda’s CX-9. The Japanese maker’s largest SUV, it is more beautiful than anything made by a luxury manufacturer. Even the Jaguar F-Pace, the other ute finalist.

As for truck, it’s hard to vote against the Ford F-series pickup, and the Dearborn maker brought out its Super Duty F-250 to stomp the competition this year. It’s a better truck than the very good Nissan Titan entry, but the big boys were beaten out by a smaller fish.

I concur with my colleagues that the Honda Ridgeline, the only pickup built on a unibody chassis, breaks ground for pickup riding comfort. Let me grab a garbage can top as you Ford fans pelt me with rocks. Pickups should be able to pull ocean liners, you say. Pickups should be able to wade the English Channel. Yes, but smaller, midsize trucks appeal to a more urban customer, more concerned with drivability than payloads (for which the Ridgeline is still plenty capable).

The Honda may be the first of other unibody-based pickups as manufacturers save costs by consolidating platforms. Will the next Chevy Colorado be on the new Traverse SUV platform? Might a future Ford pickup share Escape architecture? Everyone’s keeping an eye on the Honda’s success.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the Chevy Bolt EV’s reception in the marketplace. Will America embrace a $40K electric hatchback? Or will it only appeal to Hollywood greens in La La land.

New models ready for their close-up at auto show

Posted by hpayne on January 6, 2017


The Detroit auto show rolls into town Sunday for a two-week stay that promises something for everyone: futuristic self-driving cars, Detroit classics, the latest sport utilities, state-of-the-art sports cars … even a life-size version of “Cars 3” star Lightning McQueen.

The McQueen racer will be a lighthearted kickoff to the high-tech AutoMobili-D — a showcase for speakers and startups on the cutting edge of autonomous and ride-sharing technologies, AutoMobili-D will commence Sunday on Cobo Center’s Atrium Stage.

Some 5,000 journalists from around the world will attend over 40 new-car reveals on Sunday and Monday. On Jan. 13, the show will roll out the red carpet for the glitzy Charity Preview ball, which has raised over $41 million for children’s charities in the last decade. While party-goers sleep off hangovers on Jan. 14, the show opens its doors to the general public until Jan. 22. Last year, the Detroit Show recorded its biggest gate since 2003 with 815,575 attendees.

Now in its 28th year, the North American International Auto Show has weathered industry cycles — including the devastating recession of 2008 — to remain one of three premier auto shows on the planet along with Geneva and Frankfurt/Paris.

“Because of the number of press here, this is a great show to launch things,” says Sam Slaughter, NAIAS chairman and CEO of Sellers Subaru and Sellers Buick and GMC dealerships in the metro area.

Now, as the industry faces an “inflection point” (in the words of AutoMobili-D speaker John Krafcik, CEO of Google autonomous car spinoff Waymo), Slaughter says NAIAS organizers recognized the need to make the show a display case for the technologies that are transforming the industry. Automakers this year have used the CES technology show in Las Vegas to introduce high-tech vehicles like Chrysler’s self-driving Portal EV concept and Toyota artificial-intelligence driven Concept-i. Those vehicles — and the creative talent behind them — will also be in Detroit.

“These are the brains behind the behind the autonomous future,” says Slaughter. “We have an amazing story to tell with over 50 startups in Cobo.”

Those startups will join establishment pillars in presenting their visons of a new auto mobility. . The startups , meanwhile, will be among 100 companies to populate nearby Hall E — aka “Cobo’s basement” — that in years past has been outfitted for everything from tree-lined, electric-car demonstration courses to displays for Chinese automakers.

This year, a Chinese company will graduate to the show’s main floor as Guangzhou Automobile Group looks to follow Japanese and Korean companies as a successful, Pacific Rim export to the U.S.

All eyes will be on Japanese giant Toyota as it reveals an all-new Camry sedan, the best-selling car in America. For all the talk of self-aware EVs, the bread-and-butter of American manufacturers remains gas-powered cars and SUVs.

The Camry is promising an extreme makeover as it tries to remain relevant in a market that’s crossed over to crossovers. Camry sales, echoing all sedans, were down 10 percent in 2016. Since the recession, ute sales have exploded to 60 percent of the market and NAIAS offerings continue the trend. SUV reveals from automakers as diverse as Chevrolet (Traverse), Ford (Expedition), Audi (Q8), Infiniti (QX50 concept), and BMW (Concept X2) will debut on the menu.

“This will be a meat and potatoes show,” IHS Automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley says of the core offerings coming from automakers including a new version of Honda’s best-selling Odyssey minivan.

“Auto product is still the most important part of NAIAS,” shrugs Brinley in reference to the tech buzz in the air. “We went through a phase when every show had to be green. Now every show has to be high-tech. Soon tech will just be part of the auto landscape.”

Showgoers will feel, however, the absence of several brands on the show floor. Past exhibitors Porsche, Tesla, Mini Cooper, Jaguar, Land Rover, Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati are AWOL this year.

The reasons are many.

Exclusive brands prefer more intimate venues where wealthy customers can be wooed one-on-one — like The Gallery event at the MGM Grand Casino that officially opens the show on Saturday and where beautiful Ferraris and Lamborghinis will be on display for $500 a ticket. In a multi-media age some automakers also aren’t as dependent on auto shows for attention.

But even some major exhibitors are turning away from press conferences to show new wares — brands like Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Mazda and Acura.

Brinley blames this dearth of glitz on automakers taking a breath from frantic new car development.

“What we’ve seen since the recession is a big increase in new offerings to meet new product directions,” says Brinley. “A little slowdown in product cadence is natural.”

Show attendees will still be dazzled by auto displays worthy of a place in Times Square — part of a $200 million upgrade last year in which 80 percent of manufacturers remade their displays. The high-def, pixel-pallooza of giant LED screens is a high-tech marvel itself — with more stage tweaks this year from GMC, Subaru and Nissan.

For all the 21stcentury tech, though, the Detroit Show will also honor its roots. Before the reveals, before the speeches, before the champagne … three vintage cars from the American Car Museum will complete a six-state, 12-day, 2,150-mile winter journey from Boston to Detroit. Friday morning, winter Dream Cruisers can join a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, 1961 Chrysler 300G and 1966 Ford Mustang as they travel down Woodward to christen the show.

“This is the second annual ‘Drive Home’ and I hope it becomes a tradition,” says NAIAS chairman Slaughter. “With all that’s going on in the industry, it’s a great way to connect to our history.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Detroit auto show

Friday: “The Drive Home II: The Heritage Run” – final leg of drive from Boston to Detroit by 1957 Chevy Nomad, ’61 Chrysler 300G and ’66 Ford Mustang

■9-10 a.m.: Cars & Coffee at Lincoln of Troy

■10-11:30 a.m.: Drive down Woodward Avenue

■Noon: Press conference, Cadillac Square

Saturday: The Gallery of ultra-luxury cars, MGM Grand Detroit. Tickets: $500.

Sunday-Thursday: Press days/AutoMobili-D

Wednesday-Thursday: Industry preview

Jan. 13: Charity preview, 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $400

Jan. 14-22: Public days, Cobo Center. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (no admittance after 9 p.m.), except Jan. 22, when hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (no admittance after 6 p.m.). Tickets: $13 adults, $7 age 65 and older, $7 age 7-12, free for ages 6 and under

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