Auto show consumer guide: Feast for all auto appetites

Posted by hpayne on January 13, 2017

Welcome to Times Square, Detroit-style.

Cobo Center this January has been transformed into a mind-blowing wonderland of jumbo LED screens, floor-to-ceiling videos and consumer goods stores. This being Motown, of course, all the stores contain cars. Here, you can find everything from pint-sized Smart ForTwo cars to ginormous Ford F-150 pickups. Heck, like Times Square, there’s even a Disney presence with a life-sized replica of Lightning McQueen, the star of “Cars 3.”

But for all the glitz, this year’s new reveals are for the bread-and-butter shopper.

The auto market is going through a major shift from sedans to trucks and every manufacturer is remaking its portfolio to accommodate the trend. In doing so, they need to balance the conflicting visions of a federal government that wants smaller, fuel-sipping cars and consumers who want more utility. Midsize utes and sedans are the core moneymakers that allow automakers to make fun toys like Camaros and M2s — so they got to get them right.

Chevy brand customers want more room so the all-new three-row Traverse SUV grows bigger, even as its chassis sheds weight for better fuel economy. Its more upscale sister brand, GMC, on the other hand, is downsizing its Terrain crossover to be more nimble in the compact SUV segment. Compact SUVs are fast replacing the midsize sedan as the dominant family vehicle.

Even the BMW stand is looking like ute-ville. The German maker graced Detroit with the global reveal of its 5-series sedan, but it’s the BMW X2 coupe concept crossover – which will be the sixth SUV in the performance brand’s lineup — that steals the show. Finally, a sexy SUV from Bimmer.

Grab your grocery bag and let’s go shopping. These are my show highlights:

Bread-and-butter giants

The best-selling car (Toyota Camry) and truck (Ford F-150) both debuted new looks at this year’s show. The Camry is the more dramatic.

The sedan is still the top dog in sedan sales (388,618 sold in 2016) but sales were down 10 percent. As families flee to SUVs like Toyota’s RAV4, customer priorities for sedans shift to style, performance and fuel economy. The new Camry offers all three. Determined to show the world that it’s shedding its vanilla image for more Chunky Monkey Double Chocolate Oreo swirl (well, at least chocolate), Toyota threw the kitchen sink at the new Camry.

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