Detroit Auto Show: Google, Camry and the Shadow of Trump
DETROIT – Fresh off a record year for U.S. auto sales, carmakers meet in Detroit next week to show buyers what’s coming next – and ponder their own future under a Trump administration.
More than 40 new vehicles will debut at the North American International Auto Show, which is one of the largest shows in the U.S. After record sales of 17.55 million in 2016, U.S. sales of new cars and trucks are expected to cool off a little this year, but demand remains strong.
Even if they can count on U.S. buyers, automakers aren’t sure what to make of President-elect Donald Trump. Trump has criticized Ford, General Motors and Toyota for making vehicles in Mexico and exporting them to the U.S. He is threatening a 35-percent border tax, which could throw the industry into disarray. But automakers are also hopeful that Trump will lower corporate taxes and loosen fuel economy standards and other regulations.
“It is the year of unknowns,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with the car-buying site Autotrader.com.
Here’s what to look for at the Detroit show, which is open to the public from Jan. 14-22.
BIG DEBUTS: New versions of some important products will debut at the show. Toyota will show off the new Camry sedan, which has been the best-selling car in the U.S. since 2002, and Honda will pull the wraps off the new Odyssey minivan. Americans are increasingly favoring SUVs over cars, and automakers are scrambling to meet that demand. GM will have new versions of its popular GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Traverse SUVs. Nissan will show a smaller version of its Rogue SUV, while Volkswagen will have a stretched version of its Tiguan. Even Chinese automaker GAC Group, which doesn’t yet sell vehicles in the U.S., will be showing off an SUV. As usual, there will be some surprises. Kia is teasing a high-performance sports car and Ford – which shocked the show with its GT last year – is mum on its plans.
MOBILITY BUZZ: Seismic changes are coming to the auto industry in the form of car-sharing and self-driving vehicles. Carmakers are trying to get on board. For the first time, a convention dedicated to mobility will run during the auto show press days. Dubbed Automobili-D, the event will feature booths from more than 100 tech startups, auto suppliers and carmakers with innovations like car seats that can sense when you’re drowsy and software that can navigate the car in stop-and-go traffic. Waymo – Google’s self-driving car project – will kick off the event by showing its new autonomous minivan developed with Fiat Chrysler.
TRUMP EFFECT: The auto show will be the first time many executives are asked about Donald Trump and whether his threatened border tax will affect their plans to build factories in Mexico. Assembly plants are big investments, costing well over $1 billion, and automakers are unlikely to change course. But Trump’s tough talk is already having some impact. Ford announced earlier this week that it would halt production of a planned Mexico plant. The automaker said falling demand for small cars – not Trump – was the primary reason for the change, and Ford CEO Mark Fields shrugged off the threat of tariffs. But Fields said the move was “a vote of confidence” for Trump, whose promised corporate tax relief could make the U.S. a better place to do business.
IF YOU GO: In addition to the 40 debuts, automakers will show more than 750 vehicles at the show, which is held at Cobo Center in Detroit. More than 815,000 people attended last year’s show during the public days.