Next week’s Detroit auto show is all about big trucks.
That will be followed by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ launch of its redesigned Ram 1500.
The big trucks are where the action is.
“These are vehicles that people really buy,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit.
The Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado 1500-3500 and Ram 1500-3500 are the three top-selling vehicles in the U.S. They accounted for 11.5 percent of all auto sales in 2017, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
“Having three all-new pickups at one auto show is a huge deal,” said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for AutoPacific, an industry consulting firm.
The new trucks will offer state-of-the-art technology to meet tightening fuel economy standards, he said.
For instance, the 2019 Silverado will offer expanded powertrain choices and the 10-speed automatic transmission GM developed in tandem with Ford. The 2019 Ram 1500 is expected to debut hybrid engine technology. Both trucks will feature extensive use of lightweight materials.
“Whatever stigma there might have been about pickups when people were hypersensitive about the environment has gone by the wayside,” said Ed Sanchez, an automotive industry analyst at Strategy Analytics.
Automakers have poured huge resources into pickup development because the vehicles generate profits that fund expensive projects such as autonomous technology, Sullivan said.
SUVs Also Expected
BMW will expand its SUV lineup with the all-new X2 crossover. Ford will debut an updated version of its popular Edge, while FCA does the same with its Jeep Cherokee.
Honda Motor Co. will unveil its next-generation Acura RDX at the show. Toyota Motor Corp. is scheduled to preview yet another SUV in its lineup with the flagship Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept.
At the high end of the market, Mercedes-Benz will unveil its redesigned G-Class. Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. follows the trend of luxurious super-speed SUVs with its new Urus.
Sales of sport utility vehicles topped 7.1 million units in 2017, an increase of 6 percent compared with 2016. SUVs accounted for 41.5 percent of total industry sales last year, up from 38.4 percent in 2016.
“Consumers continue to flock to SUVs, so it is not surprising that we are seeing [automaker] lineups fragment into every size, shape, purpose and price point in the SUV segment,” said Jeff Schuster, vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive.
Schuster said SUV demand will grow this year even as auto sales ease.
Ones to Watch
Here are the all-new vehicles expected to make a splash in Detroit.
- Chevrolet Silverado: A taut and muscular design and LED lights mark the arrival of a new approach for the 2019 Silverado. It uses a high-grade steel alloy bed to save weight, rather than the aluminum bed in the Ford F-150. GM may also be experimenting with the industry’s first carbon fiber bed. The doors and other body panels are expected to be made from aluminum in order to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. New powertrain combinations will be available, including a diesel engine. GM will launch the 2019 Silverado with eight different variants such as the off-road ready LT Trailboss.
- Ram 1500: An aggressive front fascia leads the way for the redesigned Ram 1500. Gone is its familiar crosshairs grille; a gaping wide mouth flanked by LED headlights is in. FCA increased the wheelbase of the Ram to add more interior cabin space and installed a large touchscreen for improved connectivity. Engines are expected to include its current 5.7-liter Hemi V8, a V6 and 3-liter EcoDiesel V6. The bed of the truck should retain its RamBox storage space.
- BMW X2: One year after unveiling the X2 Concept in Detroit, BMW returns to the Motor City with the real thing. The all-new X2 is a small crossover with “coupe-like” styling, similar to the larger X4 and X6 already in the lineup. The X2 will be powered by a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine producing 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
- Lamborghini Urus: Even the exotic brands are catching SUV fever. The Italian sports car maker will debut its all-new Urus crossover in Detroit with trademark eye-catching design. It is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4-liter V8 engine producing 650 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. It will immediately join a growing class of steroidal SUVs that includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and Tesla Model X P100D. The Urus can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds.
- Lexus LF-1 Limitless Concept: Toyota has revealed little about the Lexus LF-1 Limitless Concept it plans to debut in Detroit. The vehicle is a flagship luxury crossover that Toyota believes showcases the future of the segment. It will feature a unique design with dynamic lighting. A teaser image appears to show a dramatic roofline with twin winglets atop the rear windshield.
All of these debuts are targeted at what has become the sweet spot for U.S. auto sales.
Sales of light trucks, a category that includes pickups, crossovers and SUVs, increased by 4.3 percent in 2017 compared with 2016. Sales of passenger sedans fell by 10.9 percent during the same period.
Last year, 63.2 percent of all vehicles sold were light trucks, up from 59.5 percent in 2016. Some analysts believe light trucks have permanently replaced compact cars and sedans as the go-to vehicle for American buyers.
Pickup trucks and SUVs drive profits for many automakers. Whereas a passenger sedan may generate about $1,500 to $2,000 of profit, a typical full-size pickup truck can earn $10,000 or more.
Manufacturers “are giving consumers what they want with a very nice benefit of higher margins than cars,” Schuster said.
The Detroit auto show will open to the public on Saturday, Jan, 20, and close on Sunday, Jan. 28.