NEW YORK: At the Geneva Auto Show earlier this month, big luxury had its day.
Maserati showed its US$72,000 Levante SUV; Bentley debuted a stretch-limo version of its US$304,000 Mulsanne; Rolls-Royce gave us a blacked-out version of its US$296,000 Ghost. And that's not to mention the unveiling of the US$2.6 million Bugatti Chiron.
Next week in New York, luxury automakers are catching their breath. Which means many of them-McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Tesla, Fisker, and Cadillac-are skipping it altogether. (Tesla, for its part, will unveil the Model 3 on March 31.)
“I think most of the auto manufacturers are entering the show with a feeling of what I would call ‘hopeful trepidation,'” said Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
“Sales results in the US so far this year have been positive, but there remains an aura of ‘When will the next shoe drop?’ Presidential election years are notoriously volatile.”
It still behooves many auto brands to show what they can in the world's most important car market, North America. Manufacturers know they can’t let products sit in the marketplace for more than a couple of years without at least giving consumers the impression that they've changed, so a key theme this year will be the “mid-cycle refresh.”
That's industry jargon for making a car look new by redoing the aesthetics on the front grill or side body lines without redesigning it from the ground up.
A perfect example of this is the 2017 Toyota Highlander, an important midsize SUV for Toyota that will get a new look on the front, plus additional features. (Toyota is focusing most of its efforts on a new Prius.)
Acura's MDX, the latest Buick Encore, and Lexus's RC-F and RX (wrapped in a graphic created by fashion designer Jeremy Scott) also fall into this mid-cycle category.
Mercedes will proffer a wide range of refreshes and updates, including the GLC Coupe, AMG GLC43, AMG E43, and newCLA sport sedan. The thinking here for Mercedes is to capitalise on volume and mass appeal in the premium market; it is certainly beating competitors BMW and Audi for sheer number of “new” things. Audi is even foregoing grand events and pre-hype announcements, having declined to say whether it will show anything brand new at its press conference next week.
Porsche, fresh off the installation of its new president for North America, Klaus Zellmer, will show a 718 Boxster and Boxster S, the racing-worthy 911R, and a new Macan that comes with a tiny four-cylinder engine. Expect Porsche purists to turn up their noses at that last one, which they take as an affront to Porsche's esteemed racing heritage and success.
As for more dramatic debuts, look for the biggest stories this year to come from opposite ends of the luxury spectrum.
On one side, Koenigsegg will be showing its new Regera, a US$2 million “Bugatti-killer” developed in Sweden to challenge the French marque as the most dominant automotive brand in the world. The car, which has never been seen before in the US, will reach 62 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds and hit 248 mph at top speed, according to Koenigsegg. The automaker will also show the pristine, white One:1 supercar in New York, too, although it showed the model at the Monterey show last year.
Aston Martin will show its stunning DB11, which we saw in Geneva (and at Bloomberg headquarters in Manhattan), which will turn heads at its official North American debut in New York. And Acura will show a new, reportedly racing-ready version of its NSX, which we got avideo of in Detroit.
Nissan, too, will show a high-end halo car, its 2017 GT-R. This is the latest update to the model Nissan made to compete against the likes of the Audi R8, BMW M6, Chevrolet Corvette, and Porsche 911.
Along with the excellent M760i, BMW will show its new Alpina B7 Bi-Turbo, an ultra-exclusive sedan that will hit 62 mph in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 193mph. It has a spectacular 4.4-liter V8 bi-turbo engine and 608 horsepower, plus unique 21-inch rims, famous “Alpina Deco-Set” stripes, and Alpina signature front and rear spoilers. Consider it the perfect piece to celebrate 100 years of BMW this year. (BMW will not show the futuristic new Vision Next Concept, although that car will be on display in Los Angeles later this year.)
Chevrolet will unveil the 2017 Camaro ZL1, a 2+2 performance coupe expected to cost around US$65,000, more than US$30,000 more than the “regular” Camaro. It will have a new supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that gets 640 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. (That's 60 horsepower more than the 2015 version-and there has been no change to the car since then). The car will have a standard six-speed manual transmission or, as a new option, a 10-speed automatic transmission. It hits dealerships later this year, when it will become a massive attraction for Chevy lovers nationwide.
Elsewhere, Ford's premium brand Lincoln will reportedly show an all-new Navigator. The SUV is important because it will replace the stop-gap “face-lift" model that Ford uses to compete against the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX, and Infiniti QX80. Buick, meanwhile, has said that 60 percent of all of its sales are of SUVs, so it will renew its fleet with the 2017 Envision, a four-cylinder, Chinese-made crossover.
Land Rover will show new premium SUVs as well. Next year's versions of the Land Rover Range Rover, Range Rover Sport Diesel & SVR, LR4, and Range Rover Evoque Convertible will all be on display.
These will provide ample competition for the Levante, which Maserati will show next week in New York for the first time in North America. That's the one that has a standard 430hp, twin- turbo V6 engine, eight-speed transmission, and all-wheel drive. It will hit 100kph in 5.2 seconds.
Jaguar will show its new SUV, the F-Pace, even though it already showed it stateside. Jag will have its new, much- improved-over-previous-years full lineup (F-Type, XF, XE, XJ, F- Pace, and F-Type SVR) at the show, too, even though the big rig will demand the most attention.
Even MINI is adhering to the SUV trend, showing a new Clubman ALL4, a full four-door wagon-sized car with all-wheel drive. MINI has developed it to help grab some share of the still-burgeoning global market for small luxury SUVs.
MINI will also show a new convertible from John Cooper Works. (BMW will not show the promised i8 Roadster, but you should expect to see it later this year.)
Buick will show a 2017 Cascada soft-top convertible that has four seats and a small 200-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. It is meant to appeal to the younger buyers Buick so desperately needs. And Mercedes will show a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet that comes with AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive and will be available in U.S. dealerships this fall.
They’re all refreshes, sure. But they’re primed just in time for fair-weather drivers to spend some cash.
The New York International Auto Show is open to the public March 25-April 3. Press days begin March 22. Check back then for more news on all the debuts.