Toyota, Honda, others step up concepts at big Detroit auto show
By TERRY BOX
DETROIT — Toyota may finally awaken its solid-but-sleepy Corolla compact.
The Japanese automaker unveiled a bold Furia concept sedan at the North American International Auto Show Monday, saying the car hints at a future design.
“It’s only a concept, but it sends a clear message where we are going in the future,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota North America.
Besides the fiery sunburst orange Furia, Honda introduced a small “urban” crossover concept that’s similar in some ways to the Nissan Juke; Lincoln rolled out a sleek compact crossover; and Volkswagen showed a midsize diesel-hybrid crossover concept that it said would be capable of 89 miles per gallon.
The midsize Cadillac ATS sedan was named North American Car of the Year and the Ram 1500 pickup was named Truck of the Year on the first day of the show.
Tuesday could be even busier, with an F-150 concept pickup, the Cadillac ELR and the Lexus IS midsize sedan. Shelby American is planning a couple of introductions, and Tesla will unveil a new model as well.
Although the current Corolla continues to sell reasonably well — it is the second-best-selling compact in the U.S. — the car’s design is 5 years old.
“We see opportunity for growth in the compact segment,” Fay said. “Because younger buyers are returning to the market faster than any group, the new car has to be expressive.”
The Furia has a long wheelbase with short overhangs and a fairly slinky shape for a compact sedan. A large, deep grille similar to those of the Hyundai Elantra or Ford Focus dominates its front end with lots of angles and surfaces on it.
Likewise, the Honda Urban SUV concept offered the tight lines of a coupe with the tall stance of a small SUV — an approach Nissan took with its quirky Juke.
Although the Honda concept was more conservative, it will be aimed at young buyers who want a small, distinctive vehicle with some utility.
“We expect small cars to be key to meeting the needs of our customers in the future,” said John Mendel, executive vice president at American Honda.
Honda declined to provide any details about the concept or whether it will even be built, but Honda and Toyota need fresh, unconventional designs to continue appealing to buyers — particularly young consumers.
Both got complacent with design, industry analyst Larry Dominique said.
“The Hyundai Sonata really shook up the market a couple of years ago,” said Dominique, executive vice president of industry relations at TrueCar.com. “I think both Toyota and Honda have to go further. It’s tough when you’ve banked and lived off owner loyalty so long.”
Also Monday, Lincoln introduced the MKC concept, which is based on the new Ford Escape but with dramatically different styling.
Ford is trying to revive the Lincoln brand, and chairman Bill Ford and president Alan Mulally expressed strong support for the brand, now called the Lincoln Motor Co.
“Each member of the management team and Ford family are committed to the promise of a new Lincoln,” Bill Ford said.
The company gave no details about the crossover, but it appeared to be well-developed and was equipped with real-world wheels and tires.
Much more sleekly sculpted than the aggressive Escape, the MKC also has a rich, finely detailed interior.
“When you see this concept, do not think concept,” said Jim Farley, the executive vice president of Ford global marketing who is leading the efforts to rebuild Lincoln.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen sees opportunity in the midsize SUV segment and presented the Cross Blue concept as something the fast-growing automaker may consider.
The Cross Blue has three rows of seating and is powered by a four-cylinder clean-diesel engine in front and electric motors in the rear.
Although VW made no promises, North American president Jonathan Browning pointed out that the company is “highly competitive” in mid- and full-size sedans and in compact SUVs.
“We have nothing in mid- and large SUVs,” he said.