L to R: Toyota Concept-i, Concept-i Walk and Concept-i Ride at NAIAS 2018

The North American International Auto Show 2018 opened its doors to the public on Saturday, Jan. 20. Here’s what’s in store for those intending to visit during the public event, which ends on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The show brings a host of new vehicle launches and technology innovations this year, and some of the trends are hard to miss. An inescapable fact is the sheer presence of large-sized utility vehicles such as pickup trucks and SUVs, as well as crossovers. In fact, one can note only a handful of exclusive sedan launches, including the all new Toyota Avalon and the 2019 VW Jetta. Some wacky and futuristic concepts are also on display, including ones from Toyota/Lexus, Infinity, VW’s I.D. Buzz from last year, Mercedes with their EQA, and so on.

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Ford has finally brought the Australia-developed Ranger pickup truck to our shores, and Dodge has unveiled the new RAM 1500 truck with a 48-volt mild hybrid system. Further from the FCA group, Jeep announced the new Grand Cherooke, which sheds the polarizing split headlamp design for a more conventional looking front fascia. Toyota reaffirmed its commitment to the US market with the launch of the all new Avalon premium sedan, whereas Honda continues to lead the market with the Accord, winning the 2018 car of the year award at the NACOTY awards (with the Lincoln Navigator and the Volvo XC60 winning the Truck and Utility vehicle categories respectively). Volkswagen unveiled the 2018 Jetta (which gets a fresh look complete with a new shoulder kink and updated interiors) and BMW officially presented to the world their new X2 crossover, for the first time in the flesh. From the other side of the globe, Hyundai had a new Veloster and Kona crossover along with the older Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs, whereas little-known Chinese manufacturer GAC tested their toes in the as yet untapped (for them) US market with their full range on display, and another wacky concept, this year the Enverge concept SUV.

Ford unveiled two glamorous products, first the Mustang Bullitt edition, with its grumbling V8 and slick cue-ball gear shifter, and then teasing us with the 2019 Shelby GT500 that is claimed to produce more than 700 BHP (unofficial sources cited a rumoured 750 BHP figure). The original 1968 Mustang GT fastback from the Steve McQueen starrer is one thing to watch out for (link).

Mercedes upped the ante with their newest bad boy, the G-Class G500. After an offsite media unveil, the company put on display a 1979 280 GE encased in a resin block 18x8x10 feet weighing around 45 tonnes, harking to their “stronger than time” mantra for the G-Wagen, a point perfectly encapsulated in this video (Unfortunately for those late to the party, Mercedes had to wrap up the amber cube because the resin starting cracking in the freezing winds on Washington Boulevard at the Cobo Center entrance – it’s still there, just covered in black cloth). Inside the show floor are displayed the new 2019 G-Wagen, along with the usual array of S-, E-, and C-class variants, with the addition of the Smart fortwo and the sleek and futuristic EQA concept car.

The 1979 resin encased Mercedes G-Wagen on display outside the Cobo Center. Pic courtesy Jonathan Gitlin, Ars Technica

Other manufacturers to watch out for include Infiniti, Toyota, Buick, Lincoln, Acura (with the beautiful blood-red NSX), and of course Alfa Romeo with their gorgeously sculpted Giulia Quadrifoglio and the new Stelvio crossover.

Held close on the heels of CES 2018 (Las Vegas, first week of January), the NAIAS Press Preview and Industry Preview events had many journalists flying in directly from Nevada. For 2018, “The Gallery”, a signature NAIAS kick-off event, had been moved to the Cobo Centre atrium, away from its usual place in the MGM Grand Detroit and closer than ever to the actual show floor. Now in its twelfth year, the Gallery lets guests experience the epitome of ultra-luxurious mobility through partnerships with manufacturers including Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce and the like (On display were the humungous Chiron and the RR Phantom, which makes its North American debut this year). The media days, from Jan 14 to Jan 16, had a flurry of press conferences and unveil events, some of them off-site. The Industry Preview on Jan 17 and Jan 18 saw like-minded industry insiders mingling and savouring what the auto show had to offer, including some pre-planned networking events.

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An important part of the NAIAS, or Detroit Auto Show as it is also called, is Automobili-D, an industry convention similar to the likes of the recently concluded CES. Now in its second year, Automobili-D has partnered up with the Michigan Economic Development Corridor’s Planet M initiative to bring an even bigger assortment of companies, innovators and VCs under a single roof, right next to the Cobo Center halls which house the actual auto show.

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This year the Automobili-D event showcased technology and startup pitches along with extensive networking opportunities for industry insiders throughout the initial press preview and industry preview, from Jan 14 to Jan 18. Says Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Mobility, charged with curating the roster of participating startups, “If you’re building anything innovative in the automotive mobility industry, you’re going to pass through Detroit at some point. AutoMobili-D is the perfect entry point for early-stage innovative startups to build up their network with key influencers and decision makers in the automotive mobility industry”.

University of Michigan and Michigan State University were seen side by side at Automobili-D, with vehicles on display from their MCity and Mobility Studio initiatives respectively – taking the on-field sporting rivalry to a collaborative stance on autonomous mobility research which benefits the state of Michigan in general and the automotive industry as a whole.

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Swedish tech startup Einride had their T-Pod prototype of an electric fully autonomous cargo transport truck on display. The vehicle, with a 200 kW-hr battery and a claimed 124 mile range, is planned to hit the Swedish roads in 2020.

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Last year, the North American International Auto Show saw an attendance of around 40,000 for the industry preview itself, while the public days of the show had more than 800,000 people visiting the Cobo Center. All in all, the Detroit Auto Show looks poised for a record breaking attendance this year.

For the general public coming in Saturday, Jan 20 through Sunday, Jan 28, the mandate is quite simple – watch out for a slew of new vehicles in 2018, and revel in an exclusive experience in the heart of the American automotive industry!