Skip to Content

5 must-see cars at the Detroit auto show

Acura NSX Production Model Teaser ImageAcura NSX Production Model Teaser Image
Acura NSX Production Model Teaser ImageCourtesy of Honda

Of the many global auto shows each year, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit still ranks as the granddaddy, a winter festival in the Motor City for new vehicle models and their creators.

The media preview for the 2015 edition of NAIAS begins Monday, featuring about 40 vehicle introductions, including a handful of entirely new designs and a larger number of variants of existing models. Every automaker is critically dependent on generating fresh interest in its vehicles and its brands; so “new” is a word batted about quite a bit.

The U.S. auto industry is capping a five-year run of sales increases with several forecasters predicting a sixth straight year in 2015. Much will depend on consumer confidence, the availability of credit, employment— and the reaction of carbuyers to some of the offerings at NAIAS.

The following are five significant new models that could prove exceptionally important for their manufacturers. Some details have leaked out, but many of the most interesting descriptions of improvements and enhancements will be disclosed only at the models’ debut.

Nissan Titan

The 2015 Titan is built on Nissan’s rugged pickup platform, featuring a powerful 5.6-liter DOHC Endurance V8 rated at 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft torque and a standard 5-speed automatic transmission.

The first generation of Nissan’s fullsize pickup truck began production in 2003, the Japanese automaker hoping to provide a modest-selling alternative to the competitors from General Motors, Ford (F) and FCA (previously Chrysler), which dominated the segment. Unfortunately, Titan sales have proven too modest even for Nissan’s limited expectations.

To its credit, Nissan isn’t throwing in the towel. Fullsize pickup trucks have been very profitable for GM, Ford and FCA. The automaker’s first try was hindered by a limited range of body styles, options and only a V8 engine. To make more headway with its latest offering, Nissan likely will offer a more ambitious model this go-round.

Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt

General Motors Co.’s (GM) gas-electric plug-in hybrid—which it calls an “extended range electric”—represents the automaker’s biggest bet on expanding global usage of alternative-energy vehicles. The development of Volt and other gas-electric hybrids, as well as pure electrics using battery only (EVs), have been driven partly by regulatory pressure to comply with tightening fuel-efficiency standards, as well as by forecasts of higher fossil fuel costs.

The first-generation Volt, which went on sale in late 2010 following several years of development, sold below GM’s sales projections. A Cadillac version of the car, ELR, sold dismally. But Volt offers a distinct advantage over EVs, because its range wasn’t limited by the need for recharging.

GM offered a brief glimpse of a restyled Volt at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Sunday evening. Its next model is likely to boast better performance dynamics, possibly traveling farther in electric-only mode and offering a longer-lasting battery.

Acura NSX

Acura NSX was Honda Motor’s rolling technology platform, a supercar designed to showcase the Japanese automaker’s best engineering accomplishments. Introduced in 1990 as an “image” car to highlight Honda’s luxury Acura brand and car line, NSX was tweaked and finally discontinued in 2005.

The rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine two-seater was meant to compete with the best of the European supercars, a much more drive-able and affordable Porsche or Ferrari. But economic doldrums in Japan as well as tepid sales for the Acura franchise put the model on hold.

After a decade-long hiatus the flagship is returning, though Honda won’t say or show much until the debut. According to enthusiast magazines, the engine will be a twin-turbo V6 boosted with as many as three electric motors to help performance. As with other supercars, the exterior should be breathtakingly beautiful, at least in the eyes of its creators.

Volvo XC90

Strictly speaking, the XC90’s appearance in Detroit isn’t a debut, the car having been shown to international audiences at other shows. But Volvo’s showing in Detroit will allow a broad international audience of designers and executives get a closer look at the automaker’s bid for renaissance.

Since being sold by Ford to Chinese automaker Geeley, Volvo has been developing a new global strategy that blends Swedish design values and marketing expertise with engineering and manufacturing capabilities of the parent. The introduction of XC90, a large luxury crossover, will test that strategy.

Perhaps the most interesting technical feature of the new car will be its optional gas-electric plug-in engine, which combines a supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder plug-in with an electric that produces 400 horsepower and can drive for short distances on electric power alone. XC90 will be available with an array of advanced assisted piloting features designed to enhance safety – notable because of Volvo’s stated goal of zero fatalities in any of its cars.

Lexus RX

The Lexus RX, since its introduction in the late 1990s, has been a profitable and popular mainstay of Toyota’s luxury lineup. It has represented an innovative (and much imitated) method of marrying the utility of a truck-based SUV with the lighter weight and easier handling of a car into what is now known as a crossover.

As with previous generations of the RX, the newest will be bigger than its predecessors. And, unlike earlier versions, the new one is expected to accommodate up to seven passengers. The exterior will reflect Lexus’s new and more expressive design language, perhaps to blunt criticisms that models by different Asian carmakers tend to look like one another.