Dare to be different

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The US auto market just closed its best year of sales since before the recession. With the recovery seemingly out of the way, and consumers feeling more optimistic, timing is right for introducing offerings that address the non-core products. For NAIAS, this meant that supercars, high-powered sedans and new convertibles were much more liberally mixed in with trucks and utilities. Largely missing in action were mainstream introductions.

The past few years of introductions had focused on practical offerings. Now companies are again able to take a look at the fun side of automotive life. IHS Automotive forecasts US sales in 2015 to reach 16.9 million units, a 2.5% growth over 2014.

The 2015 North American International Auto Show brought out truck reveals, an emphasis on performance and further exploration of alternative powertrain options—in some cases, several themes were evident on the same vehicle.

 

Sporty and performance introductions

The 2015 NAIAS saw a rejuvenation in exciting product from supercars to sports coupes and convertibles. Show attendees were simply wowed by the stunning Ford GT, and it tended to overshadow the equally impressive Acura NSX for a time.

 

Alternative powertrains: Just part of the landscape?

Alternative powertrain vehicle introductions had less impact than in previous years. Chevrolet showed the second-generation Volt, which features more range and a more refined look, as well as the Bolt BEV. The Bolt concept previews a 2017 entry, promising 200 mile range. While EVs have been slow to take off so far, automakers need to continue to evolve the technology as one of the tools in the kit for meeting increasingly difficult regulations. As more come to market, the pace of acceptance has some potential to perk up. Honda announced that it will add a BEV and a PHEV by 2018, but didn’t show the vehicles.

Alternative powertrain products made less of a splash for their technology this year, as the propulsion option evolves from a novelty to simply another facet of the industry. Fuel cell vehicles, however, remain a novelty, and will continue to do so until network effects come into play enough for infrastructure investments.

 

Outlook and implications

The US auto market has closed its best year of sales since before the recession. Despite the difficulty of those years, automakers have largely come out stronger, able to be profitable at lower volumes and having shed excess capacity. With the most difficult work seemingly out of the way and consumers feeling more optimistic, timing is right for introducing offerings that address the non-core products. Notably missing this year are mainstream sedans, of any size or price point. This is in part a reflection of the industry’s current rush toward filling every inch of SUV space, as well as product lifecycles. IHS Automotive forecasts 12 updated sedans will see sales start over the course of 2015, compared with 19 in 2016.

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