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Detroit Auto Show: 4 Trends Driving the Future

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) Detroit, and the business that built the city, are in renovation mode. Beneath a block or two of dazzling facades lays a thick layer of rust. But there is long-term optimism for both. The 2014 North American International Auto Show is featuring the debut of some 50 new vehicles, and already there are four trends worth noting:

Where are the mass production EVs?

Electric vehicles for the masses still seem relegated to the concept car category. The affordable electric sedan, priced in the $30,000 dollar range, still seems years away from popular adoption, at best. Tesla's vice president of sales and service told the Detroit Free Press that production on such a vehicle by the popular plug-in manufacturer would begin in three years.

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But Tesla faces facilities challenges that could hamper mass distribution. And the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are undergoing technology upgrades that may win them broader consumer acceptance but not this year.

The industry rewards the familiar

The North American Car of the Year is the Corvette Stingray and the Truck/Utility of the Year is the Chevy Silverado. The final tally of votes wasn't very close these vehicles ran away from the field. While the 'Vette is a nice poster car and the Silverado looks good posed at the base of a mountain, neither vehicle is redefining the industry. But the awards have been dominated by Detroit automakers from the very beginning, so no real surprise here.

Consumers are looking for innovation

The biggest buzz from the Detroit Auto Show so far has been the "aluminum Ford F-150," with a new engine and powertrain that trim the weight of the popular pickup by some 700 pounds. New research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says 60% of consumers say buying a vehicle from an innovative manufacturer is a prime consideration when they're in the mood to buy.

"Innovation in the automotive industry is retaking center stage," says Xavier Mosquet, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the new study. "Consumers want to buy cars from companies that bring new technologies to market, and connectivity, safety, and fuel efficiency are three of their top priorities. The ability to innovate in these areas will be a major factor in individual automakers' success in the coming years."

Throwback designs sell

Manufacturers continue to tap the past for future sales. In recent years we've seen reboots of the Mustang, Challenger and Charger, and now nostalgia goes up-market. The new Porsche 911 Targa reprises design cues from the classic 1965 original.

The new model brings back the classic Porsche roofline with a dome-shaped wraparound rear window, but unlike the original, the roof can be opened and closed in 19 seconds with the push of a button.

Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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