Only a small number of trucks and SUVs will debut at the Detroit auto show next week. But the vehicles that will appear are important to automakers and come in many shapes and sizes.
One of the most anticipated models is the redesigned Ram HD pickup, a critical product for parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
FCA will present the Ram 2500 and 3500, adding renewed heavy-duty capability to its pickup truck lineup. The Ram HD joins the light-duty Ram 1500 that debuted in 2018. It brings FCA a refreshed range to market against the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado in an intensifying race for pickup sales.
“It’s a highly profitable segment for Ram, so they need to continue to be good at it,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit.
Other vehicles expected to debut in Detroit include the hot-selling Ford Explorer SUV. Kia Motors will officially release its Telluride after several concepts previewing the adventure-focused SUV. General Motors will present the all-new Cadillac XT6, a three-row crossover that expands its range of SUV models.
While the Detroit show will not feature as many debuts as did the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, it will include high-profile vehicles that are important to automakers’ bottom lines.
Sales of light trucks, a category that includes pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers, increased by 8 percent to more than 11.8 million units in 2018. Sales of passenger cars fell by 13 percent during the same period.
Light trucks accounted for 68 percent of total vehicle sales in 2018, up from 63 percent in 2017.
Ford sold 262,000 Explorers in 2018, making it the top-selling three-row SUV in the U.S. The new Cadillac XT6 and Kia Telluride fill important holes in the lineups of their respective manufacturers.
“It’s not about quantity, it’s more about quality,” Brinley said. “Los Angeles was good because several of the reveals were significant to their brands – they helped move things forward. That’s probably what we’ll see in Detroit.”
Passenger cars and enthusiast vehicles will also break cover in Detroit. Toyota will unveil its long-awaited Supra, and Ford will introduce the latest Mustang Shelby GT500.
Light trucks a key
But several automakers are betting their futures on light trucks.
Infiniti, the upscale arm of Nissan, will show its all-electric QX Inspiration Concept. The compact SUV promises to make innovative use of interior space due to the lack of a traditional combustion engine. It previews the direction in which Infiniti would like to take its brand in the future, Brinley said.
Chinese automaker GAC will also debut a new model. The company pledged to bring an SUV to the U.S. market this year during the 2018 Detroit show.
The event promises to show that light trucks have evolved from lumbering giants into efficient and nimble SUVs of all shapes and sizes.
“And we’re going to continue to see more,” Brinley said. “It’s the next phase of where things are going.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
2020 Ford Explorer with Platinum trim (Photo: Ford)Ford Explorer: The redesigned 2020 Explorer shares its platform, in either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, with the Lincoln Aviator that debuted in Los Angeles. The model provides Ford with an opportunity to remind buyers that the Explorer essentially invented the crossover segment in the early 1990s, Brinley said. There will also be hybrid and high-performance Explorer ST versions for the first time.
Cadillac XT6: General Motors’ famed luxury brand needs more vehicles in its SUV lineup. The three-row XT6 will join the compact XT4 in an effort to jump start slumping sales. Its biggest hurdle may be the new Aviator, which debuted to a positive reception with its air suspension and powerful hybrid option. The XT6 may not be as groundbreaking a vehicle in many respects, Brinley said. Expect the XT6 to fill a gap for the brand and pave the way for future vehicles.
Kia Telluride: The three-row Telluride SUV gives Kia Motors the chance to compete in a new segment. Kia unveiled the Telluride during last year’s New York Fashion Week and offered rides in prototypes equipped with off-road gear at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas in November. But the SUV will have its official debut in Detroit and could bolster Kia’s surging SUV lineup as sales of its passenger cars continue to fall.
Infiniti QX Inspiration Concept: Infiniti will show its electric QX Inspiration Concept. The compact crossover has a striking front fascia without a traditional grille, following direction from the Q Inspiration sedan that debuted in Detroit last year. Infiniti said the absence of a traditional combustion engine provides opportunities for creative use of interior space such as a “lounge-like” interior.
The 2019 North American International Auto Show will open to the public Jan. 14 and close Jan. 27.