STATE FAIR OF TEXAS AUTO SHOW PREVIEW:
A WALTZ IN THE PARK
When we dance together my world’s in disguise
It’s a fairlyland tale that come true
And when you
look at me with your LED eyes
I could waltz across Texas with you…
It began, on a still-cool Thursday morning, with a Waltz Across Texas, and ended – as you might guess – with a god-it-is-hot walk to the parking lot. In between the waltz and the walk were a little news and a lot of sheetmetal at the State Fair of Texas’ Auto Show media preview. Hosted by the State Fair, with participation from the Detroit Three, Nissan and Toyota, the focus was decidedly Texas-centric. And in an event that began shortly after 8:00 a.m. there wasn’t serious mention of cars ‘til almost 2:00, and then only to note the 90th anniversary of Chrysler. In short, for automotive news on the car front media members were asked to go back to 1925; it must be why they call it Throwback Thursday.
Of course, auto shows and their media previews are – at least figuratively – a dime a dozen. The State Fair Auto Show, which has existed in an ongoing purgatory between a real auto show and a state fair, gets a lot of love – and money – from builders of trucks, but receives little in the way of attention – or money – from the makers of cars, and even less from the makers of luxury cars. And while Texas is the country’s largest market for trucks and the second largest market for cars and trucks, you wouldn’t know that from what PR staffs bring to our great fair. In the same way you guess (while watching the movie) Pat Boone has about as much chance of bedding Ann-Margret as you do, we know ahead of time that the PR machines will be talking truck, even when there’s not much truck news to talk about.
To fill out their press agenda, the execs at Ram enlisted young country star Easton Corbin to waltz across Texas – via video – before performing live at the close of Ram’s ½ hour. Ram exec Becky Blanchard referenced 64 consecutive months of sales growth, along with the testosterone-infused Ram Rebel, but there was nothing here (other than Mr. Corbin) we hadn’t seen or heard before. With that, Ram’s Fiat-sourced vans look like just the ticket for installing a dish or delivering a pizza, while the EcoDiesel-equipped Ram 1500 might be a consideration for those VW owners wishing to return their diesel Golfs to their diesel dealers. Not as small – and certainly not as efficient – as VW’s Golf or Jetta, but probably cleaner…and vastly more credible.
From Ram it’s a short walk – or waltz – to Toyota’s truck exhibit, where those media not invited to Toyota’s Tacoma launch were finally introduced to the company’s aggressively freshened Taco. While not a from-the-ground-up redesign, virtually every aspect of the ’16 Tacoma has been massaged and improved, from the reinforced frame and powertrain to the interior bits that finally look to be of this century. With a base price of $23K the Tacoma remains easily attainable, although the $38K required to purchase the Limited trim seems well north of a midized price point for a midsize truck.
GMC and Chevy held press conferences back-to-back, which was easy given their proximity. Appropriately upscale, the GMC display area would outshine many dealerships, while its cost would have GM’s one-time chairman, Alfred Sloan, spinning slowly in his grave. Beyond the glitz and glamour were updates on GMC sales (doing just fine, thank you) and those enhancements made to the ’16 Sierra. At Chevy, the 2016 Silverado receives some tweaks to its front and rear fascias, along with predictable changes to standard and optional equipment. The sales success of the midsize Colorado was also referenced, along with its forthcoming diesel option. Not mentioned was the fullsize cost of a midsize pickup; we’re guessing a well-equipped Colorado 4X4 with diesel will easily pass $40K.
Not content to restrict its Super Duty debut to the relatively small confines of its regular display area, Ford moved the media by tram to the outskirts of the fairgrounds, where a handful of journos joined hundreds of dealers, customers and videographers. There, Ford’s truck marketing exec Doug Scott – when allowed to get a word in – introduced the world to Ford’s all-new 2017 Super Duty. And to the truck’s credit, it looked pretty darn super. Like the F-150, Ford’s new Super Duty uses aluminum alloy in its cab and bed, although Ford doesn’t claim the weight savings of up to 700 pounds mentioned at the F-150’s debut. Instead, Ford suggests a savings of roughly 350 pounds, with the differential added back into the truck’s enhanced capability. Still a full year from showrooms, the newest Super Duty may not represent the reinvention of the heavy duty pickup, but should certainly allow Ford to maintain its supersize grip on the HD segment.
Splitting the difference between Light Duty and Heavy Duty is the mission of Nissan’s all-new Titan XD diesel. With design inspiration – we think – from Ford, and diesel power provided by Cummins, Nissan’s Titan looks to fill what they call the white space between the maneuverability of a light duty and capability of the heavy duty. With remarks by Nissan exec Fred Diaz, at one time leader of the Ram reformation, the press event was – comparatively – in the key of ‘low’, but that didn’t inhibit the Titan’s appeal, nor did it reduce the importance of its launch to Nissan and diesel loyalists.
After a lunch sponsored by Nissan and Michelin, along with remarks by the Steel Institute (where steel remains real…), we found ourselves celebrating both dessert and Chrysler’s 90th anniversary – in that order. Supporting Chrysler’s birthdate and anniversary celebration was a 1925 sedan, 1955 Chrysler 300 and one of only nine surviving Chrysler turbines from the early ‘60s. The debut Chrysler looked advanced for its age, the turbine looked (and sounded) outrageous, and the ’55 was exactly what midcentury modern should represent when sitting on four large wheels. Of course, the presenter, Chrysler director Mike Berube, also spoke to Chrysler’s current 300. As a design dating back a decade, the midcycle refreshes haven’t done anything to diminish its original appeal. And while eyeing the ’55 2-door I couldn’t help but wonder what a coupe variant of today’s 300 might look like – and might sell like.
As a bookend to the Ram’s opening number, the day concluded with an overview of Fiat’s 500X compact SUV provided by Vern Bremmer, senior manager on Fiat’s engineering team. Finished in a brilliant red, the 500X is a charmer and – in any trim – arguably the best value on a Fiat showroom. If an Alfa was on display we didn’t see it, which would seem an oversight given the 4C’s recent arrival on some Fiat showrooms. But then, who ya’ gonna’ get to sing about Alfa? The Three Tenors?
At the end of the day the sheer breadth of the fair’s auto show landscape impressed, while I was puzzled that there was no discussion of Chevy’s all-new Malibu or Ford’s on-the-floor Focus RS. Both have been seen in other venues but were – we think – shown for the first time in Big D. No news (at least at a press day) isn’t good news; personally, I’d take more small news.
Drive across Texas with you in my hands
Drive across Texas with you
Like a Road & Track ending I’m lost in your charms
And I could drive across Texas with you…
– Adam Moore