“Autonomous cars” and “electrification” have joined “mobility” as the auto industry’s most darling buzzwords, but what made the biggest splash at the biggest new car show in North America? This year, it was leaf-sprung trucks and a V8 manual pony car.
After spending a week in Detroit looking at every automaker’s latest wares, my biggest takeaway was that the car world is more polarized than ever. It seemed like the scene is pushing cars into two categories: crisp, origami-looking automocars that promise smartphone-like user experiences, and old-school iron that’s barely evolved from the cars and trucks our dads would have pounded their chests and cheered for in the ’60s.
A week before, we had the bright and bold (if overly optimistic) dreams of our high-tech vehicle future at CES; this past week in Detroit, we saw the cars people can actually buy. The best of now, if you will.
And of those, the biggest and most exciting new car reveals in Detroit this year were updates to existing vehicles, and largely archaic vehicles at that.
The “all-new” Ford Ranger we’ve been waiting on for six years is a derivative of a truck that was made in 2012 and still features 18th century technology (leaf springs) as a centerpiece in its suspension.
The Mercedes G-Class was updated for basically the second time in 40 years, and its “new” look is imperceptibly evolved from the one that was drawn up in the ’70s. While the underpinnings are almost totally different, as is the interior, Mercedes didn’t mess with a recipe that’s clearly working.
On the future-facing front, Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept, Lexus LF-1 and Nissan Xmotion all looked straight out of Star Trek inside and out, but even those were grounded in reality: they were sedans and crossovers with relatively conventional powerplants, not self-driving future pods.
The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt, far and away the most read-about reveal at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, is pretty much as classic as a modern car can get, in both design theme and execution. And I’ll bet you all the tote bags and USB drives I got at the show that the actual McQueen movie car, which Ford also has on display, will be the most Instagram’d machine when the Cobo Center opens the car show to the general public Jan. 20 to 28.
Since internet attention seems like a reasonable way to measure how hyped people are about these things, let’s explore how popular the wispy new future-cars were against the classic action heroes and frame-based trucks that were here on Jalopnik over the last week.
- Ford Mustang Bullitt: 489,000 pageviews
- Chevy Silverado Diesel: 369,000 pageviews
- Ford Ranger: 256,000 pageviews
- Lexus LF-1: 17,000 pageviews
- Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept: 13,000 pageviews
- Nissan Xmotion: 15,000 pageviews
I don’t mean to claim Jalopnik as the arbiter of all automotive industry trends here. The fact that people like what they know is a cultural phenomenon that’s been going on since forever, or at least since Marvel started making movies. (And of course, we are an enthusiast website, albeit a very large one, so it makes some sense that performance cars and specialty trucks get the most attention.)
But counting those clicks seems like a pretty dramatic barometer of which cars people have been excited about at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. And they were basically all just tweaks on time-tested, proven, old-school ideas.
Now obviously, the big caveat to interpreting those click counts is the fact that the Mustang, Silverado and Ranger are all huge brand names that have years of momentum of hype. Meanwhile, pretty much nobody’d ever heard the names of those concept cars before the show started.
But the delta between new hotness and sequel cars is freaking immense.
Interestingly, there were two vehicles that sort fell into a valley between forward-looking and retro: the announcement of the Ford Mach 1 battery-electric performance crossover, whatever that will end up looking like, and the 2019 Ram 1500 launch which focused on the truck’s hybridization and iPad-esque touchscreen.
And our stories about those two resonated with readers consistently with my thesis: about 71,000 and 133,000 pageviews here respectively.
Obviously, as an old car enthusiast myself, I feel some validation in the fact that a diesel Silverado was a magnitude more popular with readers than some stylish vaporware. But I mostly just hope we’re heading for a future where new cars and old cars can coexist. If attention here is anything, people will be yearning for better but more conventional cars much more than the Silicon Valley thinkfluencers may have us believe.