Operation Co-Operation: why car makers, techies must be friends
* Ford chief warns no one can go it alone on road to 'future mobility'
* Detroit Show highlights big push for 'self driving' cars, plug-in hybrids
* Some stunning new debutants are on their way to Ireland this year
* Our motoring editor reports from the Detroit Motor Show
Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30
It's all hands to the pump for automakers as they fight to keep a tight grip on a place for themselves in a digital automotive future where consumers want the best of both car and computer worlds.
Ford chief, Bill Ford, spelt out the challenge in a keynote speech here at Detroit. Basically, he said, automakers such as his are making the transition from being an auto maker to being 'a car-and-mobility' company and need to partner up in many ways with other interests.
'Mobility' covers a lot: from connectivity, 'special' customer care deals and privileges, to autonomous driving (a hot topic here), etc. It's a fascinating and nervous time for the industry as, for example, we watch for emerging alliances between car-makers and digital technology giants.
Mr Ford, whose great grand-father founded the company, said we are on the 'cusp of a revolution' in what car-makers can do for consumers and what customers expect from their cars.
While partnerships will be vital, he was also at pains to point out that, as his famous ancestor changed the automotive world, the company today is well placed to lead as well. It's going to be fast and furious.
Ironically, all that talk of 'future' runs the risk of distracting from some extraordinary developments in car manufacturing itself. We mustn't forget that the cars and their engineering are integral parts of the revolution.
Alongside the monster pick-up trucks so loved in the US, there were sufficient numbers of smaller, more economical cars, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, engine developments, etc, at Detroit to suggest there is major progress afoot in that area. But the fascination heightens with 'self-driving' cars, greater connectivity and customer after-care. Ford is introducing a Pass system to involve people more - after studying how the likes of Apple and others do that sort of thing. We'll see it in Europe later this year.
But getting back to the cars . . . . The Mercedes E-Class was a star of the show and is due in Ireland by mid-April. This fifth-generation is more dynamic as Mercedes attempts to woo the younger, affluent buyer. It's got a lovely interior. Watch out for the two 12.3ins monitors in the digital panel too - seriously smart. A touchpad between the front seats and a rotary dial lets you control the new Command infotainment system with a sweep of the thumb. Just thought the dash is a bit high, though. It is the first Mercedes to have Drive Pilot, a big step on the old Distronic cruise control system. It means the car can follow the vehicle in front at high speeds - yes it can effectively drive itself. And at speeds of up to 128kmh its system can intervene with braking or steering.
It's 43mm longer and the wheelbase is up 65mm with shorter overhangs. It is marginally narrower and lower.
There will be a 220d initially with a 200d arriving later. I'm told it will be exceptionally well equipped. Eventually there will be eight engines. The new 2-litre diesel with 192bhp in the E220d will be interesting (claimed emissions of just 102g/km). A 148bhp version is expected too. There will also be a plug-in hybrid with a turbo 2-litre petrol engine and electric motor within the gearbox. Emissions of 49g/km are claimed. A new air suspension will be optional. Also revealed was the AMG S65 Cabriolet and the SLC which replaces the SLK as part of a mid-life facelift.
Volvo's new S90 saloon, debuting at Detroit, already has a strong order bank in Ireland. There's no doubt this is a tasty car. Lovely interior and nicely roomy. It and the V90 estate get here from July/August. Expect the cars to be priced close to Audi's A6 saloon - around the €45,000 mark.
The S90 will have a 9ins touchscreen, Sensus connectivity and collision avoidance for pedestrians and cyclists as standard. It will also be semi-autonomous at speeds of up to 130kmh.
First on the Irish market will be the 2-litre D4 190PS and D5 235PS engined versions with the T8 407PS plug-in petrol hybrid and the D3 150PS following.
There will be further drivetrain options. Also expect several 4cyl petrol and diesel engines with turbochargers. There is also talk of a 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol. Good to see the XC90 SUV won North American truck of the year here.
The Lexus LC 500 is one of the cars of the show. The new flagship performance 2+2 coupe looked stunning with that front grille and angular headlights.
Inside it has the brand's digital dash display and next-generation multimedia package.
It is driven by the 467bhp naturally aspirated 5-litre V8 (from the RC F and GS F). It's rear-wheel drive and there is a 10-speed auto gearbox.
It's the first built on its new rear-wheel-drive platform.
BMW showed off its performance M2 coupe pocket rocket motor to rival the Mercedes-AMG A45, Audi RS3 and Porsche Cayman. It's due in Ireland in April.
The successor to the 1-series M has a 3-litre 6cyl engine (365hp). And the X4 M40i sport crossover, based on the X4 xDrive35i, has a turbocharged 3-litre 6cyl with 355hp.
The Volkswagen stand was packed for the unveiling of the Tiguan GTE Active concept which uses a modified version of the system from the Golf GTE - so it can use front, rear or four-wheel drive depending on driving mode.
The Volkswagen Group sold more than 9.93 million vehicles worldwide last year.
Ford's Fusion facelift hints at future mid-life changes to the Mondeo. It has a Jaguar-like gear-shift twirl-knob in an all-new cabin.
Of great interest was the company's new, lighter EcoBoost concept that can run on two cylinders.
Audi's h-tron quattro concept caught the eye too. It has the next-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology and we can expect to see it by 2020.
The h-tron uses the same MLB platform as the all-electric e-tron quattro concept.
The latter's batteries, mounted low down for better centre of gravity, will be replaced with hydrogen fuel cells.
The A4 Allroad quattro high-riding estate was also shown.
Porsche continues to roll out variants of its re-engineered 911.
The 911 Turbo (now 540hp) and Turbo S (580bhp) make their world debut here with more power, design changes and more driving dynamics.
They come as coupes or convertibles. Despite their massive power, Porsche says, they are more economical.
All in all, this is a motor show that seems a little lost about the direction that, what we'll call 'traditional' motoring, should be taking.
That is understandable at a time when the lines between car making and the digital elements of cars are becoming more blurred by the day.
I feel this was a turning point though.
It could be argued that CES in Las Vegas set more of a motoring agenda. That is a hard thing to say but many people voiced the opinion here.
Mr Ford's words are coming back to me now as I reflect on my time here:
We are, he reminded us, on the cusp of a revolution.