It's January, and that can only mean one thing: CES, followed immediately by the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. This annual celebration of the automotive world has managed to stay in the news even as CES itself has morphed into a car show, in part by generally avoiding the most high-tech topics — autonomous driving, electrification (with a few notable exceptions), and connected car — and sticking instead to the core of the business: design and horsepower. It is, for all the threats that the traditional auto industry is facing right now, still the biggest single tool that car companies have to set the tone for the entire year.
So, what are we expecting?
One of the biggest announcements (literally) of the show is likely to be the Continental, widely viewed as Lincoln's latest effort to revitalize and reinvent itself as a serious luxury contender. To do so, it's invoking a classic model name paired with a new design language that first debuted on the refreshed MKZ. The Continental is a huge car that is intended to build Lincoln's chops in China, where luxury buyers are more likely to be chauffeured; the rear-seat accommodations are well above and beyond what you'd expect from a typical sedan.
Another big announcement with global implications will be the new E-Class, one of the last vehicles in Mercedes-Benz's current lineup that still hasn't been updated to the brand's new, softer, curvier design language. The E sits between the high-volume C and the flagship S as Merc's middle-of-the-range sedan, so it's a pretty big deal. The company just showed the interior of the car at CES because, as you might expect, it's a marvel of technology: you'll find huge displays, touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel, selectable ambient lighting color, and a new UI.
Two new high-performance models will make their first public debuts at NAIAS this year: the X4 M40i, a strange little crossover, and — drum roll, please — the hotly anticipated M2. The smallest high-performance coupe in BMW's stable, the M2 was first shown several months ago, but it hasn't been seen at a car show yet. So it may not be news, per se, but rest assured: the crowds around this car are going to be huge.
Nissan's upscale brand is expected to reveal the production version of the redesigned Q60 coupe, the spiritual successor to the G35 and G37 coupes of the last decade. If it looks anything like the concept revealed last year — and it almost certainly will — it's going to be beautiful.
The Korean automaker is gearing up for a new offensive in the luxury segment, launching its Genesis sub-brand (previously, "Genesis" was used on a couple cars, but now it's an actual marque). The first car in the Genesis line is going to be the flagship G90 sedan, which is making its public debut at NAIAS this year. It's not the most exciting car in the world, but any company trying to launch a luxury brand needs a big, comfortable sedan at the top of the range. Those are the rules.
Toyota's luxury brand is expected to show off the LC, a big, beefy coupe with a big engine that's designed to go up against the BMW 6 Series and Mercedes S-Class Coupes of the world. It won't be cheap, and — considering Lexus' polarizing design language — it may look a little extreme. Expect strong reactions. It'll likely hew closely with the LF-LC concept car that debuted at this show in 2012.
Porsche is in the process of rolling out refreshed 911s, and next up are the Turbo and Turbo S. Like BMW's M2, the new Turbo has actually already been shown — it just hasn't arrived at an auto show yet, so this is the first time we'll get to see it up close. (What's funny is that Porsche has just started using turbochargers on the entire 911 range, so the "Turbo" name doesn't exactly mean what it used to.)
Honda's Acura brand will show off the Precision Concept, which the company says "will help set the direction for future Acura design; in particular, the next generation of performance-luxury sedans." Acura is in pretty desperate need of a design reboot right now, sitting on an array of ho-hum cars and crossovers that don't really get the blood pumping. Fortunately, the NSX supercar is finally getting ready to launch — and it sounds like real-world cars based on the Precision Concept's elements aren't far behind.