Auto show draws big crowds, big debuts in Detroit but all eyes on next generation Corvette

Auto crew members assemble display components in preparation for the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Auto crew members assemble display components in preparation for the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

As always, the North American International Auto show promises big crowds and big debuts.

This year there may be no debut bigger than the next generation Chevrolet Corvette. The patriarch of American sports cars turns 60 this year, and General Motors is promising the best Vette yet.

The buzz surrounding the car has enthusiasts such as the National Corvette Museum’s Adam Boca excited.

"I think it’s going to be an extremely distinctive Corvette," Mr. Boca said. "They’re using the tagline, ‘Nothing will be the same.’ If you read into that, it tells me it’s a completely new direction and a completely new image. But historically they have to understand it’s a Corvette and people are drawn to the characteristics that’s made it a Corvette over the years."

One key to the Corvette's continued success has been its ability to provide world-class performance rivaling many foreign exotics at a price that is relatively affordable. Toledo has played a role in that recently by supplying the Corvette's six-speed transmission, made at GM's Toledo Transmission Plant.

GM will reveal the 2014 Corvette today at a special event ahead of the two-day media preview where other automakers will present their wares to an international audience.

There will be also be a new Jeep revealed this week in Detroit, but it won’t be the Liberty replacement.

Instead, Jeep officials are expected to pull the covers off an updated Jeep Grand Cherokee, their Detroit-built flagship model.

Chrysler Group LLC has played coy for months over what the new Toledo-built Jeep will look like, when it will be revealed — even what it will be called.

Some company officials had hinted that the new model would be shown at the Detroit show, but industry watchers say we’ll have to wait a bit longer to get acquainted.

"It’s not going to be at Detroit," said Ed Kim, vice president of industry research at AutoPacific. "The refreshed Grand Cherokee will be at Detroit, as well as some powertrain updates for the Compass and the Patriot."

The Grand Cherokee was the best-selling Jeep last year, and the second-best selling vehicle in all of Chrysler Group’s lineup, trailing only the Ram pickup — making it plenty worthy of a Detroit reveal.

The updated Grand Cherokee will also beat the Liberty replacement to dealers, something Chrysler likely took into consideration when planning its auto show debut schedule.

"Typically when automakers release things at auto shows, it’s more or less in the order of when they’ll actually show up in showrooms," Mr. Kim said. "The 2014 Grand Cherokee is going to be in showrooms earlier than the Liberty replacement will."

A small group of workers at Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly Complex are still building early production models of the new Jeep by hand as they work out any kinks in preparation for full-scale production. The company has previously said that would start sometime in the second quarter of this year.

Even without the Liberty replacement, there will be plenty to see at the show. And coming off a year in which U.S. auto sales jumped 13 percent, there’s also a sense that Detroit — and the world — is back on track.

"I think there will be a real sense of renewal if you want to call it that, but a real positive attitude," show spokesman Marc Harlow said. "There’s going to be a positive buzz."

Auto show officials say there will be about 50 vehicle introductions in Detroit. More than 40 of those will be worldwide debuts.

BMW will unveil a concept version of its upcoming 4-series, a new moniker for what currently is the 3-series coupe. The German automaker will also debut its X4 crossover and show the redesigned 2014 Z4 roadster.

Ford is expected to show off a concept version of the coming 2015 F-150. Cadillac will debut its ELR, an extended range electric coupe with a drivetrain similar to the Chevy Volt. Dodge is rolling out a GT package for its Dart compact car.

Honda will have a compact crossover concept, while Toyota will show off its Furia concept, a car that may hint at styling cues for the soon-to-be redesigned Corolla.

In addition to the in-car technology, many automakers are placing an emphasis on creating more high-tech and interactive displays.

"We've had a real focus this year on interactivity and we’ve got lots and lots of stuff to check out," GM spokesman Cristi Vazquez said.

Since November, a camouflaged 2014 Corvette has been available for download in the Gran Turismo 5 racing game. Ms. Vazquez said Chevy will have a Playstation 3 console at the show for visitors to "drive" the new Corvette.

GM will also have a 1963 Chevy Greenbrier van-turned photo booth from which visitors will be able to share pictures of themselves on social media.

Chrysler will have a social media lounge visitors can access by using the Twitter hashtag #PassingLane. Inside the lounge there will be free wifi, water bottles, and cell phone and laptop charging stations. The tweets will be displayed on monitors in the Chrysler’s display.

"We’re trying to make it convenient for everybody to be mobile, to be able to spread the word, to stay connected, keep their devices charged, and promote info about our brands and what they’re seeing at the auto show," Chrysler spokesman Eileen Wunderlich said.

For its part, Ford is letting visitors record a video pitch for the Taurus to be shared via social media. They'll honor  the person whose video gets the most "likes" with a best in show title.

It's not all cutting edge at Ford, though. A costumed actor playing Henry Ford will guide guests through the company's display, giving an overview of the company founder's life. The tour includes a 1903 Model A, the first car produced by Ford Motor Co. and the precursor to the much more famous Model T and second Model A produced from 1928 to 1931.  

The show itself is also getting into the technology mix, having released a free mobile phone app last week that will live-stream more than 50 vehicle unveilings. The app also has a floor map and virtual visitor’s guide for Detroit.

The show drew about 735,000 people last year.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at 419-724-6134, or