Want a glimpse of the Mercedes-Benz “autonomous” F 015? We got it. How about an up-close-and-personal with Ford’s aluminum-bodied F-150? We did it. Are you curious about the all-aluminum Audi TT? That model captured our attention, too.
The Detroit Cobo Center was stuffed with the best models the automakers had to offer and onlookers came out in droves Wednesday for the North American International Auto Show. Several of the new vehicles on display are likely to send ripples cascading through the AGRR industry as company owners prepare for the onslaught of changes these vehicles will bring.
The first model to catch our eye was one that has been making headlines around the world. It was the Mercedes-Benz driverless concept—the F 015. The vehicle appears to have a sleek, flat windshield, but not much else in the way of glass.
“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, in a company statement.
The vehicle features lounge chairs that allow a face-to-face seat configuration. In order to make getting in and out of the car easier, the electric powered seats also swing outward by 30 degrees as soon as the doors are opened, according to officials. The driver and front-seat passenger can swing their seats around to the front for manual driving. The steering wheel extends automatically from the dashboard.
“New materials and structures were used to develop the highly efficient ‘Smart Body Structure (SBS)’ of the F 015. By cleverly combining carbon-fiber- reinforced plastic (CFRP), aluminum and high-strength steels in a way that matches the varying requirements exactly, the lightweight engineering experts were able to make the bodyshell 40 percent lighter compared with today’s production vehicles,” according to a company statement.
Ford was also present in full force with its new F-150 aluminum-bodied vehicle. To the average eye, the pickup might not appear that different from its predecessors, but for those who will replace the vehicle’s glass, the change is important to keep top of mind. The automaker’s switch to all aluminum is primarily for weight reduction and fuel efficiency, according to officials on-site.
But will the all-aluminum idea become the norm? Ford’s president of the Americas said likely not.
“One of the big benefits you get from light-weighting … you can tow more and haul more,” Joe Hinrichs said while speaking at the Automotive News World Congress, according to a report. “You don’t get those same benefits to a customer on the car side. Truck buyers will pay for more capability, car buyers will pay for better fuel economy, but there’s other ways to get fuel economy in a car without the need to provide more capability. I don’t think we’ll see a dramatic increase in all-aluminum cars.”
But aluminum has been around for years, showing up in hoods, roofs and back decks. And it has certainly appeared in Audi’s model lineup. The automaker’s TT is all-aluminum.
“ASF aluminum construction helps provide exceptional rigidity, lightweight design that helps provide excellent performance and efficiency,” according to a company statement.
An on-site Audi representative in Detroit called it “aircraft grade aluminum.” He noted it is what is used in jets.
The 2015 Subaru Outback also captured our attention for the automaker’s use of aluminum in the A pillar and the new placement of the outside mirrors. The A, B and C pillars were switched to aluminum, which allows them to be smaller, making room for more glass, an on-site product representative explained. This allows for more visibility, but the aluminum does not compromise the pillars’ strength. A small, triangular sidelite was also added, he noted. Meanwhile, the mirrors were moved to the doors.
“The 2015 Outback’s windshield is more raked, pulled forward 2 inches at the base. The new windshield angle, higher seating hip points, new front partition windows and door-mounted side view mirrors help improve visibility,” according to a company statement.
“An aluminum hood reduces weight over the front wheels, which helps enhance steering response,” officials said in the statement.