Luxury segment sees continued growth, new models emerging
By Andy Mikonis For Sun-Times Media February 5, 2014 11:30AM
Luxury vehicle intros dominated the recent Detroit International Auto Show and if you attend the Chicago Auto Show you will see plenty of examples of the strength in this surging segment.
“It’s a great day for luxury,” said Mike Acavetti, senior vice president of automotive operations at Acura, closing out the last major manufacturer press conference of January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Contenders for a piece of market share are seeking to distinguish their product at the Chicago Auto Show in a changing landscape where Mercedes-Benz just broke the sub-$30,000 barrier and Kia vies for a spot in the luxury clique with the K900.
At the top of the heap, Rolls-Royce announced a fourth straight record breaking year. Bentley also stated the U.S., their biggest market, saw a 28 percent increase in sales over 2012, outpacing a worldwide increase of 19 percent.
Acura’s debut was the 2015 TLX Prototype. This concept car showed the styling of the upcoming midsize sedan that will replace the TL and the TSX. The interior was not shown, though Acavetti promised a “vaultlike experience” citing an engineering emphasis on body rigidity and chassis isolation in order to deliver a quiet ride.
Two powertrains were discussed by Acura, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a dual clutch transmission with torque converter, and a 3.5-liter V-6 with gasoline direct injection and a nine-speed automatic. The TLX will also feature four-wheel steering.
Riding on the excitement of capturing the number one luxury brand in U.S. sales for 2013, Mercedes-Benz made news with three new production models in Detroit. Most significant was the new C-Class, traditionally their best seller worldwide. Once the entry level Benz, the new C-Class goes upscale after the arrival of the lower-priced CLA.
The CLA’s sister crossover, the GLA, appeared in high-powered AMG trim. And finally, the ultimate in opulence with a Mercedes-Benz badge, the 523-horsepower V-12 powered S600 made its world premiere.
Perhaps the best indicator for the strength of the luxury market was the number of new luxury coupes to appear in Detroit. The most striking was the Mercedes-Benz Concept S-Class Coupe, said to be a preview of next generation styling. A few automakers added some hot horsepower to the personal luxury aspect of a coupe, for their expressions of ultimate high-performance luxury cars.
Following up on the successful launch of the ATS sedan, Cadillac introduced the ATS Coupe for 2015. With a 22 percent increase in sales for the year, Cadillac is claiming the title of fastest growing full-line luxury brand. When it hits showrooms, the ATS will be Cadillac’s only coupe other than the plug-in hybrid ELR as the larger CTS coupe is phased out. While recognizably using the same “Art and Science” design language, the ATS Coupe looks more conservative than the CTS coupe. A manual transmission will be offered for driving enthusiasts.
After the redesign of the 3-Series sedans and wagons, BMW introduced the replacement for the 3-Series Coupe (and convertible), which is now called the 4-Series. So, it was no surprise to see the next step, the new M4 performance model of the 4-Series Coupe debut alongside the M3 Sedan in Detroit.
Additionally, BMW showed the new 2-Series Coupe, a slightly larger replacement for the 1-Series Coupe. This one, the M235i, was representing the new “M Performance” sub brand, which will offer sport tuned models one notch below the track purposed M cars.
Perhaps a response to the M4, Lexus rolled out the RC F, the F performance version of the new RC Coupe. A 5.0-liter V-8 with over 450 horsepower will motivate the RC F Coupe through an eight-speed transmission and torque-vectoring differential that varies drive wheel speeds to improve cornering. Like other F variants, the RC F will have unique interior and exterior treatments inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar.