Auto Industry News: Luxury Car Market Makes Moves, Mercedes Thinks Long-term, Bumblebee Camaros Hit the Block & Detroit Auto Show Kicks Off

We’re two weeks into the new year and all eyes are planted firmly on the future. Last year’s sales numbers continue to roll in, with the luxury car market showing some interesting trends and fair-weather predictions for 2019. Mercedes continues to look toward that innovative light at the end of the tunnel, snubbing the Detroit Auto Show to make its splash at CES instead. Some interesting vehicles are up for auction, NAIAS is officially here, and off-road racing action is heating up the winter chill. All that and more on this week’s Auto Industry News.

Luxury Car Market Shows Promise

Despite an overall dip in the luxury car market during 2018, forecasters say the segment will stay hot in 2019. Increased competition will continue to propel sales, particularly as premium brands keep edging into the ever-expanding crossover and SUV game.

Providing an opportunity to maximize on interior comfort, technology, and user conveniences, new rides like the BMW X5, Volvo XC40, Cadillac XT4, and Range Rover Velar are helping to redefine the luxury car market. Mercedes, who saw a small dip in its yearly sales, still holds the crown in the US for luxury car sales, followed closely by BMW. It’s worth noting that the most popular model for Mercedes in 2018 was the GLC, a luxury compact SUV. And BMW, whose overall sales rose this past year, saw 63% of its December sales go to crossover models.

Rounding out the top contenders were Lexus, Audi, Acura, and Cadillac—all of whom have released new or redesigned SUV/crossover models within the last year. In fact, according to reports, Cadillac is already selling more crossovers than sedans. And as the next wave of hybrids roll in, the badge is expected to lead GM’s charge for an electric lineup in the future.

And speaking of EVs, while its not technically a luxury badge (despite garnering similar prices), Tesla sold 191,627 units in 2018, placing it snugly between Audi and Acura in the top five. Consumer tastes are evolving fast. It will be interesting to see if the luxury car market is nimble enough to answer the call.

Mercedes Looks Boldly Toward the Future

Perhaps in this quest, the luxury car market can take a cue from Mercedes and invest in the commercial segment. The badge’s Sprinter Van saw a record sales year for 2018, selling 38,178 units—a 9.1% rise over 2017.

The commercial sector has already begun massive transitional moves with Tesla and Nikola throwing their hats into the ring for electric semis, so it makes sense that small-scale movers would find themselves receiving an overhaul as well. Reconceptualizing the Sprinter has been a very clever move on Mercedes part, as the burgeoning electric/autonomous movement can be a risky endeavor. Through the badge’s innovative MBUX infotainment system, the Sprinter has achieved unparalleled connectivity in the segment.

Monitoring things like fuel and maintenance, the system also offers GPS, remote vehicle tracking, and an on-board digital assistant who understands voice commands like Alexa or Siri. New for 2019 are a hoard of safety upgrades as well, in the form of driver assistance bells and a 360-degree camera system. A new 4-cylinder gasoline engine joined the lineup and an all-electric version is set to drop sometime this year for the 2020 model year.

Clearly, this is more than Mercedes giving the van a special treatment. Testing the waters and finding them warm to the idea of increased efficiency and connectivity, Mercedes is beginning to paint this tech-minded paintbrush across other segments as well. The badge made a big splash at CES, revealing the second-gen CLA, new EQ brand, and some groundbreaking concept vehicles for good measure. Mercedes is committed to having 10 new electric models by 2025, so consumers can expect to see more innovations and variety amid the world of German engineering.

Transformers’ Bumblebee Camaros

And speaking of mind-blowing future technology, extreme enthusiasts with a mind for otherworldly mobility can bring some movie car royalty home with them this month. Set to hit the Barrett-Jackson auction block on January 19th in Scottsdale, are all four Bumblebee Camaros from the box office smash Transformers franchise. Sold as a package deal, all proceeds will benefit the charity Operation Homefront— an organization that provides financial assistance and other services to military families in need while their loved one is deployed.

Two Camaros are 2010 models, the first featured in Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the second in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The other two models are 2013 and 2016 Camaros from the films Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight, respectively. And while there is no reliable expected price range for these vehicles, last year, former president George W. Bush put up a regular ol’ Corvette that went for 1.4 million toward the same cause. It’s safe to say they’ll be receiving another big check in the near future, despite the vehicles not being street legal.

Detroit Auto Show Has Arrived

There will, however, be some highway-drivable super vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show. The perennial home of the auto world’s newest and most innovative contenders has come to play and Ford’s Shelby GT500 has the competition working overtime. While it doesn’t have the same specs as its one-off Super Snake cousin—who went for a record-breaking $2.2 million dollars at the Kissimmee, Florida Mecum auction, by the way—it does pack a 700-hp supercharged V8, claiming the title as the most powerful Ford production vehicle ever.

Additionally, the Mahindra Roxor (Remember this little guy?) will ruffle some feathers in Detroit these next couple weeks, too. After batting away FCA’s attempts to put the “mini-Jeep” out of commission for copyright infringement, the toy off-roader got the greenlight to make a Detroit appearance. The Roxor has not officially been slated for US release, but many believe that this week’s showing gestures toward that reality.

Mahindra has already set up a production plant in Southeast Michigan, seeking 425 new employees. While GM and Ford make big layoffs and look to the future, they leave a talented pool of potential workers in their wake. So, while FCA has succeeded in some of its legal proceedings—namely in pursuing trade dress claims against Mahindra, the Indian company will still show its face at NAIAS in Detroit. And potentially, stay in the Motor City for good.

The Detroit Auto Show begins today and will run thru January 27th.

Around the Circuit

The Dakar Rally has just wrapped up Stage Six and the competition continues to heat up in the Peruvian desert. In the bike class, Pablo Quintanilla took the win, racing neck and neck with Kevin Benavides for the duration of the stage. The win extended his overall Dakar lead to four minutes and thirty-eight seconds over American rider Ricky Brabec and Australian Toby Price by over five minutes.

In the car class, Peugeot driver Sebastien Loeb took the stage over Nasser Al Attiyah, giving him his 13th career stage win, though the latter still holds the overall lead by nearly 38 minutes. The win was special for Loeb, who crashed on those same dunes last year, taking him out of the race. Additionally, the stage win promotes Loeb from fifth to second place, as mini-buggy driver Stephane Peterhansel stopped to help another driver, becoming stuck himself and losing nearly 19 minutes on his overall time and opening up the leader boards for Loeb’s advancement.

The 2019 Dakar Rally finishes in Lima on Thursday, January 17.

For those on the homefront, the 33rd annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals kicks off today at the River Spirit Expo at the Tulsa Fairgrounds. The event continues to grow, with this year boasting over 350 entrants from 33 states and five countries. This year has seen a slight format change, thanks to the addition of a Monday qualifying race. The Top 2 in each night’s A-feature will lock into Saturday’s 55-lap championship event, tweaking the finish and race procedure for Saturday. For more detailed information on the changes, as well as a full schedule of events, click here.

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