Having done their best to give splashy introductions to new models, automakers now have to hold their breath to see whether the new cars, trucks and SUVs prove popular with the public.
In 2018, they’ll have a bevy of new models, skewing heavily to pickups and SUVs that have proven to be favorites this year. But veteran auto executives know that the industry’s history is an unpredictable mix of hits and duds.
The most noticeable introductions will come at the opposite ends of the spectrum: two of the best-known pickup trucks and the new mass-market electric car from Tesla. The pickup wars will be especially vicious.
“You can’t ignore a big truck,” says Jessica Caldwell, analyst for Edmunds.com, the car-buying website. “Anytime there’s a truck, it’s a big deal.”
As for the Tesla, she thinks the new Model 3, priced at $35,000 before incentives, or at roughly half the cost of the brand’s existing luxury sedan and SUV, could finally bring electric cars to the masses.
“If they do 20,000 (deliveries to customers) a month, that is going to change the landscape,” Caldwell said. By the end of 2018, the Model 3 could power electric-car sales to the point that they pass gas-electric hybrids for the first time.
That said, here’s a list of some of the most important models that come to showrooms in 2018:
Tesla Model 3
All eyes will be on the Model 3, the test of whether the Silicon Valley automaker can pull average drivers out of their gasoline-powered cars and into a futuristic vehicle. A few are already on the road, mostly in the hands of Tesla employees, so it really hasn’t hit the market yet. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the car is running behind schedule because it’s in “production hell.” But the real question is whether the 400,000 admirers who plunked down $1,000 reservations will still be there when more of them roll off the assembly line.
This go-anywhere vehicle is the symbol of the Jeep brand, one of the most important assets of its owner, Fiat Chrysler. It is a direct descendant of the Army jeep that helped win World War II. For 2018, Jeep reengineered it using aluminum in some components, and added new engine choices while keeping its iconic look for diehard fans. Coming in the first three months of the year, it looks like Jeep successfully walked the tightrope of improving Wrangler while keeping it true to its roots.
General Motors’ full-size pickup is the nation’s second-most-popular vehicle of any sort behind Ford’s F-150. The big question was whether Chevy would follow Ford’s lead in making extensive use of aluminum to lighten the vehicle and improve fuel economy. It didn’t. Chevy is sticking by steel and promoting it as tougher than aluminum. Added bonus: Steel is cheaper.
The nation’s other popular pickup will debut at next month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But Ram, another Fiat Chrysler division, faces the same challenge as GM and Ford: winning over hidebound pickup buyers by adding capability and ruggedness while improving fuel economy. The new 1500 arrives in the first half of the year.
The Ascent fixes a big problem for Subaru, a high-flying brand that won over buyers with its outdoorsy image and all-wheel drive vehicles. Subaru buyers loved their vehicles, but outgrew them as their families got larger and had no where to turn but the competition. Ascent takes over the large SUV space that Subaru left behind with the oddly-styled Tribeca.
“The luxury mommy-mobile is getting bigger,” Caldwell says. Lexus has already created a devoted following with its two-row RX midsize SUV. Now it is extending it by 4.3 inches to create a three-row model with a name aimed at capturing the warm feelings for the RX. It will also come in a hybrid version.
Cars are out of favor with buyers compared with SUVs, and large cars haven’t caught fire either. But Toyota’s Avalon has done better than most. A new version comes to the auto show in Detroit and it will hit showrooms later in the year. It will give Toyota fresh product to go up against other full-size competitors like Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala and Nissan Maxima.
Ford was late to the party when it brought a small SUV, the EcoSport, to the Los Angeles Auto Show last year. The SUV finally comes to showrooms early next year. What makes it stand apart? It will be imported from India.
Honda Accord Hybrid
The latest version of the Accord has been drawing raves for being particularly well done since the turbocharged 1.5-liter version went on sale in October, followed a month later by the hotter version with a turbocharged 2-liter engine. Now comes the hybrid, which should combine all the best of the car with better fuel economy.
The Kicks, which just made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, has the right combination for success in the small SUV category: a peppy yet frugal engine, maximum inside space and lots of connectivity options. Most of all, however, it has more normal looks than Nissan’s current small SUV, the quirky Juke. Kicks arrives in June.
The QX50 is a nice, normal luxury SUV midsize SUV that will stand apart in one important respect: breakthrough engine technology. It has the industry’s first variable-compression engine, which changes the way the pistons work in the cylinders in a way that could give the QX50 a hybrid-like fuel economy without the need for large, expensive batteries.
Where are all the midsize cars? Until gas got cheap, they were the industry’s largest segment. Then came the SUV onslaught. The Mazda6 hasn’t been a huge seller, but it’s one of the nicer sedans out there. The new one, even nicer, goes in sale in April or May.
Volvo’s entrant into the small SUV race looks like a downsized version of the midsize XC60 midsize SUV. The all-wheel drive version will be followed a front-wheel drive model, due next summer.
Hyundai’s small SUV will stand apart on styling. In particular, it has bold, eyebrow-shaped black cladding over the wheel wells. It’s an important model for Hyundai as it tries catching up to rivals that offer more SUV choices. Hyundai has done well, but it’s car-based lineup has dragged it down. Kona will have two engine choices. It’s due in March.
Having already launched its first SUV, the F-Pace, Jaguar adds a smaller version. It comes in early 2018 at a starting price of $38,600. There will be a choice of two four-cylinder engines.
The German luxury brand has redesigned its flagship car, adding features like an air quality filtration system and a rear-seat foot massager. The A8 launch is followed also by a slew of other new Audis, including the A7, A6 and the Q8 in the latter half of 2018.