The NAIAS: Auto Show or Beauty Pageant?


This year, the Detroit Auto Show was a little of both

Detroit Hosts Annual North American International Auto Show

One trend stood out during reporting on this year’s North American International Auto Show (also known as the Detroit Auto Show), held in Detroit January 11 to 24: aesthetics. Attendees and media touted the beauty of this year’s offerings, with a few clear standout vehicles. Of all the vehicles showcased, a few drew effusive comments about their beauty and expert styling from attendees across the board. David Kiley, from Forbes, wrote about all the “new vehicles that [were] just downright too pretty not to take note of.” And others agreed.

All The Beautiful Cars

The Buick Avista is a concept car, and Forbes writes that the vehicle is “obviously influenced by Jaguar styling.” It’s unclear whether the Avista will move beyond the concept phase and actually be available to consumers. Either way, it’s difficult not to appreciate its beauty: in fact, for the second consecutive year it won the EyesOn Design Award for a Concept Car.

2016 Buick Avista Concept Car
2016 Buick Avista Concept Car

Another aesthetic standout this year was the Lexus LC500. Forbes writes that the LC500, “has been a long time in coming, and is the Japanese automaker’s big foot forward in trying to establish cred in the $100,000+ category, and with performance-car aficionados.” The cherry-red paint and streamlined design are hard not to fall for. But it’s not just for show — though it’ll carry a hefty price tag, this vehicle will soon be available for purchase.

Lexus LC500
Lexus LC500, photo by Autoblog

According to Hannah Elliot from Bloomberg Business, “If you see one car at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, make it the 2017 Ford GT.” The car, Elliot writes, can hold it’s own with the best European exotics, but, “the initial attraction, especially with that white paint, is how stunning this GT looks from the outside. This is what it takes to revitalize a company. Ford has every right to be very, very proud.” Production will start later this year, but fewer than 1,000 will be created.” Of the GT, Forbes says, “It is a beautiful car for people who like fast, low-slung cars they can drive on the street, and on the track on weekends.” They won’t be simple (or cheap) to acquire, though. Forbes reports even fewer will be made (250), and they’ll run over $400,000 per vehicle.

2017 Ford GT with two other versions
The all-new Ford GT (blue) along with the 1966 Ford GT40 (red) and the second-generation Ford GT Number One (white). Photo by BBC.

Another concept unveiled at the NAIAS and touted by many for its aesthetics is the Acura Precision Concept. Aaron Turpen at Gizmag says: “The car itself is outlandishly beautiful. Its general body shape is best described as ‘Camaro-like power.’” Forbes called it “sexy.”

Acura Precision concept car
Acura Precision concept car

What the Focus on Looks Means

There’s no doubt that NAIAS reviewers paid attention to looks this year, but after reading the detailed descriptions about stunning paint and clean lines, you might be wondering if the focus on looks was intentional. Did auto manufacturers intend for NAIAS attendees to be so taken with the outsides of their offerings? Isn’t it a little superficial?

The answer is more complicated that it might first appear.

One reason, according to Forbes’ Kiley: the trickle-down theory. It might not have worked for the economy, but Kiley argues that the Lexus LC500 is a prime example of the auto industry’s version of the theory. He explains: “If the truly fat-wallet brigade thinks your car will stand up to Mercedes, BMW and Porsche, which the LC500 does, it casts a glow on the rest of the brand.”

Kyle Stock, at Bloomberg Business seconds the sentiment: of the super-fancy super cars showcased in Detroit, Stock says, “A lot of these cars won’t sell enough to justify their creation. It takes somewhere around $1 billion to develop a vehicle.” Stock says that economics aren’t the biggest worry in automakers’ minds. He says, “With a crush of buyers, they just need to get noticed.”

On the NAIAS floor, Stock spoke with Xavier Mosquet, senior partner in Boston Consulting Group’s auto unit. Asked whether the Lexus LC500 would make money, Mosquet said: “I think this one is for the branding. It’s a halo car.” In short, if the vehicle gets on enough magazine covers and turns enough heads at dealerships, its return will be evident in sales of less flashy Lexuses (Lexi?).”

So, some of the flash, some of the obvious showiness of the offerings in Detroit really are for the Instagramming-Facebooking-selfie crowd—a crowd that will, automakers hope, bring customers seeking something a little more reasonable to their showroom floors.

Many of the most beautiful cars won’t sell enough to justify their creation.

The Price of Beauty

Do beautiful, flashy cars cost more to insure than their more sedate siblings? Well, it depends. The “red car myth”–the belief that vibrant cars cost more to insure because they are more likely to be ticketed–has been roundly debunked. Esurance says that no U.S. study has assessed whether car color has an effect on safety, and auto insurers don’t use the color of your car to help determine your rate at all.

Now, if you purchase one of the above cars (high five!), your auto insurance will likely be pretty expensive, but most of that expense will go toward making sure you’re covered (and reimbursed) in the event of an crash. The same goes for customization: as with any expensive, valuable car, it’s up to the owner how much they want to shell out for insurance that will cover their repairs in the event of a crash. But you do have to tell your insurer–and make sure each modification you want covered is included in your policy.

Survey Says…

We wondered: how much do the looks of a car really matter? CNBC reported the results of a recent car survey of 2,000 men and women: “Women think the most attractive men tend to drive black Ford pickup trucks. The cost of being sexy is much steeper for women, with men answering that attractive women typically drive red BMW sports cars. Following conventional wisdom, women should steer clear of the minivan, with men saying that ladies who drive green minivans are the least attractive. Women took it out on the mailman, answering that the least attractive men tend to drive mail trucks.”

When it comes to snap judgments, it seems the way a car looks helps to form a salient first impression of the person behind the wheel.

How important do you find the aesthetics of a car? How much did the way your car looks factor into your decision to buy it?