This year's auto-show season will hit its stride next week, when the huge North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens its doors. Among the big debuts expected: The Acura NSX sports car from Honda (HMC), long awaited by enthusiasts around the world.
The new NSX is sure to generate plenty of breathless media coverage. But for all the excitement, the NSX is far from the most important new car expected in 2015. Here are three new models that might not seem as exciting, but are likely to have much more of an impact.
Another Honda Product Will Be a Bigger Deal in 2015
One of the year's most important new models is coming from Honda -- the HR-V, a new "crossover" SUV.
Here's what makes it important: Small crossovers, the industry term for SUVs built on car-derived underpinnings, are white-hot now. Honda's own compact CR-V crossover outsold the brand's mainstay Accord sedan in the last quarter of 2014.
That points out the challenge for automakers: Crossovers are stealing sales from their sedan models. Honda's answer? A smaller, less-expensive crossover, the HR-V, built in Honda's new factory in Mexico. It shares underpinnings with the popular Fit subcompact, along with the Fit's strong-for-its-class 1.5-liter engine. If it builds on the CR-V's recent success, it'll be a winner for Honda, starting this spring.
An Italian Jeep That Could Rock the World
Honda is far from the only brand jumping on the small-crossover boom. Fiat Chrysler's (FCAU) venerable Jeep brand rode the SUV renaissance to a 41 percent sales gain in 2014, and it's planning to build on that success with its own new subcompact SUV, the Renegade.
The Renegade may be made in Italy, but it has a lot in common with its bigger Jeep siblings. It's technically a crossover, mechanically related to some versions of the Fiat 500. But it's still a Jeep, available in "Trail Rated" versions with Jeep's "Active Drive Low" four-wheel-drive system.
It should sell well in the U.S. when it goes on sale this spring. But the Renegade's real impact is likely to be overseas: The Renegade's real mission is to introduce the storied Jeep brand to younger buyers in places like China, where SUVs are wildly popular.
With Fiat Chrysler aiming for 20 percent average annual growth in global Jeep sales over the next five years, the Renegade's importance is obvious, and its impact could be very significant.
A Compact Chevy, But Not the Volt
General Motors (GM) is expected to show the all-new 2016 Chevy Volt in Detroit, and it'll likely compete for headlines with the NSX and other "glam" debuts. But the Chevy that will make a bigger difference is an all-new version of the Cruze compact, due this fall.
The Volt may get the headlines, but the Cruze outsold it by more than 10 to 1 last year. Widely hailed as the best compact Chevy ever when it debuted in 2010, the Cruze represented a sea change for GM: a small car that was worth buying because it was good, not just because it was cheap.
The Cruze was a strong seller right out of the gate, and that trend has continued throughout its life cycle. Buyers may be choosing more crossovers over cars, and the current Cruze may be outshone a bit by newer competitors like the Toyota (TM) Corolla, but sales remain solid: The Cruze's U.S. sales were up 10 percent last year over a solid 2013, outpacing the overall market's gains.
Not much is known about the new Cruze, except for this: GM CEO Mary Barra delayed it for a year to ensure that it got the attention it deserved. It's expected to have a roomier interior, more fuel-efficient engine options and some high-tech touches when it goes on sale later this year.
Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Find out the easy way for investors to ride the new mega-trend in the automotive industry in our free report.