AutoNation's CEO Mike Jackson has a tradition at the Detroit Auto Show.
He walks the show floor at 7 a.m., before most others arrive. Only once in his 25 years of attending the show was that ritual interrupted: In 1999, when a snowstorm forced the airplane Jackson was on to wait 9 hours on the runway for a gate, he says.
He missed the first day of the show that year.
"I like to really look without being interrupted or having too many people around the product," Jackson told Automotive News while walking the show floor. "Also, some of the people who actually do the cars, work on the cars, are here early and you get to have a quiet conversation with them before all the craziness starts."
It's during those early morning hours that Jackson picks the vehicles he thinks will be big hits and messy misses.
Here are his winning picks from this year's show:
Mercedes S class Coupe concept: "Let's start with beauty first: the new S class. Just look at the sweeps from the front to the rear. It's clean and dynamic. The interior is spectacular. They call this a concept car, but I've seen the actual car so this is 98 percent of what it will be. Everybody likes beauty and this car has it."
2015 Ford F-150 pickup: "This is the most courageous, gutsiest vehicle here. To make the decision, on the highest volume vehicle in America, to produce it in aluminum is a gutsy call. What I've seen over the last five to 10 years, the last five years especially, is the American consumer is willing to embrace new technical solutions that they were not in the past. So I think the market is accepting. It's going to be hot.
"Technically, producing this vehicle out of aluminum in the volume that it needs to be and to hit the cost part is a huge challenge that Ford Motor Co. has taken on. I applaud them; I salute them. It's a gutsy call. I'm confident ultimately they will succeed, because they have no choice. But the journey to get from where they are to producing this thing in the volume that they need is going to be quite a story."
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: "The Corvette, very rightly, won car of the year and also here they launched the high-performance version, the Z06. This car so much epitomizes the transformation that's happened at General Motors. It personifies everything that is right with General Motors today. It's a design that evokes Corvettes of the past, but is very forward looking. It's a brilliant interior that's attractive with great fits and finish. It's at a price point that no competitor can match. You cannot get more performance for your dollar anywhere than the Corvette.
"I gotta have one of these."
2015 Lexus RC Coupe: "This is just a beautiful car. Look how far the design of Lexus has come. Before they were perfect cars, but without a lot of emotion. This design has passion on every line that you look at. It really says Lexus as a brand on design is in a new place and this car celebrates it."
Toyota FT-1 Concept: "We have been asking Toyota to make a high-performance sports car to demonstrate to the marketplace the types of cars they're able to produce. Yes, they make very competent transportation vehicles which their customers love and buy in the millions. But you still need certain halo cars that say our company can produce these sorts of things and you're getting a little taste when you buy your Toyota sedan. Here it is. The design is breathtaking. It just screams raw performance. This is truly a concept at this point. I hope they build it. I'm going to tell them to build it, hopefully they listen."
BMW i8 plug-in hybrid coupe: "I saw this as a design and I thought it was perfect and so futuristic that the production version would not ever live up to it and the futuristic elements would be watered down. But it's spectacular and it's a plug-in electric. There will be tremendous demand for it."
Jackson said he didn't see any duds in Detroit this year. He believes the days of seeing bum vehicles such as the Pontiac Aztec SUV are over.
Recalls Jackson: "I was here on arrival of the Aztec and I said, 'That'll never sell.' We don't have those anymore. We have great cars that give customers great choices. This is what it's all about. I couldn't be happier."