Buyers to be spoiled for choice at upbeat Detroit auto show

AFP
Chicago
First Published: 15:16 IST(10/1/2014)
Last Updated: 15:23 IST(10/1/2014)
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The Detroit auto show is set to open with a spirit of rational exuberance Monday as carmakers celebrate booming sales and bulging balance sheets with a slew of stylish and sporty new vehicles.

Consumers will be simply spoiled for choice as automakers compete for their attention with a renewed focus on design, big improvements in fuel economy and flashy new features.

The Detroit Three carmakers emerged from the 2008 financial crisis -- which nearly killed General Motors and Chrysler -- with leaner operations and a laser focus on improving product quality and offerings.

Their competitors responded by speeding up development cycles to keep their models fresh so they wouldn't get left behind as sales slowly climbed out of a deep downturn.

"For the consumer we're seeing a fabulous situation," Tom Libby, an analyst with IHS Automotive, told AFP. "They're getting a huge array of fantastic products, and the prices are coming down because of competitive pressure."

It's a pretty fantastic time to be a carmaker too.

US auto sales finally returned to pre-recession levels last year, rising 7.6 percent to 15.6 million vehicles. They're forecast to continue to grow this year, though at a slightly slower pace.

"More important than that is people are making a lot more money at 15 million than they used to make at 16 or 17, and ultimately people are in this game to make money," said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at JD Power. 

"People are going to be frankly pretty bullish and the domestics in particular are feeling pleased with themselves and where they are now."

At least 50 new models from more than a dozen carmakers will be unveiled in the Motor City.

Some of the most intriguing are concept cars -- a way to test press and consumer reaction before a vehicle is finalized for production -- like Honda's hydrogen fuel-cell powered FCEV, The GT5 racer Mercedes originally designed for the Grand Turismo video game and Kia's high-end GT4 Stinger sports car.

There will also be plenty of product ready for the assembly line, like the hotly-anticipated Ford F150 pickup truck.

The F-series has been the top-selling vehicle in the United States for more than three decades. But with a deadline looming for strict fuel economy regulations, the new redesign is expected to incorporate aluminum to bring down its hefty weight.

"The jury is still out on how customers will react and if the aluminum will be up to the task for a truck used for towing," said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with Kelly Blue Book.

Another important model will be the Chrysler 200 sedan, which uses Alfa Romeo architecture and will be studied to gauge the success of the integration of Chrysler and Fiat.

For people who like luxury or a lot of power under the hood, Cadillac will unveil the new ATS coupe, Dodge will show a new iteration of its sexy Viper sports car while Corvette will reveal a convertible Stingray.

Mercedes will have a new C-class, and Infiniti will introduce a carbon fiber outfitted Eau Rouge sedan.

Toyota is expected to show a new sports car, the Supra, while its luxury Lexus brand is set to introduce the high-performance RC-F coupe.

Jaguar will also be introducing a sporty new coupe while Land Rover will display its limited-edition Autobiography Black, which comes with a whopping $185,000 price tag.

People with smaller budgets or a focus on fuel economy won't be disappointed either.

Honda will be introducing its new Fit compact, and there will be new hybrids on offer as well.

Automakers have poured $200 million into displays aimed at dazzling the more than 5,000 journalists flying in from around the world for press previews on Monday and Tuesday.

Another 850,000 people are expected to attend industry and charity preview events and the nine-day public show.

"The optimism is on display with all the money they put into the show," said Bob Shuman, chairman of the North American International Auto Show.

"There's a spirit of exuberance."


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