In NAIAS show, almost carmakers pin their hopes for recovery on small cars with big aspirations.
About hundreds of cars on display this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit none has more riding on it than the little Ford Focus. Redesigned for the 2012 model year, it’s the flagship of Ford Motor’s new small-car lineup in the U.S. and a crucial test of Chief Executive Alan R. Mulally’s strategy to develop vehicles that will sell in every market of the world.
Along with the recently introduced Ford Fiesta subcompact, and a new portfolio of small cars from General Motors, the Focus is also a test of whether American carmakers can finally build great small cars profitably. Ford got an early lift Monday as its Fusion Hybrid sedan was named car of the year and its versatile Transit Connect compact van snagged truck of the year at the Detroit auto show.
Four new cars in particular–the Focus, Fiesta, Chevrolet Cruze and Chevrolet Aveo–“will spell the future profitability of the American industry,” predicts IHS Global Insight analyst John Wolkonowicz. “They are premium small cars. As the market is downsizing to comply with new fuel-economy rules, it’s going to be necessary for the car companies.
Both GM and Ford say they’ll make money on small cars by selling them in huge volumes around the world. Likewise, GM’s small-car strategy is built around global volume. The Cruze, introduced last month, is already a hot seller in Europe, Asia and Australia. GM says it offers midsize interior space in a compact car, and its new Ecotec 1.4-liter turbocharged engine will get 40 miles per gallon. U.S. sales begin this fall.
GM’s aggressively styled Chevy Aveo RS concept argues that the days of the bare-bones econo-box are gone. The Aveo show car strongly hints at what the next-generation Aveo will look like: a huge, open-mouthed grille, wide stance and low roofline. The small cars on display in Detroit represent a critical battleground for U.S. automakers around the world.
But the most significant hybrid introduction might be Toyota’s concept, smaller than the popular Toyota Prius hybrid, and signaling the Japanese automaker’s intention to roll out a full family of Prius hybrid vehicles. The Prius has become a universal icon for hybrid technology, Toyota said it will begin marketing Prius as a brand.
Chevrolet, as noted, is focused on small, fuel-efficient cars and crossovers, with Cruze and Aveo taking center stage alongside the hot-selling Equinox crossover. Buick continues its rebuilding effort with the sporty new Regal mid-sized sedan. GM hopes it will attract younger buyers to the struggling brand, as the Buick Enclave crossover and Lacrosse sedan have done. GMC is also going for younger professional buyers with its Granite “urban utility” concept vehicle.
Cadillac’s big news is the XTS Platinum concept, a top-of-the-line Caddy that will replace the STS and DTS sedans. It will compete with luxury standard-bearers like the Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series.