DETROIT – Maybe it was the brand-new, bright red Chevrolet Corvette gleaming in one corner, or the elegant BMW coupe in the other. Maybe it was just the free-flowing espresso at nearly every stand. But car companies were positively giddy last week as the North American International Auto Show opened in Detroit.
They have reason to be.
U.S. new car and truck sales reached a five-year high of 14.5 million in 2012, and many executives and analysts think theyll climb to 15.5 million this year. Credit is easier to obtain, interest rates are low and many people who held on to old cars during the recession are ready to buy.
To catch those customers eyes at the Detroit show, car companies are unveiling 59 new cars and concepts. Thats up from just 41 in 2012, a sign that automakers have more profits at their disposal and expect higher sales.
Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes have larger, more elaborate displays. Ford is luring visitors with the oldest surviving Ford in the world, a 1903 Model A, and the newest, a chiseled pickup truck concept called Atlas that could become the next F-150. General Motors can just sit back and watch the crowds gather around the Corvette.
The Detroit show, one of the countrys biggest, opened to the public Saturday. Here are five trends visitors will see:
One lesson from this years show: There are plenty of ways to squeeze more efficiency from cars and trucks.
Volkswagen is showing a plug-in hybrid SUV prototype called the CrossBlue that mates a diesel engine with two electric motors. It can travel 14 miles in all-electric mode and gets an estimated 35 miles per gallon while running on both gas and electricity.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is also making a jump to diesel power with a new, optional 3-liter V-6 diesel that gets 30 miles per gallon on the highway, five better than the gas-powered V-6.
Automakers are trying other tricks to save fuel as they face higher fuel economy requirements, even in muscle cars.
The eight-cylinder engine on the 2014 Corvette kicks down to four at highway speeds. The grille and wheels of Fords Atlas concept pickup have shutters that automatically close at high speeds to cut wind drag. Many carmakers are replacing steel with aluminum, carbon fiber and other materials to save weight.
Pickups take off
With new home construction back on the rise, pickup truck sales are poised to grow in the coming year. And Detroit is ready.
General Motors is showing its new trucks for the first time at the Detroit show. The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, which will go on sale this Spring, have mean-looking grilles, restyled interiors and new engines and transmissions that GM promises will be very efficient. The trucks even have steps inset into the rear bumper so people can jump into the bed to get tools or tie down cargo.
Chryslers just-refurbished Ram pickup – named the truck of the year by automotive journalists at the show – is also no slouch, boasting a segment-best 25 mpg on the highway.
Supple leather seats, finely stitched dashboards and sparkling chrome grilles are everywhere at this years auto show, a sign that car companies are clawing at each other for a piece of the growing and lucrative U.S. luxury market.
From a well-crafted new E-Class lineup from Mercedes to the plush, decked out luxury Cadenza sedan from once-lowly Kia, automakers are vying for customers who are ready to be pampered a little more.
Luxury sales grew almost 12 percent last year to over 1 million sales, and automakers are expecting further increases as people feel better about the economy and the recession recedes into the rear-view mirror.
Recent trends show that buyers who want luxury items such as leather seats and touch screens are coming back into the market and are willing to pay a little more.
Blurring the lines
The unveiling of the BMW 320i sedan, an entry-level 3-Series that starts at $33,445, renewed questions about whether luxury cars are starting to bump into mainstream models.
In the past couple of years, mass-market brands have started offering features once reserved for luxury brands. Ford offers a hands-free, automatic parallel parking systems and lane-departure warning signals on the midsize Fusion. Even the little Dodge Dart has a heated steering wheel.
Buyers will have to decide: Do they buy a loaded Fusion for nearly $37,000 or the new 320i?
And carmakers need to decide how to market their cars. The Chrysler 300, for example, competes with other mainstream large cars at the low end, but it has two high-end versions – the 300c and 300 Luxury Series – that compete with BMW.
With explosive growth in crossover vehicles in the past five years, automakers are looking at new ways to attract buyers of more efficient SUVs that are based on car underpinnings.
At the Detroit show, Honda opened a new front in the battle with a sharp-looking small utility. Its based on a subcompact frame and will be smaller than Hondas popular CR-V. Its a new part of the market thats attractive to automakers because there are no well-established competitors to unseat.
Nissan already is in the market with its funky Juke, which hasnt sold particularly well. General Motors Buick is just entering with an all-new Encore.
Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel says the new vehicle, called simply an Urban SUV Concept, is designed for city commuters who still want the cargo space, adventurous lifestyle and high sitting position of an SUV. Its aimed at people who no longer need a bigger SUV, yet dont want to give up the utility.