News Column

US Carmakers Putting on the Ritz at Detroit Auto Show

Jan. 9, 2012

Frank Fuhrig

Carmakers emerging from lean years have splurged out at the annual Detroit auto show, which opened Monday.

Even Chrysler, the smallest of Detroit's Big Three and now controlled by Italy's Fiat, has a splashy presence at this week's North American International Auto Show previews for press and industry insiders.

Its display showcases Italian styling -- right down to the bistro tables and plexiglass bar stools to give visitors a taste of chic.

Fiat subsidiary Maserati has its sports cars in the center of an area surrounded by new sibling Chrysler and its Ram pickup, Jeep, Dodge and SRT brands. Nearby is parent Fiat, which has also been reintroduced to the United States, headlined by the Fiat 500.

The last recession exposed the U.S. car industry's longstanding structural problems, which came to a head in the mid-2009 government bailouts and bankruptcy reorganizations at General Motors and Chrysler.

But even in a slowly-recovering economy, car sales in the United States rose in 2011 by 10.3 percent to an estimated 12.8 million vehicles.

Another big jump is forecast for this year to about 14 million units, with operating profits to go with it, helping to explain the more extravagant presentations at the auto show. The 2012 show opens to the public Saturday through Jan. 22.

Competing for the biggest presence is Ford, with its Lincoln luxury nameplate, and competitor General Motors with the Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC brands.

Ford's sprawling display area has the feel of a high-end dealer showroom, literally walled off from neighbouring exhibitors.

Meanwhile, the Chevrolet logo towers over the show floor in Detroit's Cobo Hall exhibit centre.

But GM is putting an unprecedented push into Cadillac, a venerable line of U.S. luxury cars. The company late Sunday revealed its new ATS, which GM officials billed as designed from the ground up to compete in the compact luxury market with models like BMW's 3 Series.

"This will be a global vehicle for us," Don Butler, Cadillac vice president for marketing, told dpa shortly after the car was presented in a gala unveiling.

"A small, nimble Cadillac: that used to be an oxymoron. Now, we are delivering something that's going to surprise people."

ATS is aimed squarely at the market segment dominated in the US and worldwide by BMW and Mercedes, with fellow German car maker Audi also making recent gains.

The German brands are all present in Detroit, including Volkswagen and Porsche, plus BMW's British subsidiary, Mini, with its fashionable new Roadster.

Smart, the Daimler-owned micro car line that has so far been unable to replicate Mini's U.S. breakthrough, presented its latest two-seater: with an open storage bed, equipped with docking stations to charge and haul a pair of Smart's electric-powered bicycles, the E-bike.

The company touts the tiny transport as translating "the practical loading concept of a pickup to the reality of 21st century urban traffic."

Near the center of the hall, Volvo built a two-story wood and glass building that looks like a giant Ikea cabinet.

The Japanese brands -- Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, Subaru and Mazda -- are likewise represented, plus South Korea's Kia and Hyundai.

Infiniti showed off its Red Bull F1 race car.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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