Luxury and sports cars were in the spotlight when the North American International Auto Show opened yesterday in Detroit, Michigan, amid booming sales and renewed optimism as the US economy rebounds from a deep downturn.
“The mood is going to be pretty good,” JD Power analyst Dave Sergeant said. “The industry is coming off a reasonably good year and this year should be even better.”
US sales are expected to rise to between 15 million and 16 million vehicles this year, after jumping 13 percent to 14.5 million vehicles last year, the biggest yearly gain since 1984.
The Detroit Three carmakers — General Motors Co (GM), Ford Motor Co and Chryslers Group LLC — are raking in huge profits again after years of painful restructuring and a renewed focus on the product side of their business. Their Asian and European counterparts are also investing heavily in the US as they jostle for position in the highly competitive market and look for a place to grow sales amid a slowdown in China and Brazil, and the collapse of EU demand.
“The product is the best consumers have seen in a long time,” said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with automotive site TrueCar.com
GM’s new Corvette was the most hotly anticipated and select journalists were given a sneak preview at a lavish event on Sunday night.
The muscular and sculpted Corvette Stingray shares a name with the iconic 1963 model, but is an entirely new vehicle, sharing only two parts with the previous generation Corvette.
“The soul of our company is sitting right here in Corvette,” GM North America president Mark Reuss said. “This car is the reason I work at GM.”
Daimler AG also offered a sneak peak at an entirely new car, the compact, stylish — and lower priced — Mercedes CLA coupe that is aimed squarely at the youth market.
“The CLA is a style rebel,” Mercedes design chief Gordon Wagener said. “The dynamic design idiom is manifested in breathtaking proportions, muscular, flowing contours and sculptural surfaces.”
Both vehicles will compete with luxury sports cars from Audi AG, BMW AG and a new muscle car from specialty carmaker Shelby.
Pickup truck fans also have plenty of new models to feast their eyes on, with GM’s new Chevy Silverado and a concept (or pre-production) truck from Ford ahead of the 2015 launch of the next version of its top-selling F-series.
Honda Motor Co will be testing out a concept for a smaller sport utility vehicle, as will Ford’s luxury Lincoln brand. There will be plenty of new hulks on the floor as well, especially from Chrysler’s Jeep and Dodge brands.
Even the more down-market vehicles are going to be decked out with features that were once reserved for luxury brands, like collision avoidance technology and heated side mirrors.
“Those features tend to be fairly profitable because once they get into the mass market they’re not that expensive to install and consumers will pay fairly well for them,” said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of automotive site Edmunds.com.
Drivers looking for improved fuel economy will have a wide range of options as automakers push hybrids, diesel and electric vehicles, and boost the efficiency of standard gasoline engines ahead of upcoming tough US government standards.
However, with hybrids and other alternative powertrains still only making up about 3 percent of the US market, carmakers are going to have to work harder on their “green car” pitches.