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Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Ford, GM ready to fight Asian invaders

EAST VERSUS WEST With Japanese and South Korean carmakers whittling away at the US giants' share of the market, the `Big Three' used this year's car show to wow the press

AFP , DETROIT, MICHIGAN

US car giants General Motors and Ford used the 100th edition of Detroit's world-famous auto show to vow to fight back against an invasion by determined Asian rivals.

GM scored a rare home run for the troubled US industry by scooping the car and truck of the year awards on the opening press day of this year's North American International Auto Show.

Japanese makers Toyota, Honda and Nissan and South Korea's Hyundai have been eroding the domination of Detroit's "Big Three" -- GM, Ford and Chrysler, which are all leaking money and sales.

But GM chief executive Rick Wagoner launched a counteroffensive in a sector where Toyota and Honda have stolen a march, announcing plans for 12 new hybrid vehicles in the coming year.

GM also showed off a Chevrolet Volt concept car powered by its new "E-flex System" -- which the company bills as the next generation for electric propulsion beyond the era of gasoline-electric hybrids.

"I think it's clear that in the last three years we've been moving in a positive direction on product development," Wagoner told reporters.

"There are a lot of good guys out there but we're in the game," he said in a nod to GM's rivals.

Company chairman Bill Ford, introducing an array of new production and concept vehicles and a voice-activated communications system with Microsoft Corp, said this year would mark the Ford group's recovery.

He noted that at the first Detroit show in 1907, his great grandfather Henry Ford revealed the plans for the Model T, the car that pioneered industrial mass production.

"We've had some challenging times lately, but my optimism for Ford Motor Company is unwavering," he said at the glitzy product event.

"I believe we've laid the foundation for a stronger Ford, beginning this year," he said.

The Mercedes-Benz arm of the DaimlerChrysler group had literally the coolest show in Detroit, laying out an ice rink for husky dogs, dance skaters and hockey players to cavort around its all-wheel-drive vehicles.

DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche said he was unhappy with the performance of the group's loss-making US division, but said that its boss, Tom LaSorda, was "doing a good job in a difficult environment."

One of the most intriguing offerings in Detroit was the DaimlerChrysler group's tiny "Smart fortwo," a two-seater hit on the congested streets of Europe that is to go on sale in the US early next year.

"The Smart is simply cool," Zetsche said on the ice rink, insisting that US drivers were ready for the tiny vehicle.

The Chrysler Group was overtaken by Toyota as the third best-selling auto maker in the US last year.

Toyota is also nipping at Ford's heels. And GM, for 75 years the world's biggest automaker, is set to lose its crown to Toyota this year in terms of global production.

Toyota on Sunday unveiled its first full-size pickup truck, an update to its Tundra model, in a bid to take the battle for the rugged vehicles to its US rivals.

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