Detroit Auto Show: Whose Home Field?
It used to be a showcase of American manufacturing muscle. But lately the North American International Auto Show, the annual auto-industry pilgrimage to Detroit, has illustrated how far the American automakers have fallen.
Despite all the glitzy presentations, last year's show-stealer was a no-tech press briefing in which the Chinese car company Geely outlined its plans to start selling cars in the United States in 2008 for well under $10,000. The buzz leading up to this year's show surrounds Chrysler's recent deal with Chery, another Chinese automaker, to import Chinese-built cars to the United States.
The Detroit Three, as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have become known (the "Big Three" aren't all that big anymore), arrive at this year's show after slipping even more in 2006. The D3 ended the year with a 51.5 percent share of the U.S. market, down from 55. 2 percent a year ago. Most of what they lost went to Asian makes, which grabbed a 40.4 percent share in 2006, up from 36.7 percent a year earlier. Here are the biggest losers and winners, according to Morgan Stanley:
|Automaker||Change in market share,
2005 to 2006
Chrysler's half-point gain is misleading, since that came largely from discounted, low-margin fleet sales to rental-car companies.
While it might not be sustainable, the domestics will generate a bit of kickoff excitement in Detroit. GM's Chevrolet division has a new Camaro convertible to show off, and Cadillac will unveil the new CTS, the entry-luxury sedan that has helped rejuvenate the luxury brand. One of GM's few remaining strengths is the brashness of its designerswhen they're freed from corporate decision makingand it should show in these sporty models. Whether it trickles down to the more mainstream Chevy Malibu, also being unveiled for the first time, will be a test of just how free a hand GM's suits have given the designers.
Ford will flex some muscle of its own, with a four-door "Interceptor" concept based on the popular Mustang. Lincoln will present a luxe version. But concepts are only theoretical; whether they actually get built depends on reaction at places like the Detroit show.
Chrysler will unwrap a new generation of minivans, which are reported to be less jellybean-shaped and more squared off, like the Jeep Commander. And the new Avenger, from Chrysler's Dodge division, will be a beefier version of the Chrysler Sebring.
GM could earn back a bit of pride if it wins either category in the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. Here are the nominees, with my handicapping:
Predicted winner: Toyota Camry. It's a superb sedan, with shortcomings, if any, that are hard to find.
Close runner-up: Saturn Aura. This polished sedan is a huge improvement for the GM division, but it's not at Camry caliber yet.
Distant runner-up: Honda Fit. This nifty minicar suffered a black eye from poor performance in rear crash tests.
Predicted winner: Chevrolet Silverado. One thing GM has continued to do right: Build compelling, everyman trucks. Expect it to continue.
Close runner-up: Mazda CX-7. It's a crossover, not a truck, and a good onebut it's too light to win as a truck.
Distant runner-up: Ford Edge. Close but no cigar. Another crossover, the Edge feels heavier on the road than competitors, but it's not as rugged as a real SUV.
Most importers, especially the Asians, lack the flash that the domestic automakers demonstrate in Detroit. But their actual products are often better. This year, Nissan will be showing off a small SUV, called the Rogue, that will compete with the Honda CR-V and others in that class. Hyundai and Kia will show off a pair of thrifty crossovers that will most likely dull the luster of Ford's Edge. And Toyota will show a new version of its Tundra pickup, made in Texas. Increasingly, America's heartland belongs to foreigners.