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2011 Detroit Auto Show Highlights Part 1: The Big 3 on a Rebound

 It may not be the usual showcase of mind-blowing concept cars, but there is no doubt that Motor City delivered a buzzworthy event at the 2011 North American International Auto Show which was opened to the media recently.

America’s most prestigious auto show was back in business for its 23rd installment following the improved state of the US Auto Industry and the many promising plans that the automakers have in store. All in all, it was an interesting display of ever-unique concept cars, some high-end cars, and most notably, a larger representation of more affordable and more energy-efficient vehicles.

Although the show featured cars from all over the world, most eyes were on the home team. The Big Three from Detroit kept up with their recovery strategies and kept impressive yet relatively low profile presentations in this biggest and most awaited car show in the US. This is a noticeable change from the past shows, which featured over-the-top, futuristic show displays, audacious spectacles, and events spilling through the streets of Detroit.

But it should be remembered that not so long ago, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler were plagued with burdens of debt and loss of their long-standing leadership positions. This year, however, Ford has reported a 19% increase in sales, GM’s shares are climbing in value after they went back to trading publicly, and Chrysler is introducing a new line-up with much improved cars and trucks. There might be a long way to go before they can fully recover and regain their previous standings, but it will be a crime not to say that the Big Three is on a rebound, and its Asian rivals must not take it lightly.

For this year’s show, Ford came out with the concept car Vertrek (which in Afrikaan means departure), and unveiled new hybrid and electric cars. What’s more, The Ford Explorer won the Truck of the Year Award, and many analysts are predicting that Ford will win the Big Three race of getting back on its feet. They are planning to hire people for 2011 and 2012, which is another sign pointing towards recovery. Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. has also announced Ford’s claim to be a global standard-bearer for green cars. It’s a sensible cause, but Ford is not alone in this claim.

 Chrysler, although still behind Ford and GM, also aims to be seen as the “greenest” carmaker. They presented a completely revamped line-up, including the Chevy Volt, which took home the North American Car of the Year Award. This prestigious award is given to the most outstanding new vehicles for the year as judged by a panel of veteran automotive journalists from the US and Canada. This win is not a surprise to many, as the Chevy Volt has won several other awards like the Motor Trend 2011 Car of the Year, Green Car Journal Car of the Year, and accolades from Popular Science, Car and Driver and Ward’s AutoWorld. The Volt is also the first electric car to win such award, which GM sees as being representative of their resurrection from bankruptcy and readiness to get back into the competition.

So it seems that for the Big Three, this year’s show is all about business. Sure, some of the viewing public might be a bit let down by having less of the jaw-dropping sports cars and concept cars and other spectacular surprises, but this year will be remembered more as a significant turning point in the recovery of the US automotive market through changing products and setting new trends.

Following the government’s tougher standards for better fuel economy, the Big 3’s direction is to produce smaller, more affordable and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The idea is that in the few years to come, we might just see American showrooms more like their European counterparts. The groundwork has been set, and Ford plans to launch the small Lincoln, whose engineering platform is patterned after the Focus, during next year’s show. Chrysler, meanwhile, will introduce a “micro-van”, joining the lone Mazda 5 in this smaller van category.

But here’s the question: is America ready for this trend? Only time will tell if these automakers’ predictions will hold true. But for this year, Detroit has shown that the Big Three is back and that is enough cause for celebration.

The North American International Auto Show runs from January 10 – 23, 2011 at COBO Center, Detroit, Michigan.

(In Part 2, we shall switch the focus to the Big Three’s competition.  Watch for more about what the other old-players and fast-rising newbies from Asia and Europe have to offer for this year’s show.  And for all your car parts needs, don’t forget to check .



























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