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Style and luxury at US auto show

10:30 Tue Jan 15 2013
AAP
Toyota introduces the Corolla Furia Concept car at the North American International Auto Show
Toyota introduces the Corolla Furia Concept car at the North American International Auto Show (Getty)

Stand-out styling, performance and luxury dominates the Detroit auto show as carmakers jostle for position amid booming sales and renewed optimism as the US economy rebounds from a deep downturn.

"Wow, what a difference three years make," Fred Diaz, head of Chrysler's Ram brand said as he accepted the truck of the year award for the Ram 1500 pickup truck.

GM, which like Chrysler was restructured under bankruptcy protection in 2009, was awarded the car of the year for its Cadillac ATS sedan.

"The mood is going to be pretty good," said Dave Sergeant, an analyst with JD Power. "The industry is coming off a reasonably good year and this year should be even better."

The Detroit Three carmakers 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 United States, 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 European demand.

"The product is the best consumers have seen in a long time," Jesse Toprak, an analyst with the automotive site TrueCar.com, told AFP.

GM's new Corvette was the most hotly anticipated and select journalists were given a sneak preview at a lavish preview 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 also offered a sneak peak at an entirely new car, the compact, stylish - and lower priced - Mercedes CLA coupe, which 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, BMW and a new muscle car from specialty carmaker Shelby at the show.

Pickup truck fans also have plenty of new models to feast their eyes upon, with the 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 will be testing out a concept for a smaller four-wheel drive or 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.

And even the more downmarket vehicles are going to be decked out with features once reserved for luxury brands, such as 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 petrol engines ahead of tough new government standards.

But with hybrids and other alternative powertrains still making up only about three per cent of the US market, carmakers are going to have to work harder on their green car pitches.

There is hope that younger buyers could help push demand for green cars to the point where it would have a significant impact on fuel consumption.

"While they're not necessarily going to gravitate to and make a buying decision because of 'green', they have a preference towards new technologies," said Joe Vitale, an auto analyst with Deloitte.

"We think this generation may be the generation that creates a tipping point to an electrified world."

More than 50 new models will be revealed on Monday and Tuesday as automakers vie for the attention of some 6000 journalists from around the world.