Confidence and canapés hallmark this year’s Detroit auto show
DETROIT: Confident carmakers gave journalists a taste of fresh new vehicles, along with canapés and cocktails, at the start of the Detroit motor show (officially called the North American International Auto Show) last week. At least 50 new models from more than a dozen carmakers were unveiled in the Motor City during two days of press previews.
Capturing the attention of the 5,000 journalists flying in from around the world could be a struggle amid the back-to-back reveals and carmakers have poured more than $200 million into dazzling displays.
Mercedes hired R&B songstress Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child to serenade its sleek new C-Class as it rolled onto stage at an elegant invite-only event.
“In developing the new C-Class, we aimed for a car that simply lives up to our mantra: ‘The best or nothing,’” Mercedes chief Dieter Zetsche said in unveiling the new model.
General Motors chose a former industrial complex, which has been revitalized into a center for artists and small businesses, as the venue in which to reveal its GMC Canyon, a midsize pickup truck. But all eyes were on incoming chief executive officer Mary Barra, the first woman to be tapped to lead a major carmaker.
Barra, who was previously in charge of global product development and has been hailed within the industry as a ‘car guy,’ signaled that the accountants will not be allowed to dominate business plans.
“At today’s GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the center of everything we do. That has fostered a bold, new culture at our company, a culture that promotes innovation and encourages risk taking,” she said. “If we can delight our customers with something unexpected, we go for it.”
The Detroit spectacle formally got under way at a newly renovated convention center in downtown Detroit, which is currently struggling through the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. The Motor City is hoping to echo the success of GM and Chrysler, which emerged from government-backed bankruptcies in 2009 as stronger, leaner and far more successful companies.
After years of painful restructuring and mass layoffs, the Detroit Big Three carmakers are racking in massive profits as major product revamps allowed them to take advantage of resurgent demand. US auto sales have finally returned to the levels seen in the 14 years prior to the devastating 2008 crash, growing 7.6 percent to 15.6 million vehicles in 2013. They are forecast to keep growing this year, but at a slower pace.
And nearly every carmaker in the highly competitive market—which offers consumers a choice between 340 different models—has been able to profit from the growing sales.
“This year we believe the industry will start entering a ‘leveling-off’ period and continued sales growth will be more a result of economic gains rather than pent-up demand,” Toyota Motor North America chief Jim Lentz said. “That’s good, because pent-up demand can carry you only so far.”
Toyota’s planning forecast of 16 million vehicles is more conservative than some analysts, who see the market heading as high as 16.4 million in 2014, Lentz told the Society for Automotive Analysts.
Volkswagen also expressed confidence in the US market, announcing a $7 billion investment in North America over the next five years as it reaffirmed plans to boost US sales to 1 million Volkswagen and Audi vehicles a year by 2018. The group has nearly doubled its US sales since 2008 and set a new record of over 600,000 deliveries in 2013.
“We want many more American drivers to feel at home with our group brands and are working to achieve that with 100 percent commitment and plenty of passion,” VW chief Martin Winterkorn said.