Detroit auto show hails recovery

Alan Mulally kissing a car Ford's Alan Mulally has great hopes for his company's latest Ford Focus Electric car

Up to 40 global motor firsts will be unveiled this week as the most important auto show in the US gets under way in Detroit.

Many of them will feature electric motoring solutions, at times combined with internal combustion engines.

Conventional 4x4 vehicles and US "muscle cars" will also be on show, alongside many smaller cars.

To Detroit's carmakers - General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler - the show marks a new future after a long crisis.

"This is an industry that's on the mend," according to Sergio Marchione, chief executive of Chrysler and its alliance partner Fiat.

"I'm really positive about what 2011 will bring."

In 2010, sales rose 11% in the US to about 11.6 million vehicles and this year sales are expected to come in at about 13 million vehicles, according to carmakers herein Detroit

"We have a solid foundation to deliver more sales and improved results in 2011," said Ford sales and marketing executive Ken Czubay.

"The seeds of growth have already taken hold."

Big trucks and electric cars

Last year saw a revival in demand for so-called "light trucks", or 4x4 vehicles, with sales rising 18% - well ahead of a 5% rise in demand for cars.

So Detroit's "Big Three" are hoping their new sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks will hit home with drivers.

GM is unveiling a large pickup concept, the GMC Sierra, Chrysler will display its new Jeep Compass, a luxurious 4x4, while Ford will show a 4x4 named Escape.

Start Quote

No question electric vehicle programs are moving forward”

End Quote Erich Merkle Industry analyst

But the companies are also heading in new directions that they say point the way to a future where electric or fuel-efficient low-emission cars will become ever more popular.

GM has taken a lead in the US with its Volt, an electric car with a petrol powered range extender, while Ford will show off its electric Focus that will be produced near Detroit.

"As we continue to improve the electrical grids around the world... having a complete battery-powered vehicle is going to be a very important part of our strategy," said Ford Motor's chief executive, Alan Mulally.

Electric subsidies

Electric car production in the US is attracting billions of dollars in subsidies, including tax breaks for customers, and the carmakers are more than happy to go along with the government's wishes, according to analysts.

Dan Akerson GM's Dan Akerson: Stated goal of not fighting change

"No question electric vehicle programs are moving forward," said industry analyst Erich Merkle.

Many non-US carmakers, in particular Germany's three leading luxury car companies Audi, BMW and Mercedes, will show off their latest diesel-powered cars, which they insist offer very fuel efficient alternatives.

After years of work to convince US drivers to switch from cars with petrol engines, they now expect diesel sales to take off.

Petrol-electric hybrids are also expected to be popular, according to the Japanese carmaker, Toyota, which is adding new models under its popular Prius banner.

Italian carmaker Fiat, meanwhile, believes light, frugal cars offer yet another way forward as it enters the US market with its small 500 model.

In recent years, the US carmakers have been slow to come up with such solutions, but they are prepared to go to great lengths to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions and cut fuel consumption, according to GM's chief executive, Dan Akerson.

"We have a stated goal of not fighting change, but of embracing it and trying to achieve it as best we can," he said.

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