Industry Hopes Auto Shows Rev Up Demand

The auto show season kicks off early next month in Los Angeles, and not a moment too soon. November auto sales remain weak. Analysts say the shows are critical to generating the consumer demand that companies such as General Motors need to start making money.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Let's turn to an industry that's desperately seeking higher earnings.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, the future of automotive transportation has entered the building.

MONTAGNE: The Auto Show season kicks off early this month here in Los Angeles, and not a moment too soon. November auto sales remain weak, and analysts say the shows are critical to generate the consumer demand that companies such as General Motors need to start making money.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: Most people who follow the auto business will tell you that the problem with GM isn't the quality of its new cars, it's getting people to look at them. That's one reason the company still lost more than $1 billion from June through September. And Jeremy Anwyl says that's why car shows are so important. Anwyl, who runs the consumer car Web site Edmunds.com, says they're a chance to GM to try to fix its image.

Mr. JEREMY ANWYL (CEO, Edmunds.com): They built up a reputation, really well-deserved in the 80's and early 90's, for building cars that were not reliable, and today they are trying to change people's opinions, and it's hard. The best way is to get people to experience the vehicles. So car shows are, for GM, in particular, are a very key part of the whole marketing mix.

LANGFITT: In Los Angeles next month, and in Detroit in January, GM will prepare for the long-awaited launch of the Volt, its electric car. But Anwyl says the estimated $40,000 price tag will be a drag on sales. He thinks GM may move 30 to 40,000 of the vehicles in the first year. What he calls, quote, "a niche market."

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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