Highlights From The Detroit Auto Show
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Automakers from around the world are showing off their latest creations at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.
After sluggish sales for the past two years, the industry is hoping to rev up consumer interest by unveiling some three dozen new cars and trucks. Five thousand journalists have poured into the Cobo Center over the past two days for a sneak peek, and one of them is Dan Neil, automotive critic for The Wall Street Journal. And he joins us now to give us some headlines on the show so far.
Hi, Dan. Welcome back.
Mr. DAN NEIL (Automotive Columnist, The Wall Street Journal): Hey. How are you, Robert?
SIEGEL: And let's start with the car that you've been very enthusiastic about: the Volt. It was named Car of the Year yesterday.
Mr. NEIL: Yes, it was, and GM was very excited about it. They even compared it to the moon shot, which is a little bit of marketing hyperbole, but we'll, you know, we'll accept it, given the tenor of the moment. They also said that they might increase production of this vehicle to something like 60,000 vehicles a year, which is a very, very big number. And other manufacturers are following suit.
SIEGEL: Another - a new idea, it seems, on display in Detroit is the Toyota Prius wagon.
Mr. NEIL: Yeah. That's right. You know, Toyota has had this problem, and it's a good problem to have. Prius and hybrid have become more or less similar in the American mind. And, you know, the Prius is an undercapitalized brand, and so they're broadening the brand with something called the Prius V, which is kind of a hatch-wagon version of the Prius, and they're also going to have a little sporty Prius. And it's basically being broken out into a separate car line.
SIEGEL: Do these new Priuses or Prii - I don't know which word the plural is - do they have the same kind of mileage, the same efficiency as the original Prius?
Mr. NEIL: Well, it's interesting. First of all, the whole campaign they've put out here is what do you call two Priuses? Is it Prii? They've settled, I think, on Prium, and I thought he was the king of Troy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEIL: Anyway - but moving on, the bigger wagon doesn't have quite the 50-mile-per-gallon efficiency that the other one does, but it gets pretty good gas mileage and - but I tell you. All across the board on this show, if you're not getting 40 miles per gallon, you're a gas guzzler.
The powertrain stories here are remarkable. You know, full-sized Audis are, you know, touting 42 miles per gallon. Ford is building big, you know, big people movers that get 40 miles per gallon. That's become sort of the new black.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: What are you seeing from the Korean carmakers?
Mr. NEIL: Well, Hyundai and Kia have had huge years. Hyundai sales have been up 24 percent in 2010. They've got a slew of new product. Their prices and their content are fantastic, and their quality is good. Their safety is five by five. The Koreans are going to be very, very tough competitors in this market, and it kind of - it looks like they'll steal a march on Volkswagen who has declared their intention to be the biggest volume seller in the U.S. with 800,000 unit sales by 2018.
SIEGEL: Now, do GM, Ford and Chrysler - now, of course, is owned by Fiat - are they presenting this as the auto show of a recovery year? Or are they more modest in their hopes of what's going to happen with car sales this year?
Mr. NEIL: Well, I think the great thing about getting beaten up is it feels so good when it stops. So the sense of relief is palpable.
You know, this past year, 2010, annual sales were 11.6 million vehicles in the U.S. That's still the second worst year in three decades. The worst, obviously, was 2009. So the economy and the market is a long way from recovering, but the one thing that's interesting is that every one here, all the manufacturers, all the engineers, all the executives, are anticipating that fuel prices are going to go beyond $4 a gallon.
And in the past, they've dealt with this, you know, sort of inevitability with denial. This time, they feel that they are really ready with the products in hand, and so the timing seems to be auspicious. And I think that's one of the things that's driving the optimism. It's the sense that finally the market and the price of oil are in some kind of sync.
SIEGEL: Dan Neil, who writes about cars for The Wall Street Journal, talking to us from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Thank you, Dan.
Mr. NEIL: All right. Thanks.
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