GM scored a rare home run for the troubled US industry by scooping the car and truck of the year awards on the opening press day of the 2007 North American International Auto Show.
Japanese makers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and South Korea’s Hyundai, are eroding the domination of Detroit’s “Big Three”, GM, Ford and Chrysler, which are all leaking money and sales.
But GM chief executive Rick Wagoner launched a counter-offensive in a sector where Toyota and Honda have stolen a march, announcing plans for 12 new hybrid vehicles in the coming year.
GM also showed off a Chevrolet Volt concept car powered by its new “E-flex System” — which the company bills as the next generation for electric propulsion beyond the era of gasoline-electric hybrids.
“I think it’s clear that in the last three years we’ve been moving in a positive direction on product development”, Wagoner told reporters. “There are a lot of good guys out there but we’re in the game”, he said in a nod to GM’s rivals.
Ford chairman William Ford, introducing an array of new production and concept vehicles, and a voice-activated communications system with Microsoft, said this year would mark the Ford group’s recovery.
He noted that at the first Detroit show in 1907, his great-grandfather Henry Ford revealed the plans for the Model T, the car that pioneered industrial mass production.
“We’ve had some challenging times lately, but my optimism for Ford Motor Company is unwavering”, he said at the event.
“I believe we’ve laid the foundation for a stronger Ford, beginning this year”.
The Mercedes-Benz arm of the DaimlerChrysler group had literally the coolest show in Detroit, laying out an ice rink for husky dogs, dance skaters and hockey players to cavort around its all-wheel-drive vehicles.
DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche said he was unhappy with the performance of the group’s loss-making US division, but said that its boss, Tom LaSorda, was “doing a good job in a difficult environment”.
One of the most intriguing offerings in Detroit was the DaimlerChrysler group’s small “Smart Fortwo”, a two-seater hit on the congested streets of Europe which is to go on sale in the United States in early 2008.
“The Smart is simply cool”, Zetsche said on the ice rink, insisting that American drivers were ready for the vehicle.
The Chrysler Group was overtaken by Toyota as the third best-selling carmaker in the United States last year.
Toyota is also nipping at Ford’s heels. And GM, for 75 years the world’s biggest carmaker, is set to lose its crown to Toyota this year in terms of global production.
At the show Toyota unveiled its first full-size pickup truck, an update to its Tundra model, in a bid to take the battle for the rugged vehicles to its US rivals.
The new Tundra’s launch came after a jury of American and Canadian journalists awarded “best truck” of 2007 to the Silverado, made by GM’s Chevrolet division.
With the slogan “This is our country” and advertisements featuring cattle ranchers and cowboys, Chevrolet has heavily marketed the truck’s all-American pedigree.
US car buyers, however, have not proven so patriotic in recent years, forcing GM and Ford into painful restructurings that include thousands of job losses and the closure of factories.
Chinese groups are hoping to cash in on that taste for foreign cars, despite doubts over their products’ quality and reliability. The Changfeng Group was only the second carmaker from China to exhibit in the main Detroit salon.

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