01/22/07 — Detroit roars back

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Detroit roars back

DETROIT — The American Big Three automakers came out swinging at the 100th anniversary of the North American International Auto Show here last week.

General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrsyler rolled out a stunning array of new sedans, minivans and crossover vehicles designed to regain market share lost to the Japanese and Korean automakers since the start of decade.

Many of the 2008-model vehicles, which will go on sale this summer and fall, are loaded with standard features such as a full complement of airbags and antilock brakes, and overdue upgrades such as higher-horsepower engines and six-speed transmissions.

Several of the new vehicles also have head-turning good looks.

The auto show was kicked off with a bang for the domestic manufacturers, and particularly for General Motors. The new mid-sized Saturn Aura sedan won North American Car of the Year honors and the all-new Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck captured Truck of the Year accolades.

Whether the new entries from Detroit resonate with the American consumer will be determined over the next 12 to 24 months.

Here are some of the Big Three highlights.

General Motors

• Chevrolet Malibu: Chevrolet has set its sights on the top-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord with the new mid-sized sedan, which in the past has been thought more as a rental car than a family car.

The new Malibu has striking lines, and features a 3.6-liter 252-horsepower V-6 capable of 26 miles to the gallon in highway driving mated to a six-speed automatic. The base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder can also be ordered with the six-speed. It is rated at 164 horsepower and 30 miles per gallon.

•Cadillac CTS: The entry-level Cadillac gets a new direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 300 horsepower, 45 more than the current engine, at the same gas mileage. Prices will remain basically the same, starting at $29,000. Officials said the interior has been reworked to include high-quality materials and hand-stitched leather seats.

Chrysler

• Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country: The minivan market has shrunk from 4 million units in the mid ’90s to under a million in 2006. But Chrysler, the inventor of the segment in 1984, still holds nearly a 40 percent market share representing more than 400,000 sales a year. So even as Ford and GM are leaving the segment, it’s no surprise that Chrysler is producing an all-new vehicle for 2008.

The most talked-about feature is second row captain’s chairs that will swivel 180 degrees so that passengers in the second row can talk to third-row passengers. A stowable table will allow passengers to eat together or play games. The seats will fold into the floor when not in use.

• Chrysler Nassau: It’s still listed as a concept, but there’s a good chance the four-door luxury car will go to production. It’s a gorgeous four-passenger vehicle that features a long nose and short trunk. The concept carries 21-inch wheels and the gun-slit windows made famous by the Chrysler 300. (See picture below, right).

Ford

• Ford Five Hundred: The Five Hundred has been a solid full-sized entry, but has lacked the necessary horsepower to become a best seller. That changes in 2008 when the sedan gets a new 3.5-liter V-6 generating 260 horsepower, 30 percent more than the previous edition. It also has many added features and a more aggressive front end with the new Ford signature three-bar grille.

• Ford Focus: Ford’s award-winning compact car gets a complete makeover for 2008, including a new coupe. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder base engine is rated at 37 miles to the gallon in highway driving. Side airbags and side-curtain airbags are standard equipment. The Focus can also be ordered with Ford’s new Sync system, a voice-activated in-car communications system.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on January 22, 2007 1:48 PM