U.S. Automakers Debut 2013 Models

GHARIB:   The auto industry is all revved up as it kicks off the annual North American international auto show in Detroit.  Hyundai (PINK:HYMLF) in the spotlight there with its Elantra winning top honors as the North American car of the year. The Land Rover Evoque won truck of the year. But the big three U.S. auto makers are the big stars of this year`s show. As Diane Eastabrook reports, their comeback is capturing the attention of competitors from around the globe.

DIANE EASTABROOK, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Putting a new twist on an old name, Chrysler rolled out the 2013 Dodge Dart this morning at the North American international auto show. Built on an Alfa Romeo chassis, this iteration of the Dart will be available with three different engines and transmissions. It also features a multimedia center inside with iPod connectivity and a navigation system — all for less than $16,000.

REID BIGLAND, PRESIDENT& CEO, DODGE:  It`s beautiful, it`s powerful, but it`s also very smart.

EASTABROOK:   At the motor city`s big auto show, excitement is back in a big way. Forget about the bankruptcies that rocked Chrysler and GM (NYSE:GM) — Detroit`s big three have their headlights pointed toward the future. Auto analyst John Casesa calls this the silver lining in a very dark period.

JOHN CASESA, SR. MANAGING DIR., GUGGENHEIM PARTNERS:  It had to happen, and I guess the show tells us that they`re reinvesting that new capital from the U.S. government and from taxpayers in a very wise way.

EASTABROOK:   Detroit also wants to look younger.  GM is rolling out a new Chevy Sonic RS, a hatchback version of its popular Sonic subcompact introduced late last year. The company also unveiled a concept called the Tru 140s, a play on exotic Italian sports cars. Both vehicles are targeted to consumers under 30 –a segment GM estimates could be well over 30 million potential buyers. North America President Mark Reuss says going after these buyers requires a completely different mind set.

MARK REUSS, PRES., NORTH AMERICA, GM: You see it with some of the smart phones.  You see it with laptops, the Internet, Facebook. All those things are competing for time and so what brings them and what`s important to them in a car buying capacity we have to understand that better than anybody.

EASTABROOK:   This is a pivotal year for the auto industry because more Americans appear to be in the car-buying mood after the long recession.  Last year, U.S. consumers bought more than 12.5 million vehicles — a 10 percent increase over the previous year.  Industry watchers are confident they`ll keep buying this year, although some think the pace could slow. One potential problem could be rising gasoline prices. Ford  (NYSE:F) thinks it can combat that threat with new, more fuel- efficient versions of the Fusion. The new model hitting showrooms this fall sports an eco-boost engine that promises 37 miles per gallon on the highway. A hybrid version will also come out this fall, followed by an electric plug-in next year.  Ford (NYSE:F) President and CEO Alan Mulally says the company has the flexibility to make whatever version consumers want the most.

ALAN MULALLY, PRES.& CEO, FORD MOTOR:  The neat thing about the Ford plan is that we make them on the same production line so nearly 75 percent of the parts are exactly the same. We can match the production of the vehicle to the real demand and also offer up more affordability than anybody else.

EASTABROOK:   A reinvigorated big three present a bigger challenge to the Japanese and European manufacturers. Nissan (PINK:NSANY) Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn says everyone will have to be on their A game to win in the U.S.

CARLOS GHOSN, CHAIRMAN& CEO, NISSAN:  In order to prevail in the U.S.
market, you`re just going to have to reinvent yourself. As a company, you are going to have to reinvent the product and you`re going to have to invent the technology all the time.

EASTABROOK: Japan could the big wild card here.  Tomorrow Toyota (NYSE:TM), Honda (NYSE:HMC) and Nissan (PINK:NSANY) will all roll out new products they hope will put them back in America`s driver`s seat. Diane Eastabrook, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Detroit.

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