Detroit Finally Getting in Gear

Editorial argues that US carmakers have been slow to respond to quality and innovation, especially in fuel efficient vehicles

Published: 21-Jan-2004

The recent 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit turned into an automotive version of High Noon. General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler chose the city that once was synonymous with their dominance to stage a showdown after losing market share to their foreign competitors again last year. Unveiling new models with names as evocative as Solstice and Cobalt or as venerable as GTO and Malibu, the Big Three hope to win back American car buyers.

It won't be as easy as thinking up clever names, however. If it were, the stodgy-sounding Toyota Camry wouldn't be the nation's best selling car. American manufacturers have a lot to overcome - consumer debt, buyer expectations and their own slow reflexes - if they are to gain on their main Japanese and German competitors.

American companies have rediscovered the sedan, whose development they had forsaken in favor of higher-margin SUVs and pickups. While American automakers focused on gas-guzzling light trucks, they apparently forgot that traditional car models still account for nearly half of all sales. Now, GM has allocated two-thirds of its product-development budget to car models, a percentage it used to put into trucks. That investment should win back market share, GM executive Robert Lutz said, or "I will be seriously surprised and cruelly disappointed."

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