A parade of positive thinking, paced by new Corvette

Jan 26 2013, 02:15 IST
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SummaryAutomakers poured out creamy luxury models, especially in entry- and mid-price territory that’s prized for sales volumes.

Lawrence Ulrich

Cobo Centre in Detroit has 723,000 square feet of exhibition space, enough to spotlight hundreds of new cars. Mysteriously, as journalists gathered here for press previews of the North American International Auto Show, it seemed as if there was room for only one vehicle: the 2014 Corvette.

Chevrolet’s 2014 Corvette Stingray revived a storied sports car name, ruling the show the way it hopes to rule the street. And General Motors hopes the 450-horsepower Stingray—powerfully reloaded for a post-recession comeback—can help to revive the company in both symbolic and sales terms. The ’Vette, that most aspirational dream car for heartland buyers, may be a bellwether for America’s recovering car industry and economy: when middle-class strivers feel flush enough to splurge on Corvettes again, the good times may be about to roll.

GM grabbed more attention as its Cadillac ATS won the North American Car of the Year award, chosen by a jury of auto journalists. Cadillac also unveiled the swoopy ELR, a plug-in hybrid coupe based on the Chevy Volt.

Of course, buyers have mostly shunned today’s crop of electrified cars. After years of EV frenzy, Detroit’s show saw a dearth of electric models.

Instead, automakers poured out creamy luxury models, especially in entry- and mid-price territory that’s prized for sales volumes and attendant profits. Seemingly unprecedented in blue-collar Detroit, if not at any American auto show: only two non-luxury, truly all-new showroom models were introduced. They were Nissan’s Versa Note hatchback and the Kia Cadenza.

Emboldened Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 luxury sport sedans represented the latest attempts to go mano-a-mano with the BMW 3 Series. BMW kept pace with its alluring 4 Series coupe.

Mercedes-Benz will look to conquer $30,000 territory with the curvy, compact CLA sedan, which it introduced to the press on the eve of the show’s opening but chose not to display during the public show. It also delighted showgoers with a handsomely refreshed E-Class line-up.

The space-age Nissan Resonance crossover was one bravura concept that had journalists buzzing. And the subtly contoured Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept—imagine a minimalist German take on a Jeep Grand Cherokee—seemed a prime candidate to continue VW’s remarkable turnaround in the US.

Highlighting the industry’s tussle between power and fuel economy, Detroit’s luxury gave way to, well, Lutzery. Robert A Lutz, the retired GM vice-chairman who championed the Chevy Volt, was up to his green-tweaking tricks. His company, VL Automotive, showed the Destino, a doppelgänger of the Fisker

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