GM wins awards, Ford turns heads at Detroit auto show

January 14, 2014 - 9:04:38 am

DETROIT: General Motors' Chevrolet unit swept car and truck of the year honors, but Ford's use of aluminum in its F150 sparked new debate on the first day of the Detroit auto show Monday.

The show also saw the debut appearance of Mary Barra as GM's new chief executive.

The first woman ever to lead a major auto maker; Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne pledging to oversee the union of the two for at least the next three years; and Ford chief executive Alan Mulally still in his job, after finally scotching talk he was headed to Microsoft.

Automakers, after a hugely successful 2013, forecast more growth and unveiled powerful new trucks, sexy sports cars and luxury models.

General Motors logged an early win after its Chevrolet brand swept the car and truck of the year awards with the Corvette Stingray sports car and the Chevy Silverado pickup truck.

"Chevrolet is in the midst of the most aggressive product transformation in the brand's more than 100-year history," Chevy chief Alan Batey said, hailing its wins.

Eyes were on Ford, however, as it gambled with a major change for the best-selling F150 pickup, replacing steel body panels with aluminum to drastically lower body weight and boost fuel economy.

The move, which helped Ford slash the truck's weight by up to 700 pounds or 317 kilos is seen as a big risk, because truck buyers tend to focus on sturdiness and power.

Toyota, meanwhile, revved up its design credentials with a provocative new concept for a sports car, with a race car pit crew opening a shiny red box to reveal the FT-1 sports concept, Future Toyota 1.

Chrysler unveiled its hotly-anticipated revamp of the 200 sedan, which aims to bring a new level of luxury and styling to its midsized offering with a low entry price of $21,700.

"We designed a car to take on every other vehicle in its class, feature by feature and prove that a quality sedan doesn't have to cross an ocean to be worthy of an American driveway," Chrysler brand chief Al Gardner told reporters.

Mercedes got a jump on its competitors by hiring Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child to serenade its sleek and luxurious new C-Class sedan, an upgrade from the entry-level position it has held for several years.

Now that role has been taken by the CLA, and the C-Class has been decked out with features from higher-end Mercedes.

Also enjoying the move down from senior models is the diminutive Honda Fit.

Honda has reshaped the front, enlarged the inside with generous leg space for a subcompact, boosted horsepower to 130 and worked to smooth the ride.

Adding a right-side Lane Watch, Bluetooth, rearview cameras, and upgraded smart phone connectivity.

Corvette also generated excitement with its new racing versions of the Corvette Stingray, the street-legal Z06 and the track-ready CR.7.

Kia and Toyota brought in concept pocket-rockets, BMW served up a hat-trick of new models, the 2 series, and an M3 and M4, and Chrysler revamped its 200 series sedan.

Hoping some European styling thanks to its new Italian owners will boost its market presence.

Barra, who officially takes the reins of GM on Thursday, will make her presence known at the launch of a new GMC pickup, a statement that she, too, is one of the car guys.

She signaled that the accountants will not be allowed to dominate business plans.

"At today's GM, our products are the result of putting the customer at the center of everything we do."

"That has fostered a bold new culture at our company, a culture that promotes innovation and encourages risk taking," she said.

Executive leadership issues were also settled at Fiat, two weeks after the company bought the remaining 41.5 percent of Chrysler it didn't own after long, tough negotiations.

Chairman John Elkann said CEO Sergio Marchionne will remain until at least 2017.

With the completion of the takeover of Chrysler, now the main money-maker for the Italian group, Marchionne said the Fiat board would soon meet on strategy for integrating the two.

Including mulling moving the headquarters to Detroit and listing its shares on a major stock market.

"We're the seventh carmaker in the world and we aspire to be one of the so-called big guys," Marchionne said.

At Ford, Mulally and executive chairman Bill Ford Jr both made clear that Mulally's much-speculated departure was no longer an issue.

"Alan has obviously done a great job, and I'm thrilled that he's here," Ford said. (AFP)

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