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Makers flaunt power under the hood, luxury inside

Hints of revival at Detroit auto show

AFP-JIJI

The Detroit auto show opened with renewed optimism Monday as confident carmakers forecast more growth and unveiled powerful new trucks, sexy sports cars and an abundance of luxury.

After years of mass layoffs and painful restructuring that brought the U.S. auto industry to its knees, the darkest days of the recession are receding in the rearview mirror amid booming sales.

The bullish mood is on display in the Motor City, where more than a dozen carmakers will be on hand during two days of press previews.

Manufacturers may struggle to capture the attention of the 5,000 journalists amid back-to-back unveilings and they have poured more than $200 million into dazzling displays.

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.

“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.

“The Corvette and Silverado truly embody the passion, commitment and focus that is driving us to deliver the most expressive designs, innovative technologies and engaging performance in every vehicle that wears the bow tie.”

All eyes were on Ford, however, as it unveiled a new F-150 pickup, redesigned with a plethora of new technology and features and a drastically lower body weight to help boost fuel economy.

Replacing steel with aluminum — which helped Ford slash the truck’s weight by 317 kilos — is seen as a big risk, because truck buyers are so focused on strength, towing capacity and performance.

The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for 32 consecutive years and is a critical part of Ford’s portfolio.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker insisted that the new model is “the toughest, smartest and most capable F-150 ever.”

Chrysler unveiled its hotly anticipated revamp of the 200 sedan, which aims to bring a new level of luxury and styling to its midsize offering with an entry price of just $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 at an elegant invite-only event at the Westin Hotel on Sunday.

General Motors sought to steal some of Ford’s truck thunder by revealing its GMC Canyon, a midsize pickup truck, on Sunday at a revitalized industrial complex.

But all eyes were on incoming Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, the first woman to be tapped to lead a major automaker.

Barra — who was previously in charge of global product development and has been hailed within the industry as a “car guy” — 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.

After years of painful restructuring and mass layoffs, the Detroit Three automakers are raking in massive profits as major product revamps allowed them to take advantage of resurgent demand.

U.S. auto sales have finally returned to the levels seen in the 14 years prior to the devastating 2008 crash, growing 7.6 percent to 15.6 million vehicles in 2013. They are forecast to keep growing this year, but at a slower pace.

And nearly every automaker in the highly competitive market — which offers consumers a choice between 340 different models — has been able to profit from the growing sales.