published Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Motor City makeover has Detroit 3 back on track

Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, speaks as Chevrolet unveils one of three new vehicles, the “Spark,” during the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 9.
Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, speaks as Chevrolet unveils one of three new vehicles, the “Spark,” during the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 9.
Photo by Dan Henry.

U.S. SALES


The top six automakers by sales in the year were:

• General Motors - 2.5 million

• Ford - 2.1 million

• Toyota - 1.64 million

• Chrysler - 1.36 million

• Honda - 1.14 million

• Nissan - 1.04 million

Source: WardsAuto. Volkswagen brand sold 324,00 vehicles in the U.S. in 2011.

DETROIT -- Hours after Volkswagen's press briefing at the auto show here last week, VW chief Martin Winterkorn and his top lieutenants still were on the Cobo Center's floor.

They were checking out the redesigned Ford Fusion, closely studying the midsize sedan that debuted earlier in the day and will compete head-on with VW's Chattanooga-produced Passat.

Ford arguably put on one of the most impressive displays among automakers at the show. Ford unveiled the updated Fusion in nearby Joe Louis Arena using 360-degree video and faux fog as new versions of the car were driven onto the floor where the Red Wings play.

Ford and the other Detroit Three cast, General Motors and Chrysler, appear back from the auto meltdown three years ago. Each is offering new, widely watched products and ratcheting up the competition against foreign carmakers such as VW, Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai.

Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for VW in Chattanooga, said competition will be tougher.

"We'll have to take care we get the right cars with the right quality," he said.

Jagla said VW doesn't shy away from competition, adding that "without competition, you won't get better."

The VW official said the German automaker has the resources to reach its 2018 goal of about tripling sales to 1 million units.

Auto analyst David Zoia of WardsAuto.com said VW's sales strategy to this point appears to be working.

VW grew sales last year by 26.3 percent in the U.S., and officials are aiming for double-digit gains in 2012. Last year, Volkswagen captured about 3.2 percent of the U.S. market.

In addition to growing Passat sales, Zoia said VW apparently is looking at a possible sport utility vehicle that could be built in Chattanooga.

He said VW as a company is moving to a new modular platform strategy for its vehicle lineup that will make it easier to produce different models at plants and give production more flexibility.

Detroit Three

Last year, Ford, GM and Chrysler all posted profits for the first time since 2004, and each gained market share, not done since 1988.

"All are adding shifts and creating jobs," Ray LaHood, U.S. secretary of transportation, said in Detroit.

While GM and Chrysler stood on the brink of liquidation a few years ago, the Detroit Three have reinvented themselves for the 21st century, he said.

"It's a story about digging in and refusing to give up," LaHood said.

Alan Mulally, Ford's chief executive, said 2012 will be the automaker's most aggressive year ever for introducing products globally, including five new electrified vehicles in North America.

"We'll have the most fuel- efficient lineup in company history," he said.

In addition, Mulally said Ford is committed to creating 12,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Concerning the refreshed Fusion, he called it "a real growth opportunity for us."

Ford sold 248,000 Fusions in 2011, third in the segment behind the top-ranked Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. The new Fusion will offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions along with the gas-powered model.

At GM's key Chevrolet nameplate, new products at the auto show revolved around reaching out to younger buyers, whom the company hopes to keep as customers as they grow older.

"The younger generation will be the driving force in the market in the years ahead," said Mark Reuss, president of GM in North America.

Chevrolet talked up the new Sonic, a 40-mile-per-gallon small car that it said is selling well, and it introduced a couple of sporty concept coupes.

Chrysler, meanwhile, unveiled the all-new Dodge Dart. It's based on a Fiat platform developed in Italy and forms the basis of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

The new Dart will compete against sales leaders including the Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus as well as the VW Jetta.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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