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Detroit's Challenge: Designing Cars Drivers Want Now

CNBC.com

Remember the good old days? When GM, Ford and Chrysler cranked out news SUVs and pick-up trucks that were better--and often bigger?

Back then, Detroit designers and execs focused so much time and energy on the big rigs because they were more profitable and more in demand than cars. Well, times have changed.

With the shift to cars and fuel efficient crossovers, Detroit designers will be tested. So will they come up with the new models that will beat the Asian automakers at their game?

If that question seems ridiculous, think again. In the last 10 years, the Big 3 have struggled to come up with sedans to beat the Camry, Corolla, Civic and Altima. In fact, if you look at the top 10 best selling cars right now, only 4 are American models: The Ford Focus, Chevy Cobalt, Malibu and Impala.

Actually, the Malibu and Impala show that Detroit CAN do a car just as well, if not better, than its rivals. If you haven't driven one lately, do yourself a favor and go for a ride. The interiors are every bit as refined and stylish as what you'll find from Toyota or Honda . Cadillac's resurgence is further proof American designers know how to come up with new looks that will win back car buyers.

I'm not worried about Detroit winning the crossover battle. The background and strength in designing utility vehicles is the reason Ford's Edge and GMC Acadia are hits with CUV buyers. That should continue as we see more crossovers hit showrooms.

Coming up with winning sedans will be far tougher. Some of what's in the pipeline (Ford's Verve for example) is encouraging.

But to roll out winner after winner, designers in Detroit will need to be on their game consistently. It's clear the Asian automakers have been and likely will continue to be locked in. Now it's time for GM ,Ford and Chrysler to rise to the challenge.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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