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German Automakers Tout Speed and Luxury at Detroit Auto Show

Car candy is on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The world's automakers are showing off new models, from the electric to luxury categories.

Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development at Ford, introduces the 2013 Ford Fusion during the press preview at the COBO Center in Detroit, Michigan.
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Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development at Ford, introduces the 2013 Ford Fusion during the press preview at the COBO Center in Detroit, Michigan.

The annual show has reclaimed some of its glamour and energy as the auto industry continues to rebound from its dreadful slump in 2008-2009.

Among the new models this year — theFordFusion and the HondaAccord in the family-car market and GM Cadillac ATS sports sedan and BMW 3 Series in the luxury market.

Toyota's Lexus will show off its LF-LC, an advanced hybrid sports coupe, and Chrysler Group will unveil a new version of the Dodge Dart, the famous nameplate last offered in 1976.

CNBC's Phil LeBeau is at the show, where he's checking out the vehicles and talking to industry executives. Here are some highlights of what German automakers brought to Detroit.

BMWon Monday trotted out a new version of its 3 series, the best-selling luxury sedan in the world, with 94,000 sold last year. The least expensive model sells for around $34,000.

BMW faces new competition from Mercedes-Benz and GM's ATS, which was unveiled Sunday and hits showrooms this spring.

Ludwig Willisch, BMW North America CEO, describes the vehicle's new design and partly new engine.

T

he German automaker is also drawing attention because of widespread speculation that it will soon announce details on a plan to increase production at its Spartanburg, S.C., plant, where it already builds almost 300,000 vehicles a year.

The South Carolina plant, which was first expanded in 2008-2009, might get an additional assembly line for a new model, which could mean 1,500-2000 new jobs.

Willisch says an increase in its U.S. capacity "is likely to happen." An announcement is expected Thursday.

Porsche unveiled its 911 Carrera Cabriolet. The car features a wider wheel base, a 15-percent increase in fuel efficiency and seven-speed manual transmission. Ninety percent of the car's components are new.

The car's list price starts at $93,700 and goes on sale this spring. It can travel from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

"Our customers, they think in terms of value, not in terms of price," says North American CEO Detlev von Platen.

"We have seen a strong, strong year in 2011," von Platen says. "We believe that the momentum we see in 2012 will continue."

He adds that overall Porsche sales gained 14.3 percent in 2011, while those of the Cayenne model jumped 55 percent in 2011.

"Yes the market is improving. We can feel this in our showroom with much more traffic," von Platen says.

Mercedes-Benz debuted its new SL class.

“First of all the SL certainly is a great car for people who are affluent enough to buy such a car. It’s not a volume and market-share maker,” says Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

The model is part of Mercedes’ growth strategy in the competitive luxury market. On overcoming BMW in unit sales, Zetsche adds, “This is not our number one priority, to be number one. We will get there over time."

More broadly, Zetsche says he doesn't anticipate any quick fixes in Europe's economy.

"There will be not the one meeting which will solve all the problems. But it's a process," Zetsche says. "Overall, on average the indebtedness of Europe is less than in the U.S., for instance. But we have these great differences between the countries and we have to work on the competitiveness."

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