Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Detroit Finds a Heartbeat

North American International Auto Show, Detroit, Michigan

As I walk around the Detroit Auto Show, the gloom and doom of last year has lifted. Replaced with cautious optimism.

All is not well in Motown, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

BMW North America President Jim O'Donnell told me, "Last year, it was a wake. And even that's an exaggeration, a wake is fun, at least in Ireland it's fun. It was terrible, but this year, just walking around the show, you see it looks a bit better, the sounds are better, the Americans are back."

Leading the way for the Americans is Ford.

The Fusion Hybrid won car of the year and the Transit Connect won truck of the year. CEO Alan Mulally is unveiling the new Focus, the first truly global car from Ford. Mulally believes Ford can sell the same car in the U.S., as well as in China, as well as in Europe. I've seen the Focus and I believe it will work. Will it be enough to crack Toyota's dominance in cars in the U.S.? I'm not sure. Still, it's a nice upgrade over the current Focus.

The Detroit Auto Show 2010

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz believes his company is finally on the right path following a year that included bankruptcy. But what about Chevy? After seeing sales fall 25.2%, the brand slipped behind Ford to #3 in the U.S. Still, Lutz tells me Chevy is poised for a rebound. Lutz says, "Chevy lacked a subcompact. With the advent of the Cruze, sales of Malibu, I see Chevy coming back big-time."

As for Chrysler, this will be a low-key show. Sure, they will show some tweaked models, but by design CEO Sergio Marchionne is not saying much.

Overall, this is a show where the attitude is changing. After going through the worst sales since 1982, the auto industry is hoping to find its footing.


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