Detroit Auto Show Preperations Begin

Grace Macaluso
The Windsor Star

Organizer expects 'significant, positive statements' from Detroit Three

Organizers of the 2010 North American International Auto Show are promising an upbeat event that will showcase electric vehicles and feature "incredible" announcements from the Detroit Three.

"What a difference a year makes," said Doug Fox, chairman of the North American International Auto Show. "This year, you can expect to see some really significant, positive statements coming from our hometown manufacturers because they really had to lay low last year."

The 2009 auto show was a no-frills, subdued version of its former self.

Automakers scaled back their displays and some, like Nissan, bowed out altogether. While budgets remain tight, there will be an abundance of meaningful launches of new product and technology, said Fox.

"Certainly nobody's throwing money around. I think those days are gone for a long, long time," he said. "But certainly you'll see the technology -- electric cars and hybrids, alternative fuel automobiles. All these areas seem to be very, very important and meaningful this year."

General Motors and Chrysler Group LLC, which received bailout loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments, will use the show to assert their comeback efforts, Fox said.

"I think you're starting to see some of that trickle out from GM with its announcement Monday that it expects to pay some of that money back month," he said. The auto show "is a great place to say, 'We're back and we're strong.'"

So far, the number of companies planning to set up shop at Cobo Hall total 50 -- the same as last year -- although Fox expects the final tally to rise. Nissan continues its no-show policy, but its Leaf electric car is expected to make an appearance, he said.

The event, which runs from Jan. 11 to Jan. 21, is also generating an unprecedented level of interest from politicians seeking a closeup view of how Chrysler and GM are spending the billions in taxpayer-funded loans, said Fox. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are among approximately 500 politicians expected to attend -- at least double the number in previous years.

"It's a huge change," Fox said. "I think a lot of interest lies in Detroit and the Big Three as they represent the epicentre of this financial meltdown that we experienced a year ago. And obviously a lot of money has been loaned to these manufacturers to re-establish themselves in the marketplace. I think there's an interest there to see the progress in that regard."

There's also a possibility that President Barack Obama will visit the auto show, he added. "I wouldn't rule out the fact that President Obama will attend the show. But we won't see any final decision until January."

At GM, spokesman Tom Wilkinson downplayed the significance of next year's show, suggesting it's no different than previous years.

"Political attention isn't new," said Wilkinson. "The reality is the global industry is in crisis; there's an industry crisis and an economic crisis which makes it a political crisis and that's just not GM or the U.S., it's everywhere.

As auto show season gears up around the world, GM will be showcasing such vehicles as the Chevrolet Volt as well as the GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox -- two crossover vehicles built at its CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., he said.

"For us, the big push on technology this year is the Volt as it moves into its actual launch as a Chevrolet," he said. "There'll be a lot of attention on it in terms of launching it and delivering those vehicles late next year."

Chrysler will stress its current product line, but also promises "some surprises," said Rick Deneau, company spokesman "We're going to look a little different," he said, refusing to elaborate.

"The focus is going to be on the Chrysler brands, said Deneau. "We have an all new 300 sedan coming out next year and we're excited about changes to other existing vehicles, like the minivan.

"As one of the pillars of our company, the minivan will be a very important part of the show."

When asked whether Fiat vehicle powertrain components will make an appearance at the show, Deneau said "there will be some things people won't have seen before."

Sandra Pupatello, Ontario minister of economic development and trade -- an auto show regular -- is keen on seeing how Chrysler and GM are recharging their product lineup.

"They have to show their product lineup has changed," said Pupatello. Other major international auto shows have emphasized hybrid and electric concept cars, she noted.

"A lot of focus will be on fuel efficiency."

The big theme for the Detroit show is "electric mobility," said Fox. "That seems to be the buzzword of shows we've visited around the world in last few months. These are the new cars that you can charge from a home outlet and will have a 100- to 200-mile range."

Fox touted a new display called Electric Avenue -- a 37,000 square-foot area that will feature electric cars and electric vehicle technology, such as batteries, powertrains and electronics.

"There's been about US$3 billion in grant money allocated to small entrepreneurial start-up companies building electric cars and making motors and batteries, so I think government officials are interested in coming in and seeing those products as well as what kind of progress you'll see there.

"It's about seeing our taxpayer dollars at work."

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General Motors says it will announce the initial retail markets where the electric Chevrolet Volt will be sold at the L.A. auto show next month.

The Detroit automaker also plans to debut at the L.A. auto show the Chevrolet Cruze, a fuel-efficient compact sedan being assembled in Lordstown, Ohio.

Chrysler Group LLC is bringing Camp Jeep, a 30,000-square-foot exhibit - to consumers attending the 2009 Arizona International Auto Show, Nov. 26-29, at the Phoenix Civic Center.

Camp Jeep will give auto show attendees a chance to experience the extreme on- and off-road capabilities of Jeep vehicles without leaving the show floor, the company said.

The course will be comprised of several obstacles that simulate some of the rigorous testing that Jeep vehicles endure before customers get behind the wheel.


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