They Were Mixing It Up At The Auto Show In Detroit

Day one at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was an odd juxtaposition of fuel efficiency and fuel-guzzling.

The rough mix included automakers without trucks launching trucks, luxury makes launching compact lux vehicles, mass-market brands launching flagship luxury vehicles, and updates, face lifts, refreshenings.

(Click here to see video taken by Karl Greenberg at the auto show!)

The general theme has been that, in spite of dour predictions for 2008, each automaker has the key to staying in the game: big, small, compact, fuel-saving, niche and competitive products.

Both Ford and Chrysler's Dodge division debuted revised versions of their F-150 and Ram full-sized pickups, respectively.

Per tradition, Ford Motor used the Cobo Arena and lots of fireworks to debut the new F-150 with a video showing a bunch of guys touring the company's Rouge River plant, breaking away, sneaking into a no-entry area, finding an interactive computer screen and creating their ideal pickup.

While Dodge attempted a cattle drive in Cobo's parking lot to demonstrate the new Ram, Ford brought out country star Toby Keith, riding shotgun with Mark Fields, U.S. sales chief, behind the wheel. The company also showed off the near-production version of the Ford Flex, which debuted last year as a concept, and a concept car called Verve.

Hyundai Motor, meanwhile, unveiled Genesis, its play for the luxury market and the company's "first true flagship vehicle." The company's product development and strategic planning head John Krafcik said the rear-wheel-drive car goes on sale in summer, benchmarking BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS.

How? Krafcik said the car will appeal to consumers who don't want to spend a lot of money on a luxury car. Notably, the car does not wear a Hyundai badge on its grill. He said the benchmark doesn't reflect the target: those cross-shopping vehicles like Chrysler 300.

Todd Turner--president of Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif., also walking the floor at the show--says Hyundai's dealership issue is paramount when it comes to Genesis.

"They have mixed a bag--there are dealerships in some markets awarded when Hyundai wasn't doing so well. Unfortunately, they don't have good facilities--in some cases they are run down, and they are in critical markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, real important markets," he says.

"What you want for Genesis is Planet Hyundai in Las Vegas [a showcase franchise for Hyundai]. People whom they are targeting with Genesis are more sophisticated and will have higher expectations. They need to do a carrot-and-stick routine with their dealers; they need to offer dealers a carrot, in terms of assisting on facilities and training. The smart dealers will take it to attract people that are more sophisticated; they will have higher expectations. When they get there, there better not be a disconnect."

Kia, which is building its first U.S. production plant in West Point, Ga., is launching what might be a counterintuitive product, given the direction of the market away from traditional truck-based SUVs toward crossovers.

The Borrego, which the company unveiled on Sunday at the show, is a traditional SUV. The body-on-frame truck has a V8 engine--Kia's first --and will have a diesel variant.

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