GREAT YEAR FOR AUTOMAKERS: A surging economy, more jobs and cheaper fuel... the 2015 Detroit auto show "will be held amid near perfect conditions in the US auto industry". Image: Honda / AFP
DETROIT, Michigan - The US auto industry will celebrate a confluence of near-perfect conditions as it unveils its latest vehicles at the 2015 North American International Automobile Show in Detroit on January 12.
After racking up its best year in sales since 2006, the year before the financial crisis hit, automakers will display about 40 new cars and trucks, hoping to seduce buyers to make 2015 even better.
The cars will be more powerful and decked out with even-more high-tech bells and whistles that are making them safer than ever, while pushing slowly toward the day of the hands-free automobile.
MOST POWERFUL CADDY
Rolling onto the red carpet in Detroit will be Cadillac's most powerful car yet, the new 477kW CTS-V; Lexus's GS F performance sedan; a new version of the Acura NSX and possibly the next-generation Ford supercar.
Bakkie fans should take note of the new Nissan Titan and Toyota Tacoma.
The struggling US green-car sector will have fresh offerings in the form of a redesigned GM Volt and Hyundai's hybrid and plug-in Sonatas.
CHINESE BRANDS RETURN
The show, the premier auto exposition in the USA, will also see the return of Chinese automakers, absent for several years after self-imposed exile, with Guangzhou Auto presenting its new car though it won't be sold in the USA.
The impressive array of vehicles underscores how the American consumer is enjoying the richest, most diverse range of choices from the Detroit "Big 3" (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, now renamed FCA US) as wells as European and Asian automakers.
With fuel prices reportedly the lowest in six years, interest rates at an all-time low and the US economy and household worth growing steadily, "we're almost in a perfect storm," said Joe Vitale, industry analyst at consultant Deloitte.
Vitale said: "When you look at all those factors, one it's a good time to be a consumer, two there's liquidity out there for the purchase of vehicles, three there's aging of the vehicle population.
"All these things make it very desirable for the auto industry over the coming year."
NOT ALL GOOD NEWS
The Detroit auto show expects a million visitors as 20 manufacturers will compete for the spotlight in a US market that has been a bright spot in a world where other economies are struggling to grow.
The industry is coming off a year of sales of at least 16.5 million vehicles in the US, up 5.9% from 2013, according to Autodata, an industry consultant.
GM led the pack with sales of 2.94 million units, Ford 2.48 million, Toyota 2.37 million, and FCA US, the former American Chrysler marque now owned by Italy's Fiat, selling 2.09 million cars and trucks.
GM chief executive Mary Barra predicted on Thursday (Jan 8) that sales in 2015 could reach a 17 million vehicles, a figure last seen in 2001.
Barra said: "The US economy and vehicle sales have been rebounding since 2009 and we believe there is still plenty of room for the auto industry to grow."
For all the expected razzmatazz, the show does not open under absolutely clear skies.
After a record year of recalls in the US, some 60 million cars in total, many for life-threatening defects, automakers will be under pressure to demonstrate a greater commitment to car quality and consumer safety.
GM is especially under the gun, having been shown at the beginning of 2014 to have known about faulty ignitions for more than a decade before taking action.
At least 42 people died in crashes tied to that problem and the company is facing criminal investigation even as it pays out millions of dollars to settle claims.
The other cloud over the industry is the receding demand for energy-saving vehicles as fuel prices sink. Sales growth overall has been heaviest in the pickup truck and sports utility vehicle segments, while sagging for electrics and hybrids.
Former economist at Ford and now professor at Michigan University, Martin Zimmerman, said: "Demand for such vehicles has been somewhat disappointing for the auto companies."
With the companies under regulatory pressure to reduce the fuel consumption averages of their fleets, the lackadaisical demand for electrics poses a problem for them, according to Zimmerman.
Both automakers and regulators "are going to have to come to terms with these lower oil prices," said Zimmerman.