DETROIT — The future has yet to be written, but vehicles and technologies unveiled at the Detroit auto show recently are prologue to the story lines that could dominate the auto industry in 2010. Here are a few things to watch for as the year unfolds. Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press
The automaker hopes to show some homegrown signs of life before a posse of new Fiat-based engines, transmissions and small-car platforms rides to the rescue. All-new versions of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV should generate excitement when they hit dealerships.
The 300, Charger and Grand Cherokee are three of Chrysler's signature vehicles. They're among the reasons Fiat snapped up the ailing automaker.
The Fiesta subcompact has European style, handling and performance, but Ford faces a challenge getting American customers to take a small car from a U.S. brand seriously. The Fiesta's promised EPA highway rating of 40 mpg will turn heads, however.
The all-new replacement for Ford's mainstay Explorer SUV due this year could meet similar resistance. Its car-type unibody chassis promises major improvements in fuel economy and comfort, but will customers looking for a modern crossover SUV be put off by a name that's synonymous with old-style, off-roading SUVs?
The Fiesta's mpg triumph may be short-lived. The bigger Chevrolet Cruze — a compact sedan with near-midsize room — should steal bragging rights when it hits the road with its own 40-mpg rating and "Made in America" stamped on the car, its engine and transmission later this year.
Chevrolet's much-publicized Volt extended-range electric car will dominate the headlines, but with potential sales of 300,000 or more a year, the Cruze is of greater immediate importance.
Cadillac's momentum should grow as the lovely CTS coupe joins the lineup. The CTS-V coupe's 556 horsepower will keep Cadillac's performance credentials valid, while the SRX crossover and CTS sport wagon aim for customers who want to haul stuff as well as burn rubber.
Buick's long-promised reinvention as an appealing premium brand had better start to take hold in 2010. The midsize LaCrosse won accolades, and the sporty Regal sedan will offer a lower price and more engaging dynamics when its European-tuned chassis and powertrains hit the road.
The GMC truck brand is healthy and profitable, but needs to offer smaller, more fuel-efficient models. The little Granite crossover shows how GMC may do that.
The Korean automaker had many impressive new vehicles on the show floor. In addition to the stylish new Sonata and Tucson, fuel-efficient new engines and transmissions promise to make Hyundai a value leader.
High-tech powerplants that save fuel without sacrificing performance take center stage in 2010. U.S. and European automakers have bet on merging turbocharging and direct fuel injection.
Chevrolet Volt vs. Toyota plug-in Prius
But what about hybrids, you ask? Toyota is so far ahead with the Prius that its dominance of that technology is unchallenged, right?
Perhaps, but in 2010 that may be like the Tigers' 1984 World Series trophy: It looks good on the mantel, but doesn't do you much good today. No hybrid matches the Prius' EPA fuel economy rating, but the battlefield has shifted to electric vehicles.
Chevrolet's pledge that the Volt extended-range electric vehicle will score a mind-boggling 230 mpg EPA rating for city driving could make the Prius irrelevant when the Volt goes on sale in November.