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Auto show adds fuel to watching trends

DETROIT — The future has yet to be written, but vehicles and technologies unveiled at the Detroit auto show at Cobo Center 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. Detroit Free Press

General Motors

The Ford 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. 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. 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.

Hyundai

The Korean automaker had as many impressive new vehicles on the show floor as any company in the world. In addition to the stylish new Sonata and Tucson, fuel-efficient new engines and transmissions promise to make Hyundai a value leader.

Chrysler

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.

Ford

The Fiesta subcompact has European style, handling and performance, but Ford faces a challenge getting U.S. 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 accept it?

What about the hybrids?

Facing the Prius, Chevrolet goes electric instead. 5B

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 is scheduled to go on sale in November.

Auto show adds fuel to watching trends 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 10:56pm]

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