Detroit’s on a hot streak, and it has nothing to do with Matthew Stafford throwing TD bombs to Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. The Lions' promising 2012 NFL season has just started, but the 2012 Motor City automotive campaign is well underway. So far, it’s looking like a championship-caliber year for the Big Three.
Chrysler, Ford and GM have posted robust sales gains in 2012, with especially hefty year-over-year jumps between August 2011 and 2012. Even as the rest of the economy is still shaking off recession cobwebs, it has been a banner year for automakers.
Sure, foreign automakers have seen their fortunes rise in 2012 as well. But Detroit is keeping pace not only in sales, but in creating cool, buzzworthy vehicles that people covet. It's adapted to the global strategy that foreign competitors long ago adopted, to great success. It has found ways to create appealing vehicles that don't sacrifice creature comforts yet deliver the fuel economy consumers demand.
Detroit has its swagger back. Here's why.
Let's face it: when you can't pay your mortgage and layoff rumors run rampant at the water cooler, buying a new car doesn't exactly top the to-do list. But the economy is showing signs of life. Consumer confidence is creeping back up, says auto industry senior analyst Aaron Bragman of IHS Automotive. "People’s 401(k)s are regaining their value as the stock market has improved. Fleet buyers have healthy corporations behind them to purchase new vehicles, and consumer credit is flowing again," Bragman notes. "The deals are looking really good, too." In other words, car buyers who are as pent up as Tim Tebow on his wedding night are flocking to dealerships, rarin’ to find a new ride.
Of course, those prospects could be heading to the foreign competition, but there's more domestic automotive eye candy for car buyers than they’ve seen in ages. "There's a bunch of new and refreshed product in showrooms at nearly every automaker," Bragman says. This certainly applies to the Big Three, who have been designing and producing head-turning vehicles in all categories.
For example, 70 percent of all GM nameplates are either redesigned or all-new for the 2012-2013 model year. Cadillac saw an 11 percent sales increase in August, spurred by the all-new XTS full-size luxury saloon, and their compact luxury sedan, the ATS (above, right), just hitting showrooms, should only bolster Caddy’s performance. Chrysler's 14 percent year-over-year increase in August rode strong sales of the all-new, strikingly sporty Dodge Dart compact sedan, while the all-new Fiat 500 Abarth — which costarred with Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Catrinel Menghia in a Super Bowl commercial — boasted a 22 percent increase from July to August 2012. An all-new Escape helped Ford post its best August sales ever. These numbers reflect a high level of attractive, quality design across all nameplates. "Bland" used to be a safe adjective to apply to domestic car design; "brash" and ballsy" fit the bill today.
Fuels for Love
With fuel prices hovering around $4 a gallon, it's no surprise American consumers want fuel-efficient vehicles; Americans want to have their cake and eat it too. Enter Detroit, delivering fuel-sipping vehicles that don't compromise the creature comforts Americans can't relinquish. "A buyer trading in a 2004 Buick Park Avenue for its modern equivalent, a 2013 Buick LaCrosse, will go from a car that gets 26 mpg highway to one that gets 36 mpg highway without sacrificing room, performance or comfort," says Bragman. Or style, he could add, because the LaCrosse is a striking luxury sedan. Bragman also points to the new Ford F-150 with the EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 engine. "It makes as much power and torque as a V8, but features much better fuel economy," Bragman notes. "Buyers are snapping it up."
Want another excuse to look at that Fiat Abarth ad? We'll give you one. A huge reason for Detroit's resurgence has been a global strategy nicked from the foreign competition just in the nick of time. "Ford is ahead on this," says Bragman. "Their One Ford plan under CEO Alan Mulally started consolidating product offerings globally before the other automakers did, and as a result, cars sold abroad are now sold here." Case in point: the hot-selling Ford Focus, which debuted in 2011 globally and has been extremely popular ever since. GM and Chrysler followed suit. GM based the Chevy Cruze, Sonic, Spark and Malibu on global platforms, while Fiat's takeover of Chrysler gave the Detroit automaker instant worldwide opportunities, Bragman notes. "This kind of globalization of offerings means that the U.S. automakers are finally catching up to foreign automakers like Toyota and Volkswagen in terms of their reach and execution."
A recovering economy, a global strategy, fuel efficiency and eager buyers — it all adds up to a great year for Detroit. But for true gearheads, the best news in 2012 is that Motor City is rolling out cool cars and trucks in all categories: sporty, cost-conscious rides like the Focus and Cruze; the fuel efficient V6 F-150 and hot-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee; Cadillac's sexy, stylish XTS and ATS and the Fiat line. It's a banner year for the U.S. auto industry, but car buyers come out as winners.