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TheStreet Open House

Ford F-150 Will Lead Detroit Auto Show Parade

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- When major changes to the best-selling U.S. vehicle are expected to be unveiled on the first day of the Detroit Auto Show, it's hard to imagine that won't be the biggest story at the show. Everybody wants to see what the 2015 Ford (F) F-150 will look like.

GM (GM) chose to roll out its new Chevrolet Silverado a month before the last year's show, saying it did not want to detract from the show's Corvette rollout. On Monday, the Silverado is likely to be honored as North American truck of the year. GM also has two of the three finalists for car of the year.

But now it is Ford's turn.

"The F-150 is hugely important and will be the vehicle of the show," said Karl Brauer, an analyst for Kelly Blue Book and one of 48 auto journalists who votes for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. "It will have so many upgrades as well as an aluminum structure, meaning a substantial drop in weight. Everything gets better when a vehicle gets lighter."

Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said, "There is already so much buzz around the F-150, including a lot of questions about how the aluminum body will affect weight reduction, fuel economy and performance. I wonder if it will be something people embrace, or if people will think it strays too far from what a truck is. The traditional truck market is not used to radical change."

Today's world, however, demands fuel economy. James Bell, GM's head of consumer affairs, said automakers have three cards to play: downsize the engine, improve the aerodynamics and lighten the vehicle. In introducing the 2014 Silverado, GM made improvements in every area, but much of the initial attention seemed focused on the lighter engines and improved aerodynamics.

"We lightened the vehicle, but it wasn't the exclusive thing," Bell said. "We put great focus on downsizing the engine and on aerodynamics (as well as) materials.

 "Ford will have a strong show, but we're not bothered by that," he added. "It's not about owning the show year after year. What's great about the car business is that everybody brings their "A" game to Detroit."

Besides the F-150, top introductions are likely to be the Chrysler 200, the Honda (HMC) Fit and the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup truck.

Caldwell said the Chrysler 200 is important because "Chrysler's weak point is still cars," while Brauer said: "Chrysler needs to do this well; it hasn't had a viable midsize competitor for a long time."

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