MOST READ: 5 Major Car Redesigns for '09 - TheStreet

This year has seen several changes to the automotive market that will reverberate for many years. The economy has created a state of emergency for the major American auto makers, with


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posting its worst losses in history and

General Motors

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severely cutting back as well.

While the fate of the auto world remains to be seen, the immediate changes can already be found in the coming models for 2009. Next year, the focus will be on smaller, more efficient cars with a decreased emphasis on large trucks and gas-guzzling SUVs.

Here's a closer look at some of the bigger changes to existing models in 2009, and a couple new designs that you have to keep an eye on for the new year.


Perhaps one of the more thorough redesigns of an existing model comes from the Mazda6, which the company appropriately calls the "totally, completely, 100% new Mazda6."

The sedan gained space in every direction, adding 4.5 inches to the wheelbase and six to the total length. It might seem small, but it's a big change that adds increased room for the five passengers as well as greater trunk space.

The base engine gets an upgrade as well, with the standard model now featuring a 2.5 liter four-cylinder that gives an improved 170 horsepower. Also available is a more powerful 272-horsepower V-6. Finally, the overall styling gets a makeover, with Mazda opting to take cues from their RX-8 model. The re-done Mazda6 should be replacing older models in dealerships as soon as this month.

Ford Flex

While not necessarily a model update but more of a new model, the Flex still has some roots in the timeless yet plain Taurus. Designed as Ford's attempt to bring back the heyday of the station wagon, the boxy Flex is like a mix between a Mini Cooper and a crossover SUV.

With a respectably average 17 city/22 highway gas mileage, Ford is also hoping the Flex can help anchor its comeback by serving as a replacement for larger SUVs that are currently seeing abysmal sales.

The Flex can comfortably seat seven and boasts 260 horsepower. The Taurus roots come from the suspension and chassis, giving the Flex a quieter, more car-like ride. Perhaps one of the biggest selling points in this changing market, though, is the included technology that provides constantly updated real-time gas prices to the driver.

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Chalk this one up to the big auto makers trying to hold on to the dwindling SUV enthusiast market. The popular Escalade series gets a hybrid model added to the lineup in 2009, promising gas mileage of up to 20 m.p.g. in the city, vs. just 12 mpg with the standard non-hybrid models.

The green Escalade will make use of the same two-mode system introduced on the equally unnecessary Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. This system switches between battery or gas power, and can even shut off some cylinders for different driving modes such as highway cruising.

Cadillac says it expects the hybrid model to cost about the same as a fully loaded standard Escalade, which currently goes for around $66,000, 22-inch rims and all.

Dodge Challenger

A small number of Challenger SRT8's have been on sale since mid-2008, but in 2009,



officially rolls out the welcome mat for the entire lineup of the car, which is certainly not for the person looking to cut down on fuel savings and keep a low profile. The SRT8 will remain the high-end of the line, but with the new year, Dodge also introduces the more affordable R/T and SE models.

The R/T will come packed with a 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 engine that pushes out 372 horses. The slightly cheaper SE serves as the entry-level model and comes with a 3.5 liter V-6 that gives it 250 horsepower. For the fuel-conscious driver who still wants to drive one, the SE also gets a surprisingly decent 18 city/25 highway in the gas-mileage department.

Mercedes GLK-class

Not content to simply update one or two models, Mercedes opted instead to create an entirely new class of vehicle to add to its portfolio.

The GLK class hits American shores early in 2009 and the initial production run will be labeled as 2010 vehicles.

Given the American market's rapid move away from the SUV, it seems somewhat surprising that Mercedes would develop and all-new SUV. But the GLK is stylish and compact enough to be successful in much the same way that BMW found success with its X-series.

The GLK is built on the same platform as the Mercedes C-Class and features a 7-speed automatic transmission with the always fun steering wheel paddle shifters. It will come as a V-6 gas version initially, with plans to launch a diesel version soon after.