DETROIT (TheStreet) -- No doubt the Ford (F) F-150 was the biggest, most important introduction during the Detroit Auto Show -- Ford executives even rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. But other things also were happening in Detroit.
The rollouts included luxury vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz C Class and new coupes from BMW, Lexus and Infiniti, a sports car concept from Toyota (TM), and new versions of the Chevrolet Corvette. New pickups included the GMC midsize Canyon as well as the F-150. The most important car was the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan. The North American truck of the year was GM's (GM) Silverado and the car of the year was the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
"The heavy emphasis on seductive high-performance machines confirms the level of confidence permeating the automotive industry," said Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer.
As far as small cars go, they were few and far between. Does anyone even remember when small cars were big news?
Apparently, for this week at least, only Honda (HMC) does.
Honda's new Fit, rolled out Monday, "definitely made a big splash," said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. "But it's an oddball here.
"This show doesn't have that green feel we have had at every show for a while," Caldwell said.
Kelley Blue Book analyst Eric Ibara also applauded the Fit, calling it "a mainstay for Honda that hasn't changed much, which may be a good thing -- it was such a great car to begin with."
Ibara, who oversees residual value forecasting, said he expects the 2015 Fit to be near the top of the list for holding value, just as its predecessors have done, although he noted: "We will have to drive the car to assess the difference from the previous generation."
Still, in assessing the top cars at the Detroit Auto Show, who doesn't love the oddball?
Aluminum is in. Alcoa (AA) on Monday said aluminum use in cars will nearly double by 2025 and also said it has completed a $300 million expansion at its Davenport, Iowa, facility in order to supply more aluminum sheet products to the automotive industry. It is also adding automotive capacity in Alcoa, Tenn. And you thought company towns were dead.
Ford said high-strength aluminum alloys will be used throughout the F-150 body for the first time, improving dent and ding resistance and also saving up to 700 pounds of weight. An F-150 typically weight 5,000 pounds to 6,000 pounds.
Caldwell said she initially had concerns about whether the very traditional truck market would accept such a vast transformation, but after seeing the new truck she believes "it looks very obviously like a truck. From the looks, I don't think there will be a problem with the reception.
"Ford was very careful how they positioned the use of aluminum, making sure to preserve the Ford tough image." Caldwell said. Ford's news release said the F-150 uses "high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloys, already used in aerospace, commercial transportation, energy and many other rugged industries."
Ibara said, "I applaud Ford for taking some bold steps with the styling and with the technology." But he noted, "We haven't driven it yet.
"We are really anxious to get behind the wheel," he said. "We're not sure how it's going to feel. Any time you come out with new technology, you can anticipate what's going to happen, but you never really know. We need to get some feedback from some truck drivers."
The new Chrysler 200 midsize sedan is in a tough segment, the biggest U.S. auto segment after pickup trucks.
"From the outward appearance and the equipment changes they have made, it's a significant improvement over the current 200," Ibara said. "But the caveat again is we want to get behind the wheel of that vehicle. We look forward to experiencing a smooth, comfortable, well-handling car, if that's what it is."
Ibara said he is a little hesitant about the Chrysler 200 because when the new Dodge Dart first appeared "it had great reviews for appearance. But later, when we drove the vehicle, a lot of us were disappointed with its lack of power."
Caldwell said the 200 "got a good reception here -- people liked what they saw, and it will definitely turn heads." But she noted that the midsize segment is difficult and full of good choices. "Buyers in that segment are not swayed by flashy," she said.
Mercedes C Class
The Mercedes C Class has been replaced by the CLA as Mercedes' entry level vehicle, so it needed to be a step up. Caldwell said it succeeded.
"C Class definitely has a luxury feel, like a mini S class," Caldwell said. "There are a lot of technical advantages in that car. I think they succeeded in the looks, and they have a lot of engine options -- Mercedes always has something going on.
The new Class C, a midsize sedan, resembles the previous generation. One big difference is that, like the F-150, the 2015 Class C uses aluminum extensively throughout the body, resulting in a weight decrease of 220 pounds.
The new C Class will be built in Vance, Ala.
Toyota's FT-1 concept, unveiled at Detroit, "brings some excitement to their lineup," Caldwell said.
"It's still a concept," she said. "The whole idea was to gauge the response, and the response was good."
In the words of Toyota's own breathless press release, "Toyota virtually blew the doors off the North American International Auto Show with the reveal of the stunning FT-1 sports car concept." FT stands for "Future Toyota," the company said, while "the number '1' represents the ultimate."
What inspired Toyota, a company that some see as more instilled with the spirt of production toaster-and-appliance-like vehicles, to produce such a vehicle? For the answer, we turn again to Toyota's very enthusiastic copy writer, who wrote:
"Traditionally, Toyota's design decisions have been driven by consensus among a large group of stakeholders. Under [president] Akio Toyoda's stated directive to invigorate Toyota products with energy, passion and 'Waku-Doki' (translation: a palpable heart-pounding sense of excitement), the approval process has been streamlined."
The car is likely to come to market as the Supra.
Hyundai Genesis is the carmaker's entry in the luxury market. It replaces a 2009 model. Ibara thinks the 2015 version should be included in this story -- Who are we to argue?
"A lot of skeptics were thinking that the Koreans couldn't enter the luxury market, but the current generation Genesis is a very good vehicle and Hyundai has improved on it," he said. "The styling is more distinctive and they have made improvements with added features. We think this will be a success in the marketplace."
If you don't like our choices, we should add that at an investor conference Tuesday afternoon, Raj Nair, Ford product chief, was asked whether any non-Ford vehicles at the show had impressed him. He named three -- Genesis, the Chrysler 200, and the Mercedes C Class. He called the Genesis "a very competent vehicle" and said he was impressed that the 200 is "extending the Dart platform to that level of capability."
"There are a lot of great products," Nair said. "There are very few bad products out there right now. It's scary for us."
Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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