DETROIT—Momentum. That’s the word floating most assuredly through Cobo Hall, the site of the 2011 North American International Auto Show. Optimism and enthusiasm, too. After two seasons of sluggishness, auto-industry leaders are convinced that the automobile business is back, and the Detroit show is resuming the prominence it enjoyed over two decades.
Hardly a discouraging word can be heard on the show floor, either from company presenters or from the journalists and industry people who’ve come to learn about the revival and all the new products.
Some of those new vehicles are worth the trip, to be sure. So are several redesigned models. Despite all the cheers, though, barely a dozen new and reworked production vehicles with conventional powertrains are making debuts in Detroit. More than a dozen automakers held no news conference at all, and a couple of the 19 that did make presentations had no new products to promote. Surprisingly, in view of continued truck popularity, nearly all the and and redesigned models are passenger cars.
Looking at brand-new models first, Buick introduced the 2012 Verano—the company’s first compact luxury sedan, and the first compact since the Skylark of the 1990s. Though related to Chevrolet’s compact Cruze, the Verano gets more powerful engines. Borrowed from the bigger Regal and Lacrosse, the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes more than 180 horsepower and promises at least 31 mpg on the highway. A 2.0-liter turbo comes later. “Like all Buicks,” said marketing vice-president John Schwegman, “Verano is library-quiet,” helped by such noise-reducers as a five-layer headliner.
First seen at the Paris Motor Show in September, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was unveiled in Detroit in both hatchback and sedan form. When it reaches dealerships this fall, it will be the only subcompact car manufactured in the U.S. Replacing the Korean-made Aveo, the Sonic can have a standard 1.8-liter engine with five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, or an optional 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder that produces 138 horsepower and might achieve 40 mpg in highway driving. GM president Mark Reuss noted that the Sonic chassis has been “tuned for the U.S. market by our Corvette suspension engineers.” More...