Detroit auto show showcases American car manufacturers on road to recovery

Here and Now

Detroit’s auto industry is in the midst of an impressive turnaround.

Sales are up, profits are up and the products are being well-received in the marketplace. In December, sales for all three of the big American automakers were higher than in November. On the flip side, Toyota and Honda both had their worst sales in years.

Now, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are hoping to keep that streak alive in 2012, and they’re starting with new product launches at the Detroit Auto Show.

Paul Eisenstein, publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, said the automakers are on the road to recovery.

“It was barely three years ago when we were at the auto show, the word here was ‘will any of them survive,’ ” Eisenstein said. “We saw GM and Chrysler go into bankruptcy. But they came out of 2011 with billions of dollars in profits.”

All three — including Ford, which avoided bankruptcy — added marketshare in 2011, something that hasn’t happened collectively since 1998. But what remains to be seen is if they can maintain growth as Japan’s automakers recover from the earthquake, tsunami and floods that crippled their production in 2011.

“Product is going to be what matters,” he said.

Eisenstein said the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ have been big hits at the auto show this year. Industry watchers are bullish about success in 2012, on the heels of the well-received new products.

On the flip side, Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Civic both launched redesigns that haven’t been widely acclaimed, Eisenstein said.

The success isn’t confined to Detroit, though. Korean automakers, like Hyundai and Kia both saw sales gains greater than the U.S. automakers.

“They’re doing many of the same things Detroit is doing. They fixed the quality problems to a large degree and they’re putting a heavy emphasis on styling,” he said.

Eisenstein cited the Hyundai Elantra, which just won North American car of the year, as a beautiful car that’s really improved its image in recent years — helping fuel those sales gains.

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