By Jeff Gilbert
DETROIT (WWJ) – A spirit of optimism is filling Cobo Center as press previews for the 2012 North American International Auto Show get underway.
“We feel very good about where we’re coming from and where we’re going,” said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. “We expect this year to be another very good year for us.”
Ford has made a big investment in its presence for this year’s auto show. They’ve filled their exhibit with high tech interactive displays, video walls, and even an immersive theatre. They also rented out Joe Louis Arena to make a big splash as they introduced a new version of the Ford Fusion.
General Motors is just as bullish, showing off a new Cadillac small car, the XTS, and two concepts aimed at young buyers.
GM is also adding new workers, in response to expansion announcements made in 2011.
“It’s very exciting,” said GM North America President Mark Reuss. “You look at the plants we’re bringing back on line with the people that we’re employing. Those investments really come to fruition in 2012.”
The auto show comes days after Chrysler announces a new, third shift at its Jefferson North plant, adding 1,100 workers.
“We see Chrysler as being Detroit,” said CEO Sergio Marchionne.
He said the same spirit that helped his company turn around, can turn around the city. “We want this town to come back. This show, in particular … is an indication of a resurrection of the Motown we all grew up with.”
Chrysler is promising a new Super Bowl spot this year. But, Marchionne said it won’t be able to get the same attention given to the company’s “Imported from Detroit” spot in the 2011 game.
The Dodge brand will be bringing back a familiar name, with the introduction of the Dodge Dart small car at this show. It’s based on an Alfa Romeo product, and will replace the aging Dodge Caliber.
A small car won the coveted North American Car of the Year award. Hyundai’s Elantra edged out the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passatt.
“It says we’re a 25 year overnight success story,” said Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik. Hyundai won the same award three years ago for its Genesis sport sedan.
The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque won the Truck of the Year honor.
Not everything is rosy. There are concerns about the economy in Europe slowing the recovery in the U.S.
Japanese carmakers are concerned about the value of the yen vs. the dollar, which makes it difficult for them to make money exporting vehicles from Japan to the United States.
Nissan Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said they will have to move more production out of Japan, if this continues.
“We have been very vocal on this, and we have alerted everybody by saying. ‘If the yen continues strength like this, we’re going to walk.’ And we’re doing it.”
Nissan is in the process of moving more work to its plants in the United States. But, for now, Ghosn said they don’t plan on building more plants here. Nissan is going to build a new plant in Mexico.
The U.S. will also get more of Nissan’s electric vehicle production. A move that has been planned.
“2012, we’re going to start producing the Leaf in Tennessee, and the battery plant is going to start also,” said Ghosn. “So, we’re going to have the battery made in the United States, the car made in the United States.”
Ghosn said he expects sales of the electric Nissan Leaf to double this year, as the company gets more capacity on line.
GM, meanwhile, is backing off on expectations for the Chevy Volt. It now plans to adjust production to demand.
That has been Ford’s plan all along, as it prepares to introduce an electric version of the Focus, and two high mileage plug in hybrids.
Bill Ford said those vehicles will be built on the same line as their conventionally powered counterparts, allowing quick changes in production.
“Really it’s up to the customer to give us the signal what their level of comfort is,” he said. “We can flex up or flex down, depending on what that demand is.”
Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com as auto press previews continue this week. The show will be open to the public Saturday, January 14-21.