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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 06:28 GMT
'Rescue' kicks off new car launches

By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter

Chrysler Rescue
Can Chrysler's Lego-look-alike rescue the US car industry?
Chrysler has launched its new Jeep, called "Rescue", at this year's motor show in Detroit.

The name seems appropriate given the dire state of the US car industry.

Indeed, the marketing blurb insists the Lego-look-alike off-roader has been "designed for the most extreme situations and difficult conditions".

Welcome to the US car market, where the three home-based automotive majors are being horsewhipped by European and Japanese intruders.

Economic outlook

Unlike some of the much larger automotive shows in Frankfurt, Paris and Geneva, the Detroit one is a fairly small affair that is dominated by business issues and, to a large extent, by US domestic concerns.

2004 North American International Auto Show
4-6 January: Press days
7-9 January: Industry and charity days
10-19 January: Public days

It is a shocking sign of the state of the car industry in Motown when its car show is no longer the biggest nor the best in the world.

Once upon a time, 90% of cars sold in the US were made by Americans in Detroit.

These days the cars are still mainly assembled by Americans, but the factories are often based in Southern states, the workers are non-unionised and the cars carry foreign badges.

By the end of this decade, all three US majors may be overtaken by Toyota, which is riding on its superb reliability reputation to capture market share from the Motown firms.

No wonder, then, that the car industry officials who gather in Detroit this week will be keen to hear from the three US carmakers' in-house economists.

GM's Mustafa Mohatarem, Ford's Ellen Hughes-Cromwick and Chrysler's Van Jollissaint will air their predictions for the year ahead at an automotive analyst conference on 6 January.

High revs

But before then, the world's media were introduced to a string of new car models during press days on 4 and 5 January.

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti
The 612 Scaglietti launch is Ferrari's first global premiere in the US.
Sports cars will feature heavily at the show, with GM's eagerly anticipated Chevrolet Corvette and Ferrari's 612 Scaglietti expected to steal much of the attention.

Ferrari's launch marked the first time it has held a world premiere in the US.

The Italian sports car maker's 612 Scaglietti was joined by fellow Italian Lamborghini's Murcielago and the baby-Lambo Gallardo.

And the launch of the latest Italian heartthrobs was met by an announcement from rival Aston Martin.

The Ford subsidiary, which launches the convertible version of its DB9 Volante coupe in Detroit, apparently has plans to churn out 5,000 sports cars a year, a huge leap from current production figures.

Sports utility

This being America, there are plenty of powerful engines on show elsewhere too.

Ford Five Hundred
Ford has "rediscovered" cars.
Jeep's Rescue is joined by the Ford subsidiary Land Rover's latest concept, called Range Stormer, which is set to fit neatly between its working 4x4 Defender and the more luxurious Range Rover.

But except for its decision to push Land Rover's so-called "trucks", Ford has decided on a different route ahead, having recently changed its focus from the 4x4 market.

Last year was dubbed "Year of the Truck" by Ford.

Now "Ford is changing its attention and resources to cars" with 2004 being named "Year of the Car".

The Ford announcement comes a full year after GM's "rediscovery" of the car market, coinciding with the ever greater push into the sports utility market by European and Japanese automotive firms.

For Ford, the virtual re-entry into the market for ordinary cars, with its Five Hundred sedan, could be tough.

Since its focus changed away from car drivers, the market has been captured by non-US car makers such as Germany's BMW or Japan's Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

The BBC's Kate Noble
"Profits come almost exclusively from trucks and SUV's"

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