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GM wins awards, Ford awes at Detroit auto show

DETROIT--General Motors' Chevrolet unit swept car and truck of the year honors but Ford's use of aluminum in its F150 sparked new debate on the first day of the Detroit auto show Monday.

Automakers paraded their newest models, many with more horsepower, more aggressive profiles and ever-swankier cockpits, almost in celebration of the U.S. market, now close to its pre-crash highs and girding for more solid growth this year.

With some four dozen new models on offer, consumers were spoiled for choice — if not overwhelmed.

Already last year the industry offered some 340 models, a sharp increase since the early 2000s, according to Jessica Caldwell of industry analysts Edmunds.com.

But as cars from Mercedes Benz's new C-Class and Honda's little third-generation Fit showed, consumers are getting more amenities, from connectivity to power to comfort, in the lower ranges of the automakers' fleets.

“There's a tremendous amount of innovation taking place in the industry right now,” said Robert Carter, senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota.

Automakers, after a hugely successful 2013, forecast more growth and unveiled powerful new trucks, sexy sports cars and luxury models.

General Motors logged an early win after its Chevrolet brand swept the car and truck of the year awards with the Corvette Stingray sports car and the Chevy Silverado pickup truck.

“Chevrolet is in the midst of the most aggressive product transformation in the brand's more than 100-year history,” Chevy chief Alan Batey said, hailing its wins.

Eyes were on Ford, however, as it gambled with a major change for the best-selling F150 pickup, replacing steel body panels with aluminum to drastically lower body weight and boost fuel economy.

The move, which helped Ford slash the truck's weight by up to 317 kilos is seen as a big risk, because truck buyers tend to focus on sturdiness and power.

Toyota, meanwhile, revved up its design credentials with a provocative new concept for a sports car, with a race car pit crew opening a shiny red box to reveal the FT-1 sports concept — Future Toyota 1.

Chrysler unveiled its hotly anticipated revamp of the 200 sedan, which aims to bring a new level of luxury and styling to its midsized offering with a low entry price of US$21,700.

“We designed a car to take on every other vehicle in its class, feature by feature and prove that a quality sedan doesn't have to cross an ocean to be worthy of an American driveway,” Chrysler brand chief Al Gardner told reporters.

Mercedes got a jump on its competitors by hiring Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child to serenade its sleek and luxurious new C-Class sedan, an upgrade from the entry-level position it has held for several years.

Now that role has been taken by the CLA, and the C-Class has been decked out with features from higher-end Mercedes.

Also enjoying the move down from senior models is the diminutive Honda Fit. Honda has reshaped the front, enlarged the inside with generous leg space for a subcompact, boosted horsepower to 130 and worked to smooth the ride, adding a right-side Lane Watch, Bluetooth, rearview cameras, and upgraded smart phone connectivity.

Corvette also generated excitement with its new racing versions of the Corvette Stingray, the street-legal Z06 and the track-ready CR.7.

Mark Reuss, a senior executive at General Motors, Chevrolet's parent, said there was little to separate the two, which he called “America's Supercar.”

“Racing motorsports and winning is a part of who we are,” said Reuss.

Kia and Toyota brought in concept pocket-rockets, BMW served up a hat-trick of new models — the 2 series, and an M3 and M4.

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 Signaling rebound, US gov't tallies December surplus of US$53.2 bil. 
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray chief engineer Tadge Juechter holds up the North American Car of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan on Monday, Jan. 13.

(AP)

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