* New Corvette, Maserati among hot cars
* Nissan slashes base price on Leaf EV
* Toyota bucks trend with popular Prius hybrids
By Paul Lienert
DETROIT, Jan 14 The message from automotive CEOs
at the opening of this year's Detroit auto show is deceptively
simple: Sportscars are hot, electrics are not.
As General Motors Corp CEO Dan Akerson unveiled a new
450-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette and Fiat SpA CEO
Sergio Marchionne extolled the Italian automaker's $130,000
Maserati Quattroporte luxury sedan, their counterpart, Carlos
Ghosn, chief executive of Japan's Nissan Motor Co,
announced a stunning $6,000-plus price cut on the slow-selling
Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.
Despite that hiccup, executives generally seemed upbeat
about the mood of the U.S. auto industry as it enters a fourth
year of recovery from the 2009 meltdown and bankruptcies of GM
"Without trying to read tarot cards and tea leaves, 2013 is
structurally going in the right direction. It will be the best
year on record since I've been here," said Fiat's Marchionne,
whose company was handed control of Chrysler four years ago.
If U.S. consumers' views of green cars remains skeptical,
their unabated appetite for performance and luxury models is
widely evident on the show floor at Detroit's Cobo Center, even
to industry officials from overseas.
"The U.S. auto market has revitalized itself with amazing
speed and dynamism," said Matthias Wissmann, head of Germany's
carmaker association (VDA). "The fascination of the car is again
alive and well in the U.S."
Part of that fascination is being driven by foreign brands
such as Maserati, like Chrysler part of the Fiat group. But not
every out-of-town executive is sanguine about prospects in the
The Detroit show has lost its luster for Lamborghini, the
Italian supercar maker owned by Volkswagen AG, which
quit the most significant U.S. auto show after 2009.
"For us, a return to the show isn't on the agenda at the
moment," CEO Stephan Winkelmann said in an interview, noting the
scarcity of Lamborghini customers in and around the Detroit
area. "You have to spend your marketing budget wisely. The
Detroit show isn't marked red in our calendar."
Still, the United States remains Lamborghini's biggest
market where the brand boosted sales 53 percent last year and
will premiere its new Aventador roadster at a special event in
Miami in early February, the CEO said.
Not quite in the same league as Lamborghini, but drawing
considerably more interest from the hometown crowd, is the new
2014 Corvette, which goes on sale later this year.
"It's got a little bit of the Ferrari 599 in the front, a
little bit of the Nissan GTR on the side, and a little bit of
the (Chevrolet) Camaro in the back - elements from exotic cars
blended into a package that is much more modern and aggressive
than the previous generations of the Corvette," said veteran
designer Naga Tandjung, who was worked for Ford, GM and BMW.
On the show's first media preview day, GM elicited much
attention, not only for the new Corvette, but for its redesigned
pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. And a
jury of U.S. and Canadian journalists on Monday recognized GM's
Cadillac ATS as the 2013 North American Car of the Year.
Another new Cadillac, the 2014 ELR plug-in hybrid, will be
unveiled at the show Tuesday. But its potential appeal to
consumers may be driven as much by the car's luxury trappings
and sporty styling as by its gasoline-electric drivetrain, which
the ELR shares with the Chevrolet Volt.
The ELR, which is expected to be priced from $60,000 to
$70,000, is one of the few overtly green cars being introduced
at this year's event.
At the opposite end of the pricing spectrum, the 2013 Nissan
Leaf is being repositioned as one of the most affordable
electric cars in the United States, with a new starting price
below $30,000. Now that the car and its battery pack are being
assembled locally to benefit from the weaker U.S. dollar, "we
are making the consumer benefit as soon as possible from the
cost reduction," Ghosn said.
Bucking the general apathy toward green cars is Toyota Motor
Corp, which is featuring a variety of new hybrid models
on its show stand and said sales of its gasoline-electric hybrid
vehicles climbed 7 percent to 350,000, more than two-thirds of
them wearing the Prius badge.