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Honda, Others Focus on Luxury Models at U.S. Auto Show

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 9:39am
The Associated Press

DETROIT, Jan. 16 (Kyodo) — Honda Motor Co. and fellow manufacturers from Japan and the United States showed a renewed emphasis on their mainstay lines and luxury models at this year's North American International Auto Show, shifting their focus from electric vehicles and other hi-tech offerings.

By unwrapping high-margin products, they hope to immediately shore up their bottom lines in the recovering U.S. market, which grew 13 percent in 2012 to top 14 million units for the first time in five years.

In contrast, emerging markets such as China are showing "signs of somewhat peaking," said an official of a Japanese automaker, while Europe remains under severe conditions because of the lingering impact of the debt crisis.

At the second day of the Detroit show on Tuesday, Honda's luxury brand revealed an exterior prototype for the 2014 Acura MDX. The prototype represents a "strong indication" of the company's direction when launching the seven-passenger sports utility vehicle by mid-year, according to Honda.

"Our goal is to advance MDX's already great dynamic performance with fuel economy and luxury comfort," Acura national marketing operations vice president Mike Accavetti said at the launch.

Lexus, Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury brand, made the worldwide debut of its 2014 IS sports sedan. With three engine options, the sedan is the first IS model to offer the Lexus Hybrid Drive.

A hybrid version, the IS 300h, will hit some markets but not the U.S. It will be offered in Japan and Europe and other markets where "CO2 emissions drive buying behavior," a Toyota official said.

"We expect the hybrid to make up for more than 80 percent of the mix in Europe," Lexus group vice president Mark Templin said, highlighting the car's "fun-to-drive" quality.

Nissan Motor Co. displayed the Q50 midsize sedan of the Infiniti luxury line in addition to environmentally friendly models.

It unveiled the hybrid-electric Resonance crossover concept, with "smart, edgy" designs, while its 2014 Versa Note hatchback also debuted, with enhanced aerodynamics, such as Active Grille Shutters that open only when the engine needs cooling, to improve fuel efficiency.

Nissan is also using the popular show to highlight the 2013 Nissan Leaf, which it announced on Monday will carry a reduced starting price of around $28,000 in the U.S. market, an 18 percent cut. The electric car is expected to charge its battery nearly twice as fast as previous models and began production last week at the Smyrna plant in Tennessee.

"There are a lot of changes that we are doing with the car -- price is one of them but it is not the only one," Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told reporters Monday, adding that there is "absolutely no question that zero emissions (cars) are here to stay."

Among American automakers, General Motors Co. on Tuesday revealed the 2014 Cadillac ELR, an all-electric luxury coupe based on the Converj concept, which it showed in the 2009 show. It will build the ELR at the same plant which produces the Chevrolet Volt, GM's other electric car.

"Simply put, the ELR is a revolutionary vehicle, a pivot point for Cadillac that will allow us to reestablish ourselves as a technological leader in the luxury space," Cadillac global vice president Bob Ferguson said.

Ford Motor Co. emphasized its commercial vehicles and presented three models for the 2014 Transit lineup, including a compact van, a full-size van and a cargo van.

"This segment of highly profitable vehicles is often overlooked and yet it provides very strong growth potential," Ford CEO Alan Mullaly said.

The 150 year old company also unveiled the Atlas concept truck with a next generation EcoBoost engine, considered to be a preview of the 2015 F-150 pickup.

Some analysts see the early presentation as an example of the highly competitive truck segment as the U.S. housing market recovers, requiring construction companies to purchase new vehicles.

A new addition to the Detroit event, Guanzhou Automotive Group Co., Ltd., China's number-six automaker, made its first appearance by showcasing three cars.

Along with two versions of its Trumpchi line -- a four-by-four hybrid model and an electric SUV -- the company presented an electric compact concept E-JET and said it has a driving range of more than 100 kilometers in pure electric mode.

"Our very first participation in the well-known Detroit auto show indicates steps towards globalization," GAC research and development vice president Huang Xiang Dong said.

The exhibition is open to the media Monday and Tuesday. It will open to the general public Jan. 19-27.

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