Auto Show Previews Key Year for Carmakers

A 2010 Chevy Cruze is on display before the opening of the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. U.S. carmakers are focusing on smaller and electric-powered cars as they begina critical year of rebuilding. CBS

After one of the worst years ever for the auto industry the annual Detroit auto show opens tomorrow. The big show could provide a good indication of whether American carmakers are in drive or reverse, as CBS New correspondent Dean Reynolds reports.

The carmakers featured vehicles at the 2010 show - anticipated new models and no doubt a few surprises - remain hidden for now beneath plastic tarps. The u.s. auto industry has a lot riding on the cars beneath those covers. More than any of its predecessors, this car show - with more than 40 new models on display - is where the spin meets the road.

"When you consider the fact that our automakers have been through the toughest year in their history in 2009, this is definitely a watershed moment," said Doug Fox, chairman pf the North American International Auto Show.

For Ford, it's a chance to boast of its recent successes without the benefit of taxpayer dollars. Its Fusion hybrid has been a blow-out success. This year the buzz surrounds the new Taurus and economical Fiesta.

Ford sales were up almost 33 percent in December over a year earlier.

For General Motors, declining sales have still not toppled the company as the number one carmaker in the world, and there are rays of sunshine peaking through the ruins of 2009.

Sales of the Chevrolet Equinox crossover, for example, were up 121 percent last month over December of last year.

GM has pared its portfolio down to four brands - GMC, Buick, Cadillac and Chevy and is undergoing a major cultural change under its new leader Ed Whitacre. It's banking that smaller, more economical cars will be as attractive as its legendary line of behemoths.

Leading the way will be the Chevy Cruze, with an estimated 40 miles to the gallon and the new electric Chevy Volt, with its eye-popping 230 mpg rating.

Chrysler is another story. It's unveiling a line of re-tooled Jeeps now and hoping its popular minivans can tide it over until new parent, Fiat, can put its own stamp on the assembly line. At Chrysler/Fiat in the future, smaller will have to be better.

"I think there's a lot of hope out there that we're on the rise," Fox said.

Turning that hope into sales will tell the story of 2010.
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