Detroit Shifts From SUVs To Cars

The Cadillac CTS V is shown on the floor of the General Motors exhibit at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 5, 2004. AP

David Schneider's eyes lit up, his jaw dropped and his heart raced as he reached out to touch the brilliant, metallic silver exterior of a Porsche Carrera GT.

"That's probably the closest I'm ever going to get to this car," Schneider said of the $440,774, 605-horsepower sports car.

He turned to his wife, Samantha, who was tugging impatiently at his sleeve while trying to turn the stroller carrying their 2-year-old son.

"I don't want to mortgage the house twice just to buy a car," she said. "Come on, let's go look at a minivan."

While media previews started last weekend, Saturday was the first day for the public to see the 2004 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 19.

Some people, like the Schneiders, of Chicago, drove hundreds of miles for the event. Hundreds jammed the convention center and crowded around exhibits by automakers from around the world.

This year's auto show has taken on a different sort of tone, CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports. For the first time ever, Toyota has passed Ford as the top seller of cars in the U.S. In response, the big three American automakers are launching a counterattack, calling this the "Year of the Car."

Detroit seems to have turned its back on the car market in recent years. While automakers earn a few hundred dollars profit for every car they sell, they earn a few thousand for every truck of SUV.

"And that's why they started neglecting cars," Car & Driver editor Csaba Csere told CBS News. "Because they made this big pot of Gold from trucks. They didn't have to worry about the cars too much."

But now, Asian companies are attacking the truck market too, and many believe they've done a better job of figuring out the American consumer.

"They want the big cupholders. They want a place to put the cell phone, aplace to put all the stuff with them. They want to eat a Big Mac while they are driving," Consumer Reports' David Champion said.

General Motors' Bob Lutz admits that they have a long road ahead.

"It's gonna be tough for us to get Camry and Accord buyers back to look at American cars," he told Mason.

But after years of losing market share, Detroit is finally hitting the gas, trying to move its cars back into the passing lane.

Elsewhere at the Auto Show, amid the glitter of neon signs and brightly polished cars, some automakers provided visitors with flashy entertainment.

Dodge set up an amusement park-style NASCAR simulator for racing fans. Children hammed it up for camera-toting parents who placed them behind the wheels of big sport utility vehicles.

The industry's changing fashions didn't have universal appeal. Ford Motor Co.'s Bronco concept SUV, a boxy two-door that harkened back to older models, didn't appeal to Silvio Imperioli.

"I think this retro stuff has got to stop sooner or later. It's getting pretty boring, now," said Imperioli, 38, of Windsor, Ontario. But he said his dream car was Ford's Shelby Cobra, itself a retro-styled roadster.

Rainer Rudolf, 51, of Rochester Hills, smiled appreciatively at Mercedes Benz's Smart car, a small two-seater hybrid that gets 60 miles to the gallon.

"It's a fantastic car. We should have it here," he said. But he acknowledged that "a collision with a Hummer would leave this a bit squished."
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

Comments