Putting Pedal To Passion Metal

William Clay Ford Jr., Chairman and CEO, Ford Motor Company, reveals the Ford Mustang GT Convertible Concept January 5, 2003 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, America's automakers tried to reignite our passion for power, according to CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

The stampede of raw horsepower harkened back to Detroit's golden age, Mason says.

For instance, Automobile Magazine editor Jean Jennings called the Cadillac 16 concept car "the star of the show. This is not a retro car by any stretch of the imagination. It's absolutely pure luxury. It's American. It has an American feel, but it's not retro. It looks like no other Cadillac."

Indeed, explains Mason, in Detroit this year, American automakers seemed determined to be, well, more American.

New York Times automotive critic Phil Patton points out, "They know they still have an advantage over Japanese products that are respectable, dependable, but perceived as dull."

Still, Japanese and other foreign car makers have been slowly eroding the market share of America's Big Three: General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler.

And the chairman of BMW North America, Tom Purves, warns, "I think there is a slightly false impression that the car market is booming because people want to buy cars. I mean they want to buy cars because they've never had such a good deal."

Detroit has other troubles as well, Mason says: even after offering zero percent financing, sales slipped last year, and all those cash-back incentives cut into profits.

Ford, whose sales fell 10 percent last year, kicked off its centennial celebration this week by unveiling an all-new Mustang and CEO William Clay Ford Jr. promised, "When it comes to product, we're back."

Ford Motor Design Chief J Mays says sales of the new Mustang will be watched closely. "It's important because from the standpoint that this is the soul of the brand," he says.

"There are a lot of generic milk toast sedans on the market today that you wouldn't think twice about. They're commodities. And what we've done with vehicles like this ... is to try to recreate some of the passion and the authority that cars had in the sixties," Mays adds.

Reigniting passion could be the key to making Detroit profitable again, Mason says, and could be criticlal for the health of what is still the naiton's biggest industry.