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Detroit Auto Show: The big 5 make-or-break vehicles

Wheels’ picks for the show's five most important unveilings

Published January 16, 2014

DETROIT—Amidst the glitz and glamour of the North American International Auto Show, which opens to the public Saturday, Jan. 18, and continues through next weekend, there are some vehicles that are more important than others.

They are automobiles on which success or failure rests.

Here are Wheels’ picks for the five most important introductions at the Detroit show. For their manufacturers, they are the vehicles that everything depends on.

Chrysler 200: A ground-up redesign of the 200 puts Chrysler squarely back into the most competitive class in the country. One in six North American auto sales are mid-sized vehicles, including the top-selling Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

It’s hugely important to get it right, says Andy Love, head of the 200 for Chrysler.

“It’ll be our largest-volume vehicle for sure in the Chrysler brand. To be competitive in this segment means the world for you going forward with customers,” he says. “Customers largely grow up with you. To get customers in with the 200 and then grow with the brand means a ton.”

The previous generation of the 200 was criticized as uncompetitive against the big guns, so Chrysler left nothing to chance with the new model. It built a billion-dollar state-of-the-art assembly plant in Michigan just for its production.

Ford F-150: It’s been the best-selling truck in North America for the past 37 years, and the best-selling vehicle for the last 32. Last year, Ford sold 763,000 F-150s in the United States — lined up bumper to bumper, they’d stretch from Los Angeles to New York. In Canada, 122,325 went out the door. There’s too much at stake to mess this one up.

“We’ve been the leaders in trucks for a long time,” says Brandt Coultas, Ford’s consumer marketing manager. “The new F-150 is the next step in our effort to lead the truck market. On the new truck, we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure the vehicle meets the needs of our customers.”

That means torture-testing its durability and strength for more than 16 million kilometres before the first one rolls off the line later this year.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class: In Canada, Mercedes sells more C-Class cars than any other model in its lineup. Around the world, the C-Class is one of the German maker’s most popular vehicles.

Mercedes expects demand to be high for the new C-Class. It’s expanding its assembly plant in Alabama to add a new line to build it for North America.

The current-generation sedan sells for $40,000 (although it goes up rapidly with options), which makes it one of Mercedes’ least-expensive cars.

“When the C-Class was first launched (in 1982), it attracted a lot of new buyers to the brand, and it continues to be a very important volume driver for us,” says Michael Minielly, public relations supervisor for Mercedes-Benz Canada. “We have to get it right, and we will.”

Hyundai Genesis: It’s not a big seller — only about 1,000 Genesis sedans were bought last year in Canada, out of 137,000 Hyundais sold — but it is hugely important for the Korean automaker.

The cutting-edge technology and premium finish of the Genesis is proof of what the company can produce when it sets out to build a flagship vehicle, and it helps build faith in all its products.

“The all-new Genesis has some really big shoes to fill,” says Chad Heard, public relations manager for Hyundai Canada.

“The previous generation made people change their perceptions of Hyundai and, since it was introduced four years ago, our (total) sales have doubled.

“People were saying Hyundai can build a car that has all the same features and the tech and the luxury of a (BMW) 5 Series, so that might mean they can do something very similar with the Accent and Elantra and Sonata.”

The first-generation Genesis was only sold in North America and Korea, but the new generation will be a more-global model, sold also in Europe and Australia.

Nissan Sport Sedan Concept: It’s not a production car, but make no mistake: the concept Nissan shown here will be very similar to the company’s next-generation Maxima sedan, due within a couple of years. And it predicts the future style of all its sedans, including the best-selling Altima.

“I think it sets the new trend for their styling — thank God,” says Josh Bailey, vice-president of research for Canadian Black Book.

“They’ve kind of been plodding along with their styling — the Note looks completely different from the Versa sedan, for example. But this one looks great.”

Concepts are developed and shown partly to gauge public reaction, but if it bombs here, the next Maxima is too close to production to be radically changed without significant cost. The media loved it this week — now it’s the public’s turn.

Wheels@thestar.ca

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