Detroit automakers were once the backbone of American manufacturing and pride. Now, the big three seem more like the backbone of America's deepening economic woes. Once-powerful giants General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have morphed into lumbering behemoths, unable to react to new energies and consumer demands. Or have they?
As bankruptcy and merger rumors grow, take a look at each company's drawing board. You'll see small, efficient products that car buyers have been clamoring for, as well as a few cars that hark back to Detroit's glory days. The big three may be on the ropes, but as these six cars show, they aren't down for the count.
General Motors may not be pinning all its hopes on the Chevrolet Volt, but it's certainly pinning most of them. The plug-in hybrid can go 40 miles on electric power alone before the gasoline engine kicks in. The Volt concept made a splash in 2007 at the Detroit Auto Show and production models have been heavily anticipated. It isn't without problems, however. Though GM is says it will be a 2010 model, some sources doubt it will be ready before 2011. Also, the powertrain has reportedly not been finalized and the price, projected to break $40,000, may be too high for many consumers. Still, if GM can pull it off, the Volt would be a major win for the struggling carmaker.
You have to give it to GM for covering all their bases. At one end of the spectrum, they have the Chevy Volt, which could end up being the greenest mass-produced car of the decade. On the other end, you have the Camaro, a retro-styled muscle car that tells environmentalists where they can stick their earth-hugging ideals. Slated for release in early 2009, the Camaro will attract buyers who put power before political correctness. Its muscled styling and star-making debut in the Transformers film has already won the Camaro many fans. Though the original Camaro nameplate allowed its owners to pass everything but gas stations, the new model will reportedly be available with a V8 and a 3.6-liter V6 engine that will have average fuel economy for a midsize car.
Agent 007 is motoring along a lush Caribbean roadway, headed toward a date with danger. The camera pulls back, and we don't see his car's winged Aston Martin badge. Instead, there's a blue Ford logo. Most American drivers were introduced to Ford's midsize Mondeo sedan in the film Casino Royale, when 007 himself took it for a spin. While the Mondeo has been a popular car in Europe for years -- the BBC's Top Gear has called it more exclusive than a DB-9 and more beautiful than a BMW 3-Series -- the U.S. has been stuck with the soft-driving Fusion. As Ford looks to merge global platforms, including bringing the much-loved European Ford Focus stateside, there are rumors of giving the Mondeo's winning architecture to the Fusion, or letting the Fusion step aside for the much-loved world car.
It used to be said that the Ford Fiesta was named for the parties owners would have when they finally got rid of the car. Not anymore. The new Fiesta, slated for a 2010 release, has the hot styling of the Verve concept that took the auto show world by storm last year, and an engine that would make the Prius jealous -- it nets an estimated combined fuel economy of 39 mpg. The Fiesta shares architecture with the European Mazda2, meaning that this subcompact could put the zoom-zoom back in Ford's sales.
Gas prices are staying high, but families continue to need seats and cargo space. The Ford S-Max, a popular model in Europe, has minivan styling, but nothing's mini about its capabilities. Similar to the Mazda5, the S-Max can seat seven in fuel-sipping style. The S-Max gets a combined 34 mpg and has coupe-like styling similar to BMW's much less practical X6. The S-Max was voted the 2007 European Car of the Year; Ford and eager buyers are hoping it continues to rack up the awards when it hits our shores, likely sometime in 2010.
When it debuted at the 2007 Geneva Auto Show, the Doge Demon was a direct response to the popular Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky roadsters. It also gave Chrysler a light, sporty and affordable model to complete its SUV and crossover-heavy lineup. Since its positive reception, the Demon has moved toward becoming a production reality, though Chrysler is mum on when it might be released. Still, its 50/50 weight distribution, 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque may be enough to lure sports car enthusiasts into Dodge showrooms -- and Dodge's fortunes back into profitability.