It's no secret the Detroit automakers are hurting, but it seems to be a huge secret that each of the Detroit automakers is already building cars people want. Here are the top five products you can buy now, or by spring, from the Detroit 3 as well as the top five future products that Detroit is still developing as you read this.
To be clear, we've focused on the cars that should appeal to most American consumers. We love the new Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Dodge Ram, Dodge Viper, and Ford F-150 as much as anyone, but the Detroit automakers already have a strong reputation for building great performance cars and pickup trucks. Instead of reinforcing that reputation (and thereby the negative stereotypes that come with it), we're focusing on the cars that Americans want, and need, right this minute.
From gas-sipping hybrids to affordable family vans and sedans, here is the best of what Detroit has to offer right now.
2010 Ford Fusion and 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
It was absolutely painful to be walking the show floor in Los Angeles while the Detroit 3 were being crucified in Washington. While the politicians were literally yelling at the CEOs for not building cars people want, the 2010 Ford Fusion (and Mercury Milan) line was quietly unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid should return an estimated 39 mpg in city driving and can travel up to 47 mph without firing up the gasoline engine, Ford claims. That could mean a range of 700 miles of city driving on a single tank of gas. A slick new eco gauge will even coach drivers to help eke the most miles out of a gallon of gas. With a starting price of $27,270 (plus destination charges which haven't been announced yet), the Fusion Hybrid is both fuel efficient and reasonably affordable.
Folks not interested in a hybrid sedan, but wanting very good fuel economy, can still enjoy a 2010 Ford Fusion with a four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. If you can shift for yourself, the Fusion will start under $20,000 (again, not including destination charges) and return at least 33 mpg on the highway.
The 2010 Ford Fusion line goes on sale in the spring of 2009.
2009 Chevrolet Malibu and Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Ford isn't the only company building a compelling mid-size sedan. Chevrolet has a stunning 2009 Malibu (including a mild hybrid option) that you can buy today. The Malibu comes standard with a four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission that returns 22/33 mpg and starts at $22,275 with destination charges. If those numbers sound good to you, keep in mind the Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6 use an identical powertrain and return the same fuel economy, but in different sheetmetal.
The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid isn't quite as easy on fuel as the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid (the EPA rates the Malibu at 26/34 mpg), but it checks in at a mere $26,225 including destination. It's worth mentioning that Malibu is a mild hybrid and does not allow for electric-only operation, but the system strikes a good balance between fuel economy and sticker price for people who don't spend a lot of time driving in the city.
2009 Chrysler Town & Country
Chrysler has stuck by the minivan while the other Detroit automakers have completely given up on them. Minivans may not be as exciting or profitable as other segments, but Americans still want minivans. Perhaps not as much as we did in the past, but the minivan segment is still worth more than a half a million sales in 2008.
Even automotive journalists can't deny the appeal of the minivan. Automobile Magazine's Four Seasons Chrysler Town & Country has approximately 25,000 miles on it in a mere eight months. Despite the curb appeal of other vehicles in our fleet, like the Audi R8 and the BMW 135i, our minivan keys are often the first to be chosen and the most sought after of anything in our fleet. If that doesn't speak to the practicality and downright usefulness of the minivan, consider the fact that Volkswagen is sourcing its own minivan from Chrysler. The Chrysler minivan may not be perfect, but there are lots of innovative touches, like the Swivel 'n Go and Stow 'n Go seating options as well as the seemingly endless storage bins in the cabin. As long as Americans have large families, the minivan will remain an important segment.
2009 Ford Escape and 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid
Small SUVs may not be politically popular choices, but American can't seem to kick the SUV craze. Sure, crossovers have gained popularity as of late, but the SUV is still one of the most American segments in existence and it's no wonder a domestic automaker is building one of the best examples of the bunch.
The 2009 Ford Escape (and Mercury Mariner) offers a choice of an economical four-cylinder engine or a more powerful V-6, and either engine can power the front wheels or all four. Inside, the Escape is a very pleasant place and the optional navigation system is very easy to use; it looks as elegant as any other system on the market. Pricing starts a bit over $20,000 for four-cylinder models.
If you need an SUV but don't want to foot a huge bill for gasoline, the Ford Escape Hybrid could be perfect for you. With an EPA-estimated 34/31 mpg for front-wheel-drive models, the Escape Hybrid actually returns better fuel economy than many mid-size sedans, and there isn't even a noticeable loss of cargo space with the hybrid versus a standard Escape. The sticker price of $30,030 (including destination) is quite a bit more than that of the base Escape, but the driving experience is arguably better than the standard four-cylinder SUV.
2009 Cadillac CTS and 2009 Cadillac CTS-V
Lest you think all American products are economy cars, let us remind you of the Cadillac CTS, which can compete with European and Japanese luxury cars on its own merits without resorting to bargain basement pricing. The new CTS is universally praised for a competitive interior, precision handling, and sharp looks. Sedans are on sale now, and the coupe and wagon variants, which are required to challenge the likes of the BMW 3-series around the globe, are not far from production.
The red-hot CTS-V sedan recently ran the fabled Nurburgring racetrack in Germany faster than a BMW M5. An astonishing 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque allows the CTS to run with the big dogs. It's amazing how far the CST-V has come since its first generation and how well the new car lives up to the hype surrounding its launch. There is no need for excuses when it comes to the CTS line; there are finally modern world class luxury cars coming from Detroit.
2011 Chevrolet Volt
We doubt the 2011 Chevrolet Volt will solve the world's energy crisis or save GM as a whole, but it's socially and politically popular - and for good reason. GM may be maligned for canceling (and crushing) the EV1 electric car, but the Volt's powertrain concept addresses many issues exhibited by that car.
For starters, it won't be limited to urban driving cycles. Though it runs on EV mode for up to 40 miles-feasibly enough for a typical commute-the four-cylinder gas engine adds an extra 360 miles of range. We'll also give a thumbs-up to the four-seat layout, as the EV1 coupe didn't offer practicality to families or those with busy social lives.
2010 Ford Fiesta
Yeah, we know the larger European Focus is also arriving stateside in 2011, but we're most impressed with the Fiesta. A small, fun-to-drive, fuel efficient package wrapped in a European wrapper? What's not to like?
We're not sure, as we walked away satisfied from our first drive of Euro-spec models. Though three- and five-door hatchback models are already on sale overseas, we won't receive them - along with a nifty four-door sedan version - until 2010, when production begins at Ford's assembly plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico.
2010 Chrysler Town & Country EV
Of the three electric-powered prototypes unveiled by Chrysler earlier this year, pundits buzzed the most about the Chrysler Town & Country EV. We understand their logic - though nowhere as sexy as the Lotus-based Dodge coupe also recently unveiled, it's the most practical application of Chrysler's hybrid technology we've seen to date.
Sure, it eschews the vaulted Stow 'n Go seating in favor of battery space, but in essence, the Town & Country EV is a seven-passenger vehicle that operates much like Chevrolet's Volt: the first 40 miles are electric-only, while a small gasoline four-cylinder extends the plug-in hybrid's range.
Not only does this package make tons of sense for soccer moms facing lots of urban driving, but it's also the most likely to be built: Chrysler's already announced the first ENVI product to reach production will likely be a cargo van, with passenger versions possibly following afterward.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
Yes, Virginia, GM can do small cars - and do them well, we might add. Witness the Chevrolet Cruze, the (eventual) replacement for the Cobalt that also managed to attract plenty of attention at the 2008 Paris motor show.
Why wouldn't it? GM's new compact car, which will also be sold in Asia and Europe, not only looks fresh and contemporary but also promises to deliver fuel economy figures over 30 mpg. That's due in no small part to a small turbocharged, direct-injection I-4, mated to a six-speed automatic transaxle. Smart looks and a mitigated thirst for petrol sounds like a winning combination, but we'll have to wait until 2011 to see for ourselves.
2010 Ford Transit Connect
It may seem odd to put a commercial van on this list, but we think bringing the 2010 Ford Transit Connect to America is one of Ford's better decisions in recent years. After all, businesses-especially delivery services-are likely to rack up huge vehicle costs, which hurts even more in today's economic climate. The Transit Connect seems to be a good solution to that problem: with 143 cubic feet of cargo room, it's got plenty of space for all of Joe the Plumber's tools, and with an estimated 19/24 mpg city/highway, it won't break his budget (or tax bracket) at the pump.
With hard plastics facing the driver and bare sheetmetal in the cargo area, there's no pretending this isn't a cargo van - but there's a chance it'll catch on with consumers, too. Ford's already shown some tricked-out Transits at SEMA, and we think the combination of capacity, maneuverability, and efficiency may attract those who pine for their long-lost Aerostar.