The Detroit auto show opened Monday with manufacturers announcing a fleet of new models amid an air of optimism unseen since before the recession.
Over 5,000 journalists arrived at the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit for the 25th North American International Auto Show and close to 800,000 visitors are expected when the show opens to the public later this week. Organisers estimate the show will contribute $365m to the struggling local economy in wages and other spending.
The opening ceremonies for the show took place in the striking new Cobo Conference Center atrium, lit by a four-storey high glass window overlooking the Detroit River – the jewel of the $279m upgrade of the center.
"The auto industry's back," US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters, "And of course, we're going to do everything we can to help Detroit come back as well."
All three major US car firms are using this year’s show to unveil major new vehicles they hope will power their future success after strong growth in 2013. Car sales have remained up even as the data on other consumer purchases have wobbled.
On Monday Ford unveiled its next generation F-150, the US’s best selling vehicle, adding new technology and fuel efficiency into the full-size pickup truck. Sales of the F-150 plummeted during the recession. The truck is often used in construction and bought in fleets by government departments. Sales collapsed as gas prices rose and the recession bit.
The new F-150 comes with an aluminum body and weighs 700lbs less than the current model. The company said it would make the truck the most energy efficient F-150 ever.
GM’s incoming chief Mary Barra made her first public appearance since her appointment Sunday night, unveiling the GMC Canyon, a midsize pickup. She said she was “honored to stand here tonight and humbly lead this team”. GM’s Chevrolet Stingray was named car of the year at the show Monday morning.
Ford F-150 pickup The all-new Ford F-150 aluminium pickup truck introduced at the 2014 NAIAS. Photograph: James Fassinger/Guardian
Chrysler, clear of bankruptcy and finalising its merger with Fiat, also unveiled a fleet of new vehicles including new versions of its 200 family sedan and the Dart.
Toyota is introducing eight completely new or updated models this year and expects to sell 2.3m vehicles in the US, about 100,000 more than it sold in 2013.
Speaking as Ford announced it was launching 16 new models in 2014 – the most in a decade – Bill Ford, executive chairman, said: “There’s a general air of optimism lots of new product by all manufacturers is being introduced here, It’s great for the city and it’s great for the industry.”
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat and Chrysler, said: “We are running three shifts, we are running seven days a week, we are running overtime.”
Last year 15.5m vehicles were sold in the US, up from 14.4m in 2012. The figure was the best in six years. IHS Automotive estimates sales will top 16.1m this year. It’s a remarkable turnaround for an industry some were writing off just a few years ago.
Of the US’s big three car firms, only Ford managed to avoid bankruptcy and massive government bailouts. They have since recovered to report record profits. Ford has now reported 17 straight quarters of profits and chief executive Alan Mulally said the company expected to add 11,000 people to its payroll this year.
Veteran independent auto industry analyst Michelle Krebs said: “The mood is very upbeat. We are coming off the best year for sales since 2007 with the expectation that next year is going to be better yet. I saw IHS was projecting that there would be 59 new vehicles at the show, that’s the most we have seen in years.”
Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said the car manufacturers had been careful to roll out “something for everyone” this year. She said it was clear that fuel efficiency was still a key factor for drivers and the industry was taking note.
“There’s new trucks, subcompacts, mid-sized vehicles. If the market changes direction, they want to be ready, which was clearly one of the criticisms about them when the market turned last time.”
The renaissance in the auto industry comes at Detroit still struggles with bankruptcy. The city filed for the largest ever municipal bankruptcy last year and a judge is now assessing those bankruptcy plans.
Speaking at the auto show Marchionne said: “I sincerely hope that the issues surrounding this bankruptcy are resolved. I think the city deserves that.” He said the city and the car industry would have been in “deep doo doo” if the two had gone bust at the same time.