As the U.S. auto market regains its footing, domestic carmakers are committing to building new models to appeal to broader swath of the American driving public.
Ford Motor (F) and Chrysler Group both announced plans Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to introduce a host of new vehicles in the coming years. Tuesday marked the end of "press preview" days at the auto show, which opens to the public on Saturday.
Ford's plan builds on the automaker's commitment to better distinguish the vehicles marketed by its Lincoln division from those of its bread-and-butter Ford make. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company said it plans to introduce seven new or significantly refreshed Lincoln vehicles during the next four years, including a compact car, The Detroit News reported.
Unlike past and many current Lincoln models, however, the vehicles will feature technology, styling, interiors and powertrains unique to Lincoln, Derrick Kuzak, head of global product development, told analysts gathered at the auto show.
"We will have truly unique Lincoln DNA from the Ford brand," Kuzak said.
Giving Lincoln a Younger Appeal
Ford announced plans last summer to revamp the Lincoln brand following its decision to discontinue Mercury, which ended production last year. Mercury's extinction leaves Lincoln dealers with fewer models to offer their customers since Lincoln and Mercury vehicles were frequently sold alongside each other.
Ford has asked dealers to commit to overhauling their stores to give customers an experience more like those at competing luxury car brands such as Toyota Motor's (TM) Lexus. But the automaker still has to deal with Lincoln's frumpy image. The brand appeals to consumers whose average age is 66, the oldest among luxury brands, according to AutoPacific, a consulting firm. Buyers of BMW products, by contrast, average about 15 years younger.
Still, Ford CEO Alan Mulally said Lincoln's image hasn't been tarnished, merely starved. Lincoln, once the nation's top luxury brand, fell from favor from a lack of adequate resources, he said. "We just didn't invest in it."
A Better Ram, and a 'Mini-Minivan'
Chrysler, meanwhile, said it plans to introduce two new pickup trucks to its lineup, including a replacement for the aging mid-size Dodge Dakota, which will go out of production at the end of the third quarter, Bloomberg News reported. A new model, still in development, is expected by 2012 or 2013 and would be marketed under the Ram brand, dumping the Dakota name. The new pickup will feature unibody construction rather than the Dakota's body-on-frame design.
"It's not going to be the beast that the Dakota truck is," said Fred Diaz, head of the Ram brand, noting that the new truck will have to achieve 30 mpg while still being capable of light towing of items such as personal watercraft.
Jeep will also gain a pickup to its lineup, in addition to a seven-passenger sport-utility vehicle that will revive the Grand Wagoneer name, CEO Sergio Marchionne said Monday at the Detroit show.
Marchionne said Tuesday that Chrysler is "toying with the idea of a mini-minivan," a segment that is growing in popularity among consumers, Bloomberg noted.
Whether the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker is considering eliminating one of its current minivans -- the nearly identical Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country -- is unclear. Marchionne said Chrysler will keep two "people-mover vehicles," though they might not be duplicates like the two current models.
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