American car makers have 'crossed the threshold' as new models hit showrooms

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The redesign of the Chevrolet Impala and Silverado, shown here at Underwood Chevrolet Buick, focused on body style as well as engine and transmission capabilities. Buyers have a choice of what they want under the hood, which was not always available to car customers. Photo by Mary Kay McPartlin.

The Big Three American auto companies seem to have recovered their place in the automotive world, generating buzz and excitement over new and redesigned 2014 models. Chrysler, Ford and General Motors have met the challenge of foreign companies with a renewed focus on safety, design and cost.

“It’s been an ongoing process,” said Mark Phelan, Tecumseh graduate and automotive critic and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. “Finally they seem to have crossed a threshold.”

The 2014 models are a perfect illustration of how far American cars have traveled in design and safety. Chevrolet has redesigned 2014 models out for Impala, Malibu, Silverado truck, and the Corvette Stingray.

“This is a huge year for Chevy,” Phelan said. “Consumer Reports scored Impala off the charts.”

New car salesman, Tim Bovee, of Underwood Chevrolet Buick in Clinton, said the focus has been on design, safety, and being eco-friendly. Chevrolet is doing its best to take a car that was once a staple for rental cars and make it desirable for the average car buyer.

“Everything inside and out is new,” Bovee said. “It’s not your old Impala. It’s fantastic.”

Bovee explained that Chevrolet has taken what used to be extras on a car and made them standard, with today’s extras something not available to past car buyers.

“You’ve got a couple different engines,” said Bovee about the choice between a 2.5L and a 3.6L engine in the V6 sedan. These engines are larger and more powerful, but still have excellent fuel economy with 31 miles per gallon highway and 29 mpg highway respectively.

“That really makes an impression on people,” Phelan said. “The designs are getting better. There’s been a huge increase in fuel economy.”

John Akens, owner of O’Hara Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Clinton, said the biggest buzz at his dealership is about the new Jeep Cherokee replacing the Liberty. “It’s a whole new style,” he said. “It’s 100 percent a new, fresh vehicle.”

The dealership is due to receive 12 Cherokees in the next couple weeks. Akens has already had inquiries about the Toledo-made vehicle. The vehicle took longer on production than expected, but Akens said Chrysler is committed to releasing vehicles only after any problems are worked out. For years, according to Akens, Chrysler vehicles were rushed to the showroom before all issues were fixed, giving many customers a negative impression.

“They are trying to be competitive,” Akens said. “It’s all fresh styling.”
The biggest news for Ford dealers, according to Dave Knapp Ford salesperson Beth Noden, is the return of a minivan to the Ford lineup later this fall. “It’s called the Transit Connect Wagon,” said Noden.

The Ford Fiesta also has a redesigned front end that makes it look like the Fusion. “It’s really kind of cool,” Noden said.

The Chevy Malibu is also a new redesign, which Bovee believes makes it a style match for the Impala. The 4-cylinder engine comes with 197 or 259 horsepower depending on the style selected.

“That’s a whole new car,” said Bovee.

Truck enthusiasts appreciate the new body design of the Silverado, with its choices of two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, regular, double cab or crew cab, and V6 or V8 engine power.

Many people turn to a truck for their family needs, according to Bovee.

Financial considerations can keep people away from new car purchases, but Ford is working to relieve some of the pressure with a financing deal for customers. The company is also more open to lease options for customers, and has a good lease package in place for customers.

“The nice thing is Ford is running zero percent financing on the 2014 Focus until Sept. 30,” said Boden.

The Corvette Stingray is another relaunch for Chevrolet, and one that sports car enthusiasts are buzzing about. “It’s all that and then some,” Bovee said about the redesign.

Phelan sees American car companies closing in on their foreign counterparts in a variety of ways. Safety features like auto-braking, which was like science fiction just 10 years ago, are now a standard item on American cars, according to Phelan.

“The quality gap has narrowed,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Yearly redesigns are typical for Chrysler vehicles, according to Akens. “Every year our transmissions and drivelines are updated,” said Akens. “They’re doing a lot of research and development, and trying to stay ahead of the game.”

Although Chrysler has fewer relaunches compared to Chevrolet, Akens said the car company does a lot of work with special package designs, offered in limited editions for different vehicles, like the Daytona package of the Dodge Charger. The change in focus of Chrysler can be directly attributed to Fiat’s purchase of the company from Daimler, according to both Akens and Phelan.

“For us, it was a huge turnaround for Fiat to come on board,” Akens said. “We’re seeing more and more people driving our cars that never had before. We have a little bit of everything for everybody.”

“Fiat has turned them loose,” Phelan said. “They seem to have more respect for the buyers than Daimler Chrysler.”

Ford is focused on safety with continuous additions like rear-view cameras. “I think this is a great safety device,” said Boden.

Technology assists with safety like the Ford car calling 911 if there’s been an accident with deployment of airbags. “Connectivity is a big thing,” Boden said.

The renewed competitiveness of American car companies with foreign counterparts can be attributed to new standard features, improvement in fuel economy and advancements in technology.

“It’s pretty much hassle-free driving,” said Boden. “People are really trading in 10 and 12-year-old cars.”

An increase in sales, especially in the last few years for O’Hara Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Dave Knapp Ford and Underwood Chevrolet Buick, is proof to the local dealerships that American cars sell.




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