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Detroit Three auto makers upbeat as industry looks healthy again

Chrysler President and CEO Al Gardner introduces the 2015 Chrysler 200 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.

Tony Ding/AP Photo

Optimism. Cobo Hall was a bubbling cauldron of bonhomie this week.

The good feelings, the upbeat vibe at the North American International Auto Show percolated from stand to stand. The auto industry as a whole looks and feels healthy and Detroit's show is back to being a full-fledged international extravaganza again – after four years in the doldrums, after a period when car companies from Nissan to Porsche shunned the Detroit show because it just wasn't important enough to warrant the effort and expense.

The local car companies, Ford, General Motors and the Chrysler Group, are showing a slew of models that reflect their growing confidence and overall health. Detroit's car companies aren't what you might call "fixed," but they're not in disrepair any longer, either.

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Ford clearly is the healthiest of the three and it showed in the products and the company's presence. The big unveiling at Ford was the 2015 F-Series pickup and the story behind the coming launch is all about the astounding amount of weight-saving aluminum in the next version of Ford's cash cow (every one of the 700,000 F-Series pickups sold last year, say analysts, was worth approximately $5,000 in before-tax profits).

At General Motors, GM of Canada president Kevin Williams was at his most emphatic and ebullient. Standing in front of the new Corvette Stingray Z06 – a 625-horsepower supercharged beast – he talked about the changes within GM in this post-bankruptcy period. "The customer is at the centre of everything we do and I can tell you that's not always been the case," he said. GM, of course, has a new CEO this week. Mary Barra, who last was the product development czar at GM, took over from former CEO Dan Akerson this week.

GM focused on models that will play in niches and if successful, burnish the company's image. The Cadillac ATS coupe was one. The GMC Canyon mid-size pickup another. And, of course, the 'Vette.

Chrysler? The most important car Chrysler will launch this decade is the 200C unveiled here. Chrysler Canada CEO Reid Bigland was almost giddy over having a car to challenge the likes of Ford's Fusion, Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord. The next 200 is no ugly-duckling Sebring, that's for certain.

Chrysler chief designer Ralph Gilles, like Bigland a Canadian, called the new 200 the "love child" of the Chrysler-Fiat alliance. That is, the new mid-size Chrysler sedan is built on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform that underpins the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee.

High spirits? Yes, but the year is young and if the industry has learned anything since the Great Recession, it is that good times can turn bad in a heartbeat. No one, then, was waving a checkered flag, claiming permanent victory. Not now and they all insisted, not ever again.

*****

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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