DETROIT — Beyond the usual hype at the Detroit auto show, automakers have plenty to crow about this year: U.S. sales are the highest since 2008 and they’re expected to keep growing. Buyers are being lured by cheap loans and an improving economy.
The timing is perfect for automakers to unveil more than 40 new cars and trucks this month at the industry’s annual trade show in Detroit. While there will be a few wild concept cars, like a tiny pickup from Smart, there will also be many models that will go on sale this year.
Carmakers, feeling buoyant about their prospects for 2012, will try to outdo each other with lights, music and models to generate buzz among the show’s 750,000 expected visitors.
Here are three trends to look for when the show opens to the public Saturday: Fuel-efficient cars with more style and safety features; trendy subcompacts for younger buyers; and small luxury sedans.
Smaller but stylish: Gas prices have dropped from their $4 peak last spring but remain high. People looking for a more efficient car will have plenty of choices among midsize sedans and compacts.
Being efficient doesn’t mean these cars will be stripped down. They’ll be loaded with gadgets to win customers in these fiercely competitive car segments. Midsize and compact are nearly tied as the largest segment in the U.S., and combined they make up more than 40 percent of the nation’s sales.
Ford unveils a redone version of its top-selling Fusion midsize sedan. The new model, which goes on sale this fall, will feature a sharper, more chiseled design and better fuel efficiency.
Honda will unveil a new Accord coupe, a model that will foreshadow the looks of its new sedan due in showrooms later this year.
The show will feature smaller cars, including the Dodge Dart, the first car jointly designed by Chrysler and its Italian owner, Fiat SpA. The Dart’s name is borrowed from a hot-selling compact introduced in 1960. It’s Chrysler’s latest effort to launch a strong competitor in small cars, a segment where it normally falls short.
Downsized luxury: Cadillac, BMW and Acura all plan to unveil new small cars. Hyundai – a company that targets more budget-minded customers – will launch a new Genesis Coupe, aiming for luxury buyers who want to spend less.
Ford’s Lincoln brand, which is being overhauled, will give a big hint about its new direction with a concept version of the MKZ midsize car. The new MKZ will go on sale later this year.
The most striking luxury model might be at the Lexus stand, which will display the swooping LF-LC hybrid sports car concept that was crafted in Toyota’s California design studio.
Mad for millennials: Millennials – the 70 million people born between 1981 and 2000 – are a growing force in the market. They will start out with small, more affordable cars. But unlike earlier generations, they expect luxury and connectivity, automakers say.
To appeal to this group, this year’s show will feature subcompacts with perks like leather seats, ambient lighting, and easy connections to cellphone applications.
Subcompacts unveiled at the show will include Toyota’s new Prius C hybrid, the Mini Roadster convertible, the sporty Chevrolet Sonic RS and a turbocharged version of the new Hyundai Veloster. Smart debuts the For-Us, an electric pickup that is so tiny it could fit in the bed of a regular truck.