NPR Story
3:01 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Detroit Auto Show Warms Up With Hot New Cars

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 5:12 pm

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is chock full of previews of new and experimental cars.

But all eyes were locked on incoming General Motor CEO, Mary Barra. When she takes the reigns later this week, she’ll be the first female chief of a global automaker.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Bellini is at the auto show, and he speaks with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about the buzz.


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This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

At the auto show in Detroit today, Lexus unveiled a new coupe and Subaru present today redesigned Impreza. Meanwhile, the electric car company Tesla answered question about its fleet, saying it has plans to make its cars more affordable. Jerome Guillen is Tesla's vice president of worldwide sales and service.

JEROME GUILLEN: It's our intention about three years from now to launch what we call the third-generation vehicle, which would cost about half the price. That has been the plan from the beginning, the strategic plan and we're sticking to it.

HOBSON: Meanwhile, a lot of focus on the incoming CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, who will be the first woman to run a global automaker. Here she is, speaking with a reporter.

MARY BARRA: You know, with my technical background - I'm an electrical engineer - if I can motivate young women or young men to pursue a career in science - I think the stem technology area is so important - that would be a huge win.

HOBSON: Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal is at the auto show in Detroit, and he is with us now. Jason, first of all, what are people saying about Mary Barra and what she said?

JASON BELLINI: Well, she has attracted a lot of interest. That's for sure. I'm talking about a huge media (unintelligible) people trying to get photos with her because this - really, this is her coming out as the leader of this company. But what's interesting in what analysts here are talking about is how much work she has to do because GM's continuing to lose market share. And one of their problems is they have no compact SUV, which is the fastest-growing vehicle in America. So can she step up and make some changes that are required inside the company? But right now, she's super popular, especially among the media, to see the first female chief executive of one of these big auto companies.

HOBSON: Well, she did introduce a new GM truck, the GMC Canyon, which is the only American built in its class. And there's also some news from Ford, which introduced a newly redesigned F-150. Tell us about that.

BELLINI: That's right. With much fanfare on the first day of Detroit Auto Show, Ford put out a huge presentation. And you have to imagine this new truck coming, plowing through paper out, you know, almost like cheerleaders at a high school football game. This is a big deal, this truck, to the company because it's made out of aluminum instead of steel. Aluminum is lighter, and this should allow the F-150 to get better fuel economy. That's a must because federal fuel efficiency targets are ratcheting up over the next few decades, whether or not gasoline prices rise.

So the emphasis with Ford here - you really see it on the floor - is on technology. They even brought up a demo of their assembly line process. They're a company that really is trying to say to their investors, look, we're not just an auto company. We're a technology company.

HOBSON: And we'll have to see if aluminum becomes the way of the future for cars and trucks. One more thing I want to get your thoughts on, Jason, and is Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, which is preparing to fully combine with Chrysler. Tell us about what's going on there.

BELLINI: And that's right. He's been on the floor talking to reporters and sharing his vision for merging the two companies. This will be the seventh-largest automaker. And the strategy that he's articulating hinges on turning Jeep into a truly global brand and also re-launching Fiat's premium Alfa Romeo brand internationally. And they'll also try to settle on design in a production site for a new Chrysler minivan, completing a deal with the Chinese partner and to build Jeeps in Asia and deciding whether to expand output at a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.

HOBSON: If you had to sum up the theme of the auto show so far in a word or a few words, what would you say?

BELLINI: I'd say that most of the talk is about trucks because, really, trucks and SUVs, they are still the leading sellers in America. Even with gas prices being what they are, though they've stabilized, Americans love their big vehicles.

HOBSON: Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal joining us today from the Detroit Auto Show. Jason, enjoy. Thanks as always.

BELLINI: Thank you.

HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.