DETROIT - What a difference a year makes.
After 12 months of waning sales, spiking gas prices and embarrassing scenes of corporate chiefs begging for bailouts, the industry presence at the North American International Car Show was noticeably more reserved and a good bit greener.
Sunday morning's Ford presentation illustrated the industry's new face as clearly as anything else. Where last year's production included country stars, NASCAR drivers and a showcase for their latest model F-150 truck, this year's show featured corporate executives introducing a new corporate strategy that taps the company's international successes and focuses on customers' needs and fuel efficiency.
"Around the world, we have become one Ford team, leveraging technologies and assets across markets and vehicle lines," said Alan Mulally, Ford president and chief executive officer. "That is allowing us to deliver products our customers want and value even more quickly, including our progress with electric-powered vehicles."
Ford unveiled no new cars, but rather a new focus on some classics both local and abroad. Topping the list was the Ford Fiesta, a favorite in Ford's Asian and European markets, which the company expects to get out on North American roads by mid-summer. It also highlighted the current Fusion, billed as America's most fuel-efficient mid-size sedan for both hybrid and conventional gasoline models
"Ford is heading in the direction America and our customers want us to go, which is a green, high-tech and global future," said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford. "I think that is where society would like to see the entire industry go, and Ford is going to lead that charge."
Ford used the audience of 6,000 international journalists attending the Detroit show to unveil an aggressive green strategy for the coming years. It included a pledge to introduce a new battery electric commercial van in 2010; a new battery electric small car in 2011; and four next-generation hybrid vehicles, including a plug-in version by 2012.
"Next-generation hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure battery-powered vehicles are the logical next steps in our pursuit of greater fuel economy and sustainability," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of Global Product Development. "A growing number of consumers want that kind of choice, and we want to be in a position to deliver it to them across multiple vehicle categories."
Not all Ford's updates are purely environmental. Famed designer Caroll Shelby introduced the next generation Ford Shelby GT500. While not designed with the average driver in mind, Ford spokesman Alan Hall said the performance model represents "good vibes" about Ford as the company struggles with sales.
Ford also unveiled a drastically redesigned Ford Taurus Kusak called an "Upscale, athletic" take on the company staple. The current Taurus features the V6 Duratec engine currently made at the Lima Ford Engine Plant.
With the appetite for large trucks and sport utility vehicles waning, Ford is placing more attention on its cars. The company has already rolled out new models including an updated Ford Fusion, with a gas-electric hybrid version set to hit showrooms this year.