Concept Cars Belong to the Future

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Automakers are developing awesome concept cars to wow more shoppers and to win back customers. Aficionados find them excellent unfortunately, they cannot have them yet. They belong to the future. And the future is not today.

Ford Motor Co. introduced its fuel-sipping subcompact - the Verve - at the North American International Auto Show with the hope of putting a halt to the ongoing sales doldrums. But it would not go on sale in America for at least a couple of years.

Chrysler LLC will also introduce unveil three electric-car concepts that are years away from reality. General Motors Corp. will again tout the electric Volt it hopes to build - by 2010, the auto maker promises, reported the Wall Street Journal. Honda Motor Co. has a hydrogen fuel-cell car and Toyota Motor Corp. plans to present a small, aerodynamic truck prototype, the release divulged.

"While the future of these companies will be greatly dependent on new technology development, today's reality is that they must sell as many of these big trucks as possible to fill their plants and drive cash flow," said John Casesa, a former Wall Street analyst who now heads his own advisory firm. "They have no choice."

With gas prices rising, automakers are forced to develop fuel efficient vehicles. But reality dictates that auto shoppers cannot have them for now. They will actually hit American roads in the coming years.

Like Ford, Chrysler's main new model is a huge pickup truck, the redesigned Dodge Ram. General Motors will showcase an ultra-powerful Corvette and a 550-hp Cadillac CTS. The Nissan Motor Co. will set free the 480-hp Skyline GTR, and Toyota will sell its new Highlander SUV.

For Ford CEO Alan Mulally, the NAIAS gives him an opportunity to drive home the themes he has sounded as he tries to return Ford to profitability by 2009. The Verve represents what Mulally wants Ford to become: a company that builds world-class, fuel-efficient cars the same way from the same parts all around the globe, realizing huge economies of scale, a release said.

Toyota and Honda already have hot-selling small cars in America. This raises the query of whether the Dearborn automaker's subcompact will be very late. "In North America, we've given short shrift to this end of the market," said George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst. "It's a valid concern."

Ford, meanwhile, has a number of upcoming vehicles this year. Besides the new F-150 truck, Ford will launch a new small sport-utility called Flex and a new Lincoln sedan this year.

"We're not going to say that we don't mind not having more small cars," Mulally said. Of the Verve, he noted: "Would we like to have it sooner? You bet. Do we care more about getting it right? You bet."

Aside from the goal of wowing shoppers, automakers should also focus on the quality of their products. To stress, will never ink a good reputation if quality is sacrificed.

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