U.S. carmakers unveil fuel-efficient vehicles at Detroit auto show

Just weeks after ending a year marked by dismal sales and a government bailout of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, U.S. automakers on Sunday touted new products with a focus on fuel efficiency.

Just weeks after ending a year marked by dismal sales and a government bailout of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, U.S. automakers on Sunday touted new products with a focus on fuel efficiency and new technologies that they say will help ensure that their vehicles will roll off assembly lines for years to come.

Amid a crowd of several hundred cheering employees, dealers and retirees at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, GM announced plans to build a 5.9 L/100 km minicar for the U.S. market, and it unveiled an electric-powered Cadillac concept car.

Meanwhile, Chrysler's chief executive told reporters that while its key new products wouldn't show up in dealer showrooms until next year, the automaker expects to survive 2009 and remain an independent company.

Ford Motor Co. said that by 2011, it will sell an electric car that can go up to 160 kilometres on a single charge, and it will offer plug-in versions of its gas-electric hybrid vehicles a year later.

Late last month, the administration of outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush approved $17.4 billion US in short-term loans for GM and Chrysler after both automakers warned that they could soon run out of cash without federal help.

Ford didn't take any government money because its executives said it had access to enough credit to get through the industry's sales slump.

The chief executives of all the automakers told reporters on Sunday that their companies were on a path to recovery.

GM chief executive Rick Wagoner said the company's restructuring plans submitted to Congress, which include concessions from the United Auto Workers union and other cost cuts, combined with GM's lineup of new products, will make the company prosper when the worldwide auto market recovers.

Chrysler's future uncertain

Chrysler's Robert Nardelli said that while his company's plan for new vehicles has a hole in it for 2009, the automaker will make it to 2010, when it plans to introduce an electric car and a subcompact.

It also has a new 300 sedan, Charger performance car and Jeep Grand Cherokee in the works.

Many analysts have predicted, however, that Chrysler will be acquired by another automaker by next year, or sold in pieces by its majority owner, Cerberus Capital Management LP, a New York private equity firm.

Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr., said the company was working on four high-mileage electric vehicles to be introduced in the coming years.

Ford plans to have a battery-powered commercial van on the market in 2010.

GM unveils 17 new models at show

GM's stable of 17 new or upcoming models displayed on Sunday also had a focus on fuel efficiency.

The Chevrolet Spark subcompact, a three-door hatchback that was called the Beat when GM unveiled it as a concept car in 2007, is set to go on sale in Europe next year and in the U.S. in 2011.

GM also announced that the Chevrolet Orlando seven-passenger crossover vehicle will go on sale in North America that same year.

But the surprise of the automaker's event was the unveiling of the Cadillac Converj concept car, which is designed to go 64 kilometres on electric power alone after being recharged from a standard wall outlet.

A small gasoline engine would extend the range to hundreds of kilometres.

It's the same powertrain technology GM is using in the Chevrolet Volt, a much-anticipated extended-range electric vehicle set to go on sale next year.

Chrysler unveiled a concept version of an electric-powered sedan and added the Jeep Patriot small SUV to the stable of electric vehicles it is developing.

Toyota Motor Corp. confirmed plans to have an all-electric vehicle on U.S. roads by 2012, introducing an ultra-compact battery-powered concept car at this year's Detroit show.

Honda Motor Co. unveiled its next-generation hybrid, the Insight, and said the car will arrive in U.S. showrooms this April.

Honda's much-anticipated car is expected to compete head-on with the Toyota Prius, which remains the top-selling hybrid in the U.S.

Honda said the 2010 Insight will have a lower price than the Civic Hybrid, which has a base price of $23,650 US.