The U.S. auto industry has high hopes for jump-starting declining sales figures as carmakers around the world gather in Detroit this week to unveil their newest models. Despite increasing competition from Asia, the nation's big three car manufacturers are projecting an air of confidence at this year's North American International Auto Show.Hollywood celebrities such as Carmen Elektra are adding glamour and excitement to the event. "You know, entertainment merging with automobiles, music, fashion. It's really cool. I think that is what the future is all about, merging all those different worlds together," she said.
But the real stars at the auto industry's most prestigious show -- are the cars.
"The winner of the 2007 North American Truck of the Year is... the Chevy Silverado." General Motors took the top awards this year as automotive journalists picked the Saturn Aura and the Chevy Silverado as the best car and truck of the year.
Chevrolet's general manager Ed Peper, welcomed the endorsement. "This is a huge day for our company. I don't believe in the 14 years we've had the award that we certainly have swept both the car and truck awards. So for us to get this award, it's from so many different journalists, just on the value of the product itself and how it performs in the marketplace. It is an absolute thrill for us. I can't begin to describe it. It's like winning the Super Bowl."
But industry experts say this "game" is far from over. Using baseball terminology, "Car and Driver" magazine editor Csaba Csere says the big three automakers need several home runs to regain their status as industry leaders. "They don't need one home run. They need three or four home runs or six or eight triples and doubles."
Sales of light vehicles at G.M. and Ford were down about 10 percent last year, while Chrysler's sales remained flat. In contrast, Japanese automaker Toyota saw an increase of 17 percent and it is now poised to topple G.M. as the world's largest car maker.
But Chrysler chief Tom Lasorda says it is too soon to count the domestic automakers out. "You just have to come back to our showrooms and we'll show you how good our products really are."
An estimated 700,000 people, some of them potential car buyers, will see just how well American cars stack up against the competition when the show opens to the public this Saturday (January 13th).