Just one month after seeking government economic assistance, amid unprecedented financial turmoil in the auto industry, the 'Big Three' American Automakers - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - are introducing new fuel-efficient vehicles, in an effort to revamp their image and increase sales at the Detroit North American International Auto Show.
The North American International Auto Show has traditionally served as an extravagant unveiling of the latest in the automotive industry. But, with automotive sales in a steep decline, this year's show represents a critical moment for American automobile manufacturers.
The very livelihood of thousands of autoworkers in Detroit depends on a drastic turnaround, particularly for General Motors. GM Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner knows the stakes.
"For 2009, GM's focus is to rapidly implement our accelerated restructuring plan to successfully guide GM through the unprecedented economic and credit crisis that is affecting the entire global auto industry," he said. "That's a big job to be sure."
Just before Wagoner unveiled what is ahead for the company, hundreds of GM employees gathered in the Cobo Center in a show of solidarity, shouting slogans in front of the assembled media.
The employees also waved signs that said "40 miles per gallon" and "we're electric," themes designed to highlight the direction that Wagoner is leading the company.
"There is no better example of where we are heading in this critical area than the Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle that we are bringing to market next year," added Wagoner.
GM introduced the Chevrolet Volt Concept Car, a vehicle propelled by an electric motor powered by a battery, in 2007. If continued testing proves successful, GM plans to start selling the vehicle in the United States in November of 2010.
Although GM was the first to announce plans for a popular-priced electric car, it will have competition from Chrysler. The company reaffirmed its commitment to have an extended-range electric vehicle as part of its lineup in 2010.
And, Ford is not far behind. Executive Chairman Bill Ford is the great grandson of company founder Henry Ford. He hopes to catch some of the momentum created by General Motors and carried by Chrysler.
"We're employing a comprehensive approach to electrification that will tackle commercial issues, such as batteries, standards and infrastructure. It starts with strategic partners as an important part of the approach," he said. "We're going to work with partners to develop and produce batteries, infrastructure, as well as government policy to speed the acceptance of electric vehicles."
The excitement created by the speed at which auto engineers have brought electric-powered vehicles off the drawing board and onto the show floor is tempered in recent months with the dramatic drop in fuel prices. With oil currently hovering around $40 a barrel, auto executives admit it makes purchasing a more expensive electric vehicle less appealing to consumers already suffering from a weak economy and tight credit restrictions.
But automakers hope the effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil, as well as a reduction in carbon emissions are other motivating factors that will help boost sales of these vehicles. Customers could also receive tax rebates for purchasing the more fuel-efficient electric vehicles.