After a tumultuous year for the auto industry, car makers are looking for a fresh start in 2010. Industry experts say the New Year promises to be a challenging time for automakers as they look for ways to get consumers excited about their products again. And as the new decade begins, analysts say China will play an increasingly larger role in the automotive industry.
After a tough year that saw U.S. car sales at 26-year lows, industry experts say automakers are turning the corner. And in 2010, magazine editor Richard Headland says the buzz word is "green."
"The emerging trend in 2010 is going to be a continued move towards environmentally friendly cars. So the big focus right now is on miles per gallon and CO-2, and if you go to all the big car shows now, they're the words that dominate," Headland said.
Analysts say improving access to credit and a return to three percent growth in the global economy will help car manufacturers recapture some of the ground lost in 2009. To do that, automakers are re-designing to make new models more attractive to young and old. For younger buyers, Toyota's Hi-CT gets its inspiration from popular Japanese anime characters. And car makers are also seeing great potential in upscale markets.
"I think what we're going to see with the luxury car market is more and more luxury hybrids. So Lexus for example already has several luxury hybrids, BMW is working on its first luxury hybrid, Mercedes as well," Headland stated.
Automakers are also hoping to snap consumers out of their recessionary mood by using brighter colors.
Octavio Navarro is a spokesman for the Ford Motor Company.
"Everybody has vibrant colors, you know. Typically it would be black or grey, but you're really starting to see bright yellows and bright blues," Navarro said. "Ford in particular, one of the things we are introducing this year is the 2011 Fiesta, and one of my favorite colors for it is called Lime Squeeze."
And hi-tech is set to make big inroads. "A lot of manufacturers are looking at using new technology in cars. Flatscreen TV's are replacing analog dials - it can show you the speed that the car is going, it can show you directions, it can log into the Internet," said Dan Strong, motoring editor at Auto Express Magazine.
But perhaps the most noticeable trend will be the emergence of China as a major player. Nissan investment president Yasuaki Hashimoto says 2009 has already seen a 30 percent growth in car sales in China. "The China market has a big potential because China's modernization has just started. I think China will be the biggest market in the world very soon," he said.
And with Ford expecting to finalize the sale of its Volvo unit to China's Geely Group early next year, Dan Strong says China is set to become the next giant in the automotive industry. "There is no place on earth like China for wild ideas, for naked ambition and for huge, huge shows and displays of confidence and a booming economy," Strong said.
A new report shows China has already pulled ahead of the United States as the world's biggest market for automobiles. That means more U.S. cars will be designed with the Chinese market in mind as the global economy braces for a new decade.