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Trends From the 2011 Detroit Auto Show: Fun, Fresh and Fuel-Efficient

From Show Floor to Showroom

  • 2012 Hyundai Veloster Picture

    2012 Hyundai Veloster Picture

    The quirky Hyundai Veloster has two doors on one side and one on the other. | February 07, 2011

4 Photos

The 2011 Detroit Auto Show (more formally, the North American International Auto Show) is one of the largest in the world and is a good indicator of where the car industry is going in the year to come. A number of trends emerged from the show, and you're likely to see these new directions in car style and technology the next time you shop for a vehicle. Edmunds editors consider these the 10 most significant vehicles from the show, and many of these cars fit into the trends highlighted below.

Small, Fun and Affordable
Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars were notably on display at the Detroit auto show, a sign that automakers are downsizing their vehicles to ensure that their fleets meet federally mandated fuel economy averages. But several cars at the show demonstrated that small doesn't have to mean cheap, bland or boring.

With an estimated base MSRP of $15,300, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, a replacement for the Chevrolet Aveo, looks like a significant improvement in build quality and materials. Corvette engineers tuned the Sonic's suspension, which should make this subcompact car more fun to drive.

The 2012 Buick Verano will be the smallest and, at less than $26,000, the least expensive model in the Buick lineup. Roughly the size of a Chevy Cruze, the Verano seems poised to bring entry-level luxury to the small-car market.

With its C-Max compact minivan, Ford hopes to prove that it can meet all the needs of a traditional seven-passenger minivan while being smaller, more affordable (MSRP around $20,000) and fuel-efficient.

40 MPG Is the New 30 MPG
Though automakers are making smaller vehicles, there isn't yet an overwhelming demand from consumers who want to downsize. Edmunds data indicates that only about 1 percent more people were considering small cars in January 2011 over the previous year. Car buyers in the U.S. like their vehicles big, and the only thing that really causes them to part ways with their SUVs is a shift in gas prices. As it turns out, we may be headed in that direction.

A number of oil experts are predicting that gas prices are going to reach a new all-time high. The good news is that consumers will have more fuel-efficient vehicles to choose from than they did in 2008, when fuel prices last spiked.

With this new crop of compact vehicles comes a greatly improved fuel economy. A year or two ago, many automakers were bragging that their cars and SUVs earned 30 mpg. Today, 30 mpg isn't moving the needle far enough to meet the federally imposed fuel economy requirements. As such, 40 mpg is the new standard that everyone is striving to reach.

Though they haven't been formally rated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Focus, 2012 Honda Civic and the Hyundai Veloster are expected to get 40 mpg from their gasoline engines.

Prius Becomes a Brand
Prius has become so synonymous with "hybrid" that many people use the words interchangeably. The popularity and recognition of the Prius brand has spawned an alphabet soup of new models. At the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, Toyota debuted the Prius C, Prius V and the Prius PHV. (To make things even more confusing, the current Prius trim levels are labeled with Roman numerals I through V.)

Here is a quick rundown of the new Priuses, or Prii — not even Toyota knows what to call them. The Prius V is a larger version of the Prius. Toyota says it is for growing families. At the same time, its lack of a third-row seat left many people questioning its utility. The Prius C is a sporty two-seater similar to the Honda CR-Z. Toyota promises it will be "value-oriented" and fun to drive. Lastly, the Prius PHV is a plug-in hybrid version of the current Prius. Edmunds editors had a chance to test this car when it was still in its prototype stage and were generally pleased.

More Hybrids and EVs
The Prius family wasn't the only hybrid representation at the Detroit auto show. Manufacturers brought along a number of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. As Nissan tests the waters with its Leaf to gauge how consumers will react to electric vehicles, many automakers are poised to release their own electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Ford showed off the Focus Electric and the C-Max Hybrid and Energi.

On the luxury side, Audi showed its all-new A6, which is scheduled to have a hybrid version soon after it launches. Volvo crashed an electric version of its C30 to demonstrate that its EVs are just as safe as its other cars. Finally, Mercedes-Benz displayed an electric version of its high-performance SLS supercar — for those who can afford it.

Strong Showing From Hyundai and Kia
Hyundai and Kia were the talk of the Detroit auto show — which speaks volumes about how far these Korean cars have come in a very short time. Both brands are offering enticing alternatives to traditional leaders like Honda and Toyota, serving up stylish cars that come with more standard features for a slightly lower price than their competitors.

Hyundai showed off the quirky three-door Veloster hatchback and the impressive 40-mpg 2011 Elantra. And while Kia didn't have any major debuts in Detroit, the company showed its redesigned Optima and the rest of its much-improved lineup.

Chrysler's Big Turnaround
Chrysler's booth last year seemed like a ghost town, with nary a fresh car in sight, but this year the automaker is rebounding. Just about every model in the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep lineup has received a number of cosmetic and performance upgrades — and the improvements are definitely noticeable.

The redesigned Chrysler 300 made its debut in Detroit and appears to continue the company's recent streak of improved interiors and refreshed exteriors. Jeep showed its restyled Compass, which looked a lot like the well-received Grand Cherokee. Finally, in true Detroit tradition, there were a number of Mopar-themed vehicles that served as a showcase for what car buyers can do to customize their vehicles.

Small Thrills in Showrooms
The cars on display at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show give hope to car buyers who might have despaired of ever seeing their automotive needs and desires met in an affordable vehicle. This year, consumers will have a number of small cars to choose from that won't ask them to sacrifice any of the comforts they expect from a larger car. They will be more fuel-efficient — and even fun to drive.

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