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Dancing with the Cars

2011 Nissan Leaf

A look back, and a look ahead

If nothing else, 2010 was an interesting year to be in the car business. Disappearing brands, new hybrids, electrics…you really needed a program to keep up. And here it is:

General Motors, reeling from years of truly bad decisions, gave the axe to the Pontiac and Saturn brands, and put Hummer and Saab up for sale, but a Hummer deal never fully materialized and it drove off to that great nameplate home in the sky. And after a couple of false starts, GM finally found a Dutch buyer for Saab, which hopefully will do better than it did under the General’s watch. Buick continued to reinvent itself with the new Regal; Cadillac’s CTS coupe was a styling hit, and the much awaited Chevy Cruze compact hit the showroom floor to do battle with the likes of Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic.

2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Chevrolet Aveo
2011 Kia Optima

Ford, in the meantime, having already sold off Jaguar and Land Rover to an Indian company, and relinquished its stake in Mazda, in March agreed to a sale of Volvo to the Chinese company, Geely. It then decided to kill off the 70-year-old Mercury brand, which in recent years had become nothing more than a bunch of rebadged Fords. The worldly Fiesta reappeared on our shores after a 30-year absence, to much acclaim, while Ford brass promised to make Lincoln more competitive in the luxury-car market. (They’d better, or they’ll be down to one brand—Ford.)

Chrysler, having partnered with the Italian automaker Fiat, firmed up plans to bring the internationally successful Fiat 500 to North America. And while trimming off old nameplates, they decided that the Ram Truck would be a brand on its own. Recently they unveiled plans to revamp the whole lineup—“revamp” here meaning redesigning grilles, taillights, and interiors while changing a name or two here and there. Methinks they need to work a bit more on their strategy.

Over on the import side, the big news was Toyota recalls, and Hyundai and Kia sales surges. Everyone in the business awaits the first Fiat 500s, which will be coming across the border from Mexico; Audi continues to make inroads in the sport/luxury category that BMW has dominated for decades; and Volkswagen started selling the new generation Jetta, with a twist—it’s bigger than the previous model with a lower sticker price.

Some things to look for in the coming year: I’ll be driving the new Cruze soon to see how it compares to the competition. Other reviews will include a new, more European Ford Focus; a totally redone Ford Explorer; the aforementioned VW Jetta; the all-new Kia Optima; and a much more competitive Chevy Aveo. Also we’re hoping to rope in a Fiat 500, the Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf electric cars, and a few more surprises along the way.

All in all, 2011 could be just as interesting as 2010 was—without all the brand kill-offs. Hopefully. Stay tuned.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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