DETROIT SHOW: Cattle, country and western singer, help launch new trucks
Chrysler appears to have gained the most media attention of the Detroit show so far by launching its new Ram pickup truck line with the help of 120 Texas longhorn cattle.
Not to be outdone, Ford unveiled a redesigned F-150 truck line with country and western music star country-western star Toby Keith.
Honda, without the aid of cattle or country musicians, showed a thinly-disguised 'concept' version of its upcoming 2009 Pilot, the first redesign of the North America-focused large SUV since 2002.
So where did Chrysler get 120 head of cattle and attendant cowboys to launch a truck named after a male sheep?
According to the New York Times, Wes Sander, owner of the Chain Ranch in Oklahoma, provided the well-travelled herd, which makes regular appearances at the Texas Stampede in Dallas and other events. The paper reckoned the longhorns were the talk of the motor show, and people lined up outside the Cobo Centre and stood four rows deep at windows inside to watch them saunter down the street.
The Ram has improvements such as a new 5.7-litre Hemi V8 engine and will also be available with the line's first crew cab, giving Dodge an entry into the largest and fastest-growing part of the market.
Other claimed first-in-segment features include: five-link coil-spring rear suspension fitted to a solid axle; 'store in the floor' storage bins with removable liners, heated and ventilated front seats; surround sound audio system, and the RamBox cargo management system (crew cab), which includes weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins built into the bed rails. Mention is also made of Chrysler's first heated steering wheel.
Ford is counting on its reworked F-150, the top-selling vehicle in the United States last year despite a 13% drop in sales, to stay number one, where it's been for 26 consecutive years.
The truck has more spacious cabs, a lighter more durable frame which helps improve fuel economy and comes in 35 versions with a wide choice of engines and both two- and four-wheel drive.
The New York Times noted that sales of big pickups fell 6% last year amid higher fuel prices and a slowdown in housing starts while the number of consumers who bought pickups solely for personal use declined substantially, leaving a core mostly buyers in construction, farming and other industries.
"It's a terrible time to be launching a new pickup in the current market conditions," Rebecca Lindland, director of United States automotive research at Global Insight told the paper. "But these trucks are hugely important to Ford and Chrysler, and where they make a lot of their money."
Lindland reportedly said that her firm projected a 10% decline in the pickup market this year, to 2m units from 2.2m last year. She estimated that automakers earn $US5,000 to $10,000 on each pickup sold.
Honda's restyled new Pilot, due on sale in a few months, has a more spacious cabin (seating up to eight in three rows), additional safety features and an updated V6 engine that shuts off up to three cylinders when not needed to save fuel.