Ford unveils new sedan, crossover, GM shows new Corvette at Detroit's big auto show

Monday, January 5th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. unveiled its new flagship sedan, the 500, and the Freestyle crossover vehicle, two family-oriented vehicles aimed at helping the world's second-largest automaker recapture a piece of the car market.

Ford also introduced an updated version of its classic Mustang sports car and the concept for a new Shelby Cobra performance car, while GM unveiled a new version of the Corvette.

Ford's introductions Sunday at the North American International Auto Show marked the beginning of its ``year of the car.'' The emphasis on cars marks a radical change for Ford, which has put most of its resources in recent years into pickups and sport-utility vehicles.

But with Japanese carmakers gaining ground in the truck market, analysts say U.S. companies could no longer afford to neglect cars, which still make up 47 percent of U.S. auto sales. according to J.D. Power and Associates.

``I think you're going to see people moving slowly back into cars,'' said J Mays, Ford's vice president for design.

Calling the Five Hundred ``the reinvention of the family car,'' the company said the four-door sedan boasts the vast cargo space, ``all-weather confidence'' and high seating associated with SUVs.

Crossover vehicles, which typically have characteristics of a car, minivan and SUV, were the fastest growing category among U.S. autos in 2002.

The Freestyle crossover, set to hit the market in the fall, is a car-based utility wagon that can carry seven adults comfortably, aimed at customers who want many SUV attributes in something a little less bulky.

Ford also unveiled a concept car born of a renewed partnership with automotive legend and former race car driver Carroll Shelby. The new Shelby Cobra is ``a thoroughly modern two-seat roadster,'' Mays said.

Noting that General Motors Corp. unveiled the sixth-generation Corvette on Sunday evening, Mays said: ``The Cobra's role has always been to spoil the party for Corvette.''

GM said the new Corvette will go on sale in the third quarter of the year and replace a model introduced in 1997. Current models sell for about $50,000.

Dave Hill, the car's chief engineer, said the new C6, as it's called internally, represents a comprehensive upgrade that includes improved handling, acceleration and braking.

``Our goal was a performance car at home in virtually any environment,'' Hill said. The C6 is 5 inches shorter and 1 inch narrower than the current edition and features the most powerful engine ever offered in a Corvette.

Also at the auto show, the world's first commercially mass-produced hybrid car, Toyota Prius, claimed the honor of 2004 North American Car of the Year and the Ford F-150, America's top-selling pickup, collected its latest award as 2004 North American Truck of the Year.

A hybrid car switches between a gasoline or diesel engine and an electric motor to deliver the best mileage. The car recharges itself during the drive.

The honors, open only to new or substantially remodeled cars, have been given annually since 1994 by a group of about 50 full-time automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

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