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Detroit gains ground in 2013, as Ford Fusion sets the tone

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Charlee Smith says he sees Toyota Motor's Camry and Honda Motor's Accord all over California and their styling makes him think "appliance." To stand out, he picked a gas-electric hybrid with a grille that evokes British sports cars, buying a Ford Fusion.

"I know it's an ego or a vanity thing, but I'll admit: I like it when people turn their head," says Smith, 63, who works for an adhesive manufacturer. The Fusion "has proven to be everything I wanted in a car."

Americans are snapping up US-make cars spanning from Chrysler Group's Dodge value brand to General Motors' (GM) Cadillac luxury line, highlighting the new-found breadth of offerings in the automakers' showrooms. Armed with what Kevin Tynan, an auto analyst for Bloomberg Industries, has called their most competitive lineups in a generation, each of the Detroit Three entered December on track to gain US market share for the year. They have all increased sales faster than the total industry for a calendar year only once in the last two and a half decades - when Japan's 2011 tsunami wiped out months of Toyota and Honda output - according to the Automotive News Data Center.

Fielding attractive cars such as the Fusion has freed the Detroit Three from the long-time bind of choosing between volume or charging enough for their cars to earn profits, says Tynan. Each of the automakers boosted the average selling prices of their vehicles in 2013 as they outpaced a US auto market, now poised for a fifth consecutive year of expansion in 2014.

Ford vs Toyota
Leading the way for Detroit last year was the Ford brand, which extended its sales lead over the Toyota line on the strength of Fusion and its F-Series pickups.

The second-largest US automaker said this week that it expects to sell more than 2.4 million Ford brand vehicles in 2013, up from 2.16 million a year earlier. Analysts project that deliveries of Ford and Lincoln brand vehicles for the Dearborn, Michigan-based company increased 4.3 per cent in December, the average of nine estimates.

The Ford brand's lead over the namesake brand of the Japan-based Toyota was 388,825 light vehicles entering December, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata. The Toyota line trailed Ford by 322,521 in 2012.

Americans paid $34,164 per vehicle from Ford and $34,869 per car and truck from GM last year, according to research by Kelley Blue Book that includes preliminary data for December. Compared with the industry average, that equates to a premium of $2,118 per Ford Motor model and $2,823 for each GM vehicle, Kelley Blue Book says. Chrysler's transaction prices rose at a faster rate than the industry to pull within $100 of the average.

$60,000 Looks
The gains by Detroit have struck Toyota and Tokyo-based Honda. Deliveries of Ford's Fusion climbed 22 per cent from January to November, outpacing gains of 1.3 per cent for Camry and 11 per cent for Accord. And Fusions sold for an average of $26,378 last year, a premium of $897 to Accord and $2,224 to Camry, the lock to be the top-selling car in the US for a twelfth consecutive year.

"From so many views, it shouts out 'I'm a $60,000 car,'" Smith, the Californian, says of the white-platinum Fusion hybrid that he bought for $33,500. "The Aston Martin look really draws attention."

Deliveries of GM's Cadillac cars jumped 55 per cent last year through November, and Chrysler's Dodge line of cars boosted sales by 31 per cent. Those were the two biggest gains for any car brand with at least 20,000 deliveries last year.

Share gains
Sales probably rose 8.4 per cent for Michigan-based Chrysler and 1.5 per cent for Detroit-based GM, the averages of analysts' estimates. Italian automaker Fiat reached an agreement with a United Auto Workers retiree medical trust to buy the shares of Chrysler it doesn't already own. The $4.35 billion deal was announced yesterday.

GM would eke out a market share gain of less than 0.02 percentage point based on analysts' projections for its sales and those of the industry. Ford entered December with an increase of almost 0.5 percentage point, the industry's largest advance, and Chrysler's share had risen by about 0.1 point.

The U.S. automakers are arguably going for their first sweep of market share gains since 1988. Toyota, Honda and European carmakers including Volkswagen will test Detroit's growth this year. Automakers plan to add 2.1 million vehicles of incremental capacity in North America after 2013, with almost all of the output being added by Asia and Europe-based companies, IHS Automotive said last month.

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