Despite the slow economy and even slower auto sales, a wide range of new cars is waiting on the other side of 2009.
With the worst year for car sales in four decades drawing to a close, it's only natural to wonder whether the newest models can determine just how robust — or dismal — 2010 will be for the industry.
As energy priorities and consumer attitudes have changed over the past couple years, automakers — especially from BMW, Ford, GM and Mercedes-Benz — have developed quite a range of options that will be showroom ready in the New Year. And that variety demonstrates a sustained commitment on automakers' part to continue providing variety and innovation for some time to come.
"We need to continue to invest in new products; this environment shouldn't force us to slow down our investment," Bentley Americas President and COO Christophe Georges said at an Oct. 22 preview of the upcoming Bentley Muslanne. "This is our DNA. We have to keep investment going."
While a Bentley won't find a place in every family's garage, the sentiment from the other automakers is the same. There's a different car for every type of driver due to hit dealer lots between January and December of next year, but they all have one thing in common: They're designed to help automakers grab market share in a sector that shrank to a size no one expected.
For our list of the cars Americans can expect to drive next year, all major automakers who sell vehicles in the United States provided lists of models set to hit showrooms in 2010. We selected vehicles that are brand new to the U.S., not freshened or updated versions of models already on sale. We didn't take into account model years, so long as the new cars will see daylight at dealerships next year.
Many of the cars on our list emphasize fuel-efficiency. The BMW Active Hybrid 7, Honda CR-Z hybrid and diesel Mercedes-Benz E-350 BlueTEC, for instance, all promise significant improvements in miles per gallon or carbon emissions over their conventional counterparts. The Fisker Karma and Chevrolet Volt are two electric options slated for next year as well.
While those vehicles feature changes in technology, Ford and Chevrolet are promising improved efficiency through size. Ford's ultra-light 2011 Fiesta is expected to get a combined 40 miles per gallon with its 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. It'll come as a two- or four-door hatch starting next spring. The compact, 4-cylinder Cruze, Chevrolet's replacement for the Cobalt, will arrive next spring as well. Both vehicles will likely offer upgrade options previously unavailable in econobox cars, such as power sunroofs, Bluetooth capability, high-end audio packages and leather upholstery.
But not every car coming next year is for the piously green-minded.
Audi's six-figure R8 Spyder has a mid-mounted V10 engine that produces 525 horsepower and a top speed of 195 miles per hour. And Mercedes-Benz's new stunner, the $250,000 SLS AMG, is definitely not for the wallflower type: It has gull-wing doors and a pounce-ready stance, appropriate since the coupe gets to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, and has a top speed of 200 mph.
The winged doors are functional, too, even if they look cosmetic.
"The opening to the door now is much higher," says Daniel Barile, a spokesperson for Mercedes. "It makes for a much stiffer body because for the space that would have been open for the door, you now have a lot of subframe through that area."
Even budget-associated brands are wading into luxury territory next year. Hyundai — along with Subaru and Kia, the only three automakers so far to report year-to-date positive sales figures — will introduce its Equus sedan, which is already on sale in China but will be renamed when it hits U.S. shores next summer. It follows closely on the heels of the company's first luxury foray, the award-winning Genesis sedan, and will compete directly with Mercedes' S-Class and Lexus' LS line of sedans. Estimates put the car's price in the $50,000 range.
The car is long and solid, with gill-like side swoops — and hardly a Hyundai badge in sight. In fact, most casual observers will be hard-pressed to identify the sedan as coming from the same automaker as the Sonata and Tucson. That's OK, though, because the car is going to be a "game changer" for the Korea-based brand, says Joel Ewanick, Hyundai's vice president of marketing.
Ewanick says 2010 will be an even bigger year than 2009 for Hyundai (sales last month over September of 2008 were up nearly 30 percent). Cars like the Equus, Ewanick says, will redefine the brand and grab new market share: "We're watching the brand change and grow — it's a sea change in philosophy that we have going into the next year."
Of course, most automakers say they are looking to rebound. Time will tell who's right.
© 2012 Forbes.com