Automakers Attempt To Revamp Sedan

DETROIT (AP) - American automakers, who've steadily lost passenger sales to foreign rivals for more than 30 years, are ready to fight back with new models of their own.

Ford Motor Co. has promised a raft of new products -- including a large Ford Five Hundred sedan -- to bolster its aging car lineup.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler unit plans moves that include a return to rear-wheel drive large sedans. Now, seven of every 10 vehicles that Chrysler sells are sport utility vehicles, pickups and minivans.

And on Wednesday, General Motors Corp. announced plans to invest $500 million to modernize an aging Lordstown, Ohio, factory to introduce a new line of small cars starting in late 2004.

Passenger car sales have lost ground to trucks in recent years, but they still represent 49 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, The Detroit News reported in a Thursday story.

An American comeback will not be easy, analysts said.

"It's really going to be an uphill battle for them," said Jim Hossack, a consultant for AutoPacific Inc., the Los Angeles-based automotive market research firm. "The Japanese are so good their cars command a higher price and their costs are lower."

For the past five years, GM has focused its efforts on its line of pickups, sport-utilities and other light trucks, creating vehicles that have infused the No. 1 automaker with billions of dollars in profits.

Now Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner and Vice Chairman Bob Lutz are turning their attention to the automaker's passenger cars with a lineup of new coupes, sedans, convertibles and wagons.

The automaker showed off 13 new vehicles this week -- all but one of them passenger cars -- that will be arriving in showrooms in future years.

"Our performance in trucks has been overwhelming," Lutz told a group of international journalists gathered in Santa Barbara, Calif., to glimpse GM's future product plans. "Where we have some catch up to do to match the world's best is in passenger cars."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)