Sexy Sells: Detroit Booms on Stylish Vehicles

The Detroit Three are having their best sales year since 2007, fueled by redesigned models that are exciting American car buyers. The latest models have bold and upscale styling, which had not been a top priority in the past for executives more focused on cost-cutting. Hear Bloomberg automotive critic Jason Harper discuss five new vehicles that got it right, and five that embody Detroit’s troubled past.

Published Dec. 12, 2013

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2014 Models That Got It Right

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Monthly U.S. sales, in thousands

Ford Fusion

Luxury for the Masses

Redesigned in 2012 with a grille that evokes Aston Martin luxury cars, the Fusion has become the hottest American car in two decades. Its elegant styling is winning over car buyers and the Fusion is gaining ground on the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the top-selling sedans in America. Ford has sold 270,872 Fusions in 2013, a 22 percent jump over 2012.

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Monthly U.S. sales, in thousands

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Power Meets Polish

A vehicle with rugged roots, the 2014 Grand Cherokee is upgraded with touches of luxury throughout. Previously decorated in hard plastic, the new interior features more natural materials and the exterior has chrome. The car is a winner for Chrysler, too. Analysts estimate the company earns an average of $10,000 on each Grand Cherokee, making the plant that builds the vehicle possibly the most profitable in the world.

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Monthly U.S. sales, in thousands

Cadillac CTS

Rivaling Euro Chic

Cadillac says that the new CTS is better equipped to compete with BMW or Lexus. Named Motor Trend’s 2014 Car of the Year, the third-generation CTS is longer, with smoother edges compared to the previous model. The car’s face has been updated with two strips of vertical LED lights that run along either side of the headlights.

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Monthly U.S. sales, in thousands

Chevrolet Corvette

A Modern Twist on a Classic

The 2014 Corvette Stingray updates many features on the classic sports car. Gone are the round taillights. Four huge exhaust pipes now dominate the rear of the car. It screams rear-wheel sports car, with the long hood and far-back cockpit. Built in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the new Corvette gets a class-leading 29 miles per gallon highway.

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Monthly U.S. sales, in thousands

Ram 1500

Finally Beautiful, Inside and Out

While the Ram maintains the pickup truck utility of previous models, the 2014 model improves the interior, making it as comfortable to travel in as a car. The interior features leather, wood and a navigation system, and an aerodynamic shutter system in the truck’s grille improves fuel economy.

A Decade of Design Disasters

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Chevy Aveo (2004)

Small Without Substance

The Chevy Aveo was released in late 2003, based on a car by South Korea’s Daewoo. The Aveo debuted at a time when American automakers were not emphasizing style in their smallest cars. The hatchback model looked like it was made of tin, with a tiny grille, 14-inch wheels, and in the entry-level model, manual door locks and windows. Chevy replaced the Aveo with the Sonic in 2012.

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Lincoln Blackwood (2002)

A Lincoln Pickup No One Wanted

The Blackwood was a gussied-up Ford F-150, with a power cover over the carpeted bed. The outside of the truck’s bed was covered in fake black wood. The Blackwood was priced at more than $50,000 and also was offered in a Neiman Marcus edition. Lincoln sold the Blackwood for only one year, signaling the limited market for a luxury pickup truck.

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Chrysler Sebring (2005)

An Unimaginative Midsize

The 2005 Chrysler Sebring is marked by odd proportions, with a long rear overhang and a short, stubby hood. The Sebring was available as a four-door sedan and a two-door convertible. A car that was probably most common in rental fleets, the Sebring was replaced by the 200 sedan.

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Hummer H2 (2002)

A Gas-Guzzling Grocery Getter

Almost 16 feet long, 7 feet wide and towering almost 7 feet from the ground, the Hummer H2 was a massive vehicle. Its sin is that it proved the most obvious example of Detroit’s excesses. Released when gas prices were rising, Americans began to rethink their automotive priorities — including the prospect of filling up the H2’s gas-guzzling, 32-gallon fuel tank. General Motors closed the Hummer brand in 2010 after its bankruptcy reorganization the previous year.

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Lincoln MKT (2010)

A Confused Crossover

The MKT is Lincoln’s full-size crossover first released in late 2009. It joins Lincoln’s lineup of recent cars that have struggled with design. The long, seven-passenger vehicle features a swollen dual grille and an odd kink in the third side window. The vehicle is built at Ford’s Oakville Assembly Complex in Ontario, where the Ford Edge, Ford Flex and Lincoln MKX are also assembled.

GRAPHIC: DAVID INGOLD, ALEX TRIBOU & JEREMY DIAMOND / BLOOMBERG VISUAL DATA; ALYSSA ZAHLER / BLOOMBERG TV