The outlook for 2009 for automakers could hardly be bleaker. Tight credit and a weak economy have battered the bottom lines of the world's most profitable manufacturers and thrown the future of others into doubt. A season typically marked by buzz over new and upcoming models is, this year, characterized by uncertainty instead.
What is clear is that November is likely to bring another set of unhappy milestones. Analysts expect U.S. auto sales for November to be as much as 34% below last year's figure. That would put the industry on track to post year-to-date sales through November of between 10.5 million and 11.5 million vehicles, a steep drop from 16.1 million for the same period in 2007. Worse yet, a year-to-year decline in November sales would mark the 13th consecutive monthly drop in auto sales, an ominous sign that the slump will continue into next year.
A number of factors have contributed to the gloomy climate. General malaise over the souring state of the economy has consumers thinking twice about making big-ticket purchases. Willing buyers who would have qualified for loans a year ago are now being turned away courtesy of the global credit crunch. Meanwhile, television images of Big Three executives begging Congress for a $25 billion bailout (BusinessWeek.com, 11/20/08) and widespread talk of possible bankruptcy aren't likely to inspire much confidence.
Still, global automakers from Ford (F) to Ferrari have high hopes for a raft of innovative new cars due to hit dealerships for the 2009-10 model year. Our list of must-drives for next year includes vehicles of all stripes, from thrifty-yet-fun gas-sippers to ultra-luxury coupes.
The class of 2009-10 includes a number of new gas-electric hybrids. Honda (HMC), for one, is rebooting its Insight brand name. The company's smaller 1999 Insight hybrid was quickly overshadowed and far outsold by the Toyota (TM) Prius (BusinessWeek.com, 6/6/08). This time, at about $19,000, Honda promises the Insight will be one of the least expensive hybrids on the market. But, Ford is also introducing its first hybrid sedan, the $27,270 Fusion, and Toyota will unveil the next-generation Prius in early 2009.
Not all are aimed at penny-pinchers discouraged by this year's high prices at the pump. General Motors (GM) is selling a $72,865 gas-electric version of its slick Cadillac Escalade. The heavy SUV boasts fuel economy of up to 21 miles per gallon. And, after years of sticking to its diesel guns, Mercedes-Benz (DAI) is finally getting in on the hybrid act with its $100,000-plus gas-electric S-Class. For its part, BMW (BMWG) is aiming its $43,900 335d at fuel-economy-minded drivers. That model sips diesel fuel and ekes out up to 36 mpg.
Four-door coupes appear to be another trend for 2009. Once a small niche occupied most prominently by Mercedes-Benz, other manufacturers have rushed in at all price points. Volkswagen (VOWG) hopes drivers will flock to its $26,790 CC as a sportier alternative to more common sedans. Porsche (PSHG) and Aston Martin will go head-to-head with the Panamera and Rapide, respectively, both four-dour coupes with $100,000-plus window stickers.
Next year might have been a boom year for the auto industry given the wide range of interesting, must-drive vehicles headed to the U.S. Unlikely as that may now be, the fate of new vehicles for 2009-10 remains to be seen. However, now that the Big Three have been forced to trim their development expenses for new models—and other carmakers may be forced to follow suit—2010 probably won't offer the same variety of new cars as this year comingup.
Click here to see the cars we most want to drive in 2009.