Introduction:

Experts foresee a tough auto market next year. Importer automakers agree. But they also see a chance to gain more market share, if not achieve stellar sales numbers.

The importers are blitzing the U.S. market with new vehicles, including a bigger Nissan Altima, a sexier Toyota Camry and a relatively cheap Mercedes-Benz C230 Coupe.

Although the Big Three have steadily lost overall market share, they've stayed strong in the truck market. And they are protecting that turf. Of the 16 truck-based vehicles debuting in 2002, 11 of them are from the Big Three. But Toyota has increased its truck line, and Nissan is planning its version of a full-size truck.

For our annual two-part look at the State of the Industry, we talked to executives at major automakers, both foreign and domestic, to find out where they've been and where they are going.

We look at the imports this month, the domestics in December.

(For an expanded version of our State of the Industry/Imports coverage — including a look at Daewoo, Kia, Audi and Saab — please go to www.WardsDealer.com.)