Meaning in the Message

When Ford CEO Alan Mulally at the show here pointedly refers to the declining market share of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in the midsize sedan market as he brags about the new Ford Fusion, journalists are tempted to put his remarks aside as a marketing ploy, not news.

But maybe there is something meaningful in the message. The next chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn., Bill Underriner of Underriner Motors in Billings, MT, is a Honda dealer looking to buy a Ford dealership and other Detroit brands somewhere in the West.

“The Big Three are players more than ever,” he says. As a Honda dealer, “I’m worried.”

Underrriner also foresees a bigger U.S. market in 2012 than most analysts. “There is so much pent-up demand,” he says, estimating light-vehicle sales will grow “10%-12%, at least.”

What's Old is New Again

Proving institutional knowledge still carries weight at a General Motors populated more than ever by outsiders, onetime North American President Lloyd Reuss meets often with new executives to dispense information only an insider would possess.

Reuss, who spent 35 years at GM and led its home-market operations between 1990 and 1992, drops in on a WardsAuto interview with global marketing-chief Joel Ewanick to say hello.

"My first month at GM, I went to lunch with him," says Ewanick, who joined GM in 2010 from Hyundai. "He gave me a bunch of tips: ‘Be your own person; look out for this; remember it's still a big corporation.’ He's been very helpful. I've taken what he's said to heart.

“It's good to have a guy like that around. This business is not easy."

However, we assume Reuss' son, Mark, who now serves as GM North America president, has been the greatest recipient of his father's managerial wisdom, including the art of introducing new vehicles to skeptical journalists.

"I thought he did a great job last night," Lloyd Reuss says of his son’s unveiling Sunday night of the pivotal new Cadillac ATS. "His best one yet."

BMW Sticks it Out     

It’s generally thought that if auto makers eliminated manual stick shifts in vehicles in the U.S., no one would notice.

Indeed, the take rate on manual shifters is so low that many light vehicles no longer offer them. Plus dual-clutch transmissions have gotten so good on sports cars that even hard-core drivers prefer them to manuals.

But there still remains a small cadre of performance buffs that can’t live without a manual shifter and clutch pedal, especially when they are attached to a serious sports car or sedan.

So a fanatical few heaved a sigh of relief when BMW used the auto show here to confirm it will offer a 6-speed manual transmission on the North American version of the upcoming ’13 BMW M5.

The 6-speed manual will be available from the start of production this summer and will be offered as a no-cost alternative to the standard 7-speed DCT. BMW says the manual gearbox was a popular choice for U.S. customers of the previous-generation M5 and continues to be a unique offer in the segment.

Nissan Takes a Stand

When you sit out the Detroit auto show for four years, you can't expect primo placement.

In its first NAIAS appearance since 2008, Nissan, along with its Infiniti luxury brand, is relegated to the back corner of the show floor. As if that weren’t enough, the display cannot be seen from any entrance to the hall, thanks to Ford's monolith stand in front.

Among those better placed are the hot-selling Korean twins. Kia is situated in a new spot next to Volkswagen, ironic considering Kia hired away VW's former chief designer, Peter Schreyer. And Hyundai for the first time has a 2-story stand, with a swanky lounge and meeting rooms upstairs.

In With the New

Jeff Conrad, vice president and general manager of Acura sales: "The best thing I can say about 2011 is that I'm glad it's 2012."