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2013: 'The Year Of The Midsize Sedan Battle'


'Tis the season for new car buying. Fall is when automakers roll out their latest models - with new technologies and better fuel efficiency. And to talk about the latest trends, we reached Michelle Krebs in Detroit. She's a senior analyst at the auto information website

Good to have you back, Michelle.

MICHELLE KREBS: Glad to be back.


So let's start with asking you about some core products -, family sedans. Toyota, Honda, Nissan have long owned this market. Any serious challenges coming from Detroit?

KREBS: Well if I were to give the 2013 model year, it would be the year of the midsize sedan battle. Everything is new in that category. You mentioned the big players. Toyota Camry was new the last fall. That's the best selling car in America, Honda introduces a new Accord this fall, and Nissan is just rolling out the new Altima. And yes, there are very serious challengers from Detroit - notably the new Chevrolet Malibu, and even more so, the Ford Fusion, which has really stepped up in the segment as the fashionista. That category has been generally pretty bland but Ford has decided why not put some style into that and they've developed a new Fusion that has the look of an Aston Martin, which is a very expensive exotic car. And, of course, we can't forget the Korean automakers. Hyundai went kind of fashionable with the Sonata a couple of years ago and Kia came out with an Optima within the last year or so. So there's a lot of great choice and I think we're going to see some serious battling going on in that next segment.

MONTAGNE: Well, I gather there's a Chinese competitor in the sedan market - and that would be a first. Tell us about that.

KREBS: This year, we are seeing a newcomer from China just entered the U.S. market. It's a company called Coda, and Coda is selling an electric sedan in California that's priced at about $38,000 before you get all of the tax incentives. And they recently partnered with another Chinese automaker called Great Wall that specializes in SUVs, and the two of them are going to develop more cars that are priced better in line with gasoline engine cars and they may well do so manufacturing here in the U.S. And by the way, the company is headed by a former General Motors executive, Phil Murtaugh, who really created all the excitement and the success in China for General Motors.

MONTAGNE: Another pillar for the auto industry, of course, pickup trucks. What's the competition like this year?

KREBS: Well, pickup trucks sales are never going to be what they used to be. Back a decade or so ago, we saw people buying pickups as a fashion statement. Now the pickup market has gotten back to people who really need trucks for work. But that market is picking up and it's because the housing market is picking up. We see a very direct correlation between housing and pickup trucks.

This year, Chrysler has come out with a new Ram 1500. I drove one here to the studio today. It has new engines and transmissions for a better fuel economy. Next year, GM's trucks get overhauled, and then the next year after that, Ford comes out with its new F-150, and there's all kinds of rumors around that it's going to use a lot more aluminum so it can be a lot more lightweight. And that's all the game in the future is making trucks - which had to work really hard -more lightweight and more fuel efficient, and that's a big challenge.

MONTAGNE: Let's take a moment to talk about well, it's still about cars, but it's about hamsters - hip-hop hamsters.

KREBS: Hip-hop hamsters are back selling the Kia Soul again. They were introduced a couple years ago. Kia was trying to get the message across for this quirky little boxy car that it introduced, that this was not your everyday boring hamster-in-the-cage kind of vehicle, it was different.

MONTAGNE: OK. So let's play a clip of the latest ad.



KREBS: So this latest version of the Kia hamster ads takes place in an 18th-century opera house and there's ballet going on, very serious setting, and then all of a sudden the hamsters break out on stage and they're dancing and flinging themselves into the audience from the balcony.



MONTAGNE: It's a really ridiculous, I mean, fun ad. Is the car selling?

KREBS: Well, absolutely. If Kia could make more they could sell more. They sell more than 10,000 a month, which is just phenomenal - and they're in short supply all the time.

MONTAGNE: Michelle, thanks very much.

KREBS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Michelle Krebs is senior analyst at the automotive information site Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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