Making predictions for the year ahead is always a hazardous business, by its nature dependent on the good will of readers, not to mention short memories. Stuff happens that confounds even the most imaginative forecasts. Predicting that Mary Barra was headed for the CEO job at GM (gm) was relatively pothole-free, although the December timing took most people by surprise. But who would have guessed that one of Detroit's Rust Belt executives, Ford's Alan Mulally, would emerge as the leading candidate to run tech giant Microsoft (msft) -- especially after all the trouble Ford (f) has had integrating Microsoft technology in its MyTouch instrument panel control system? With those caveats in mind, here are some guesses about what awaits MotorWorld in the year ahead -- some serious, others in an "anything can happen" spirit.
The rebound continues
Car and truck sales will grow to 16.4 million in 2014, up from 15.5 million in 2013, according to forecasts by Edmunds.com. That would be the most vehicles sold since 2006, but lower than the number sold annually between 2002 and 2005.
Gasoline prices will decline to an average of $3.43 per gallon, say various sources, thanks to higher production and lower demand. Consumers will have even less incentive to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, forcing the Obama Administration to start moving in the goalposts on its 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard for 2025.
From Motown to Microsoft
Alan Mulally moves back to Seattle from Dearborn, reviving old jokes about what would happen to automobiles if Microsoft made them: "You would have to buy a new car every time they repainted the center lines," or "Your car would crash twice a day for no particular reason," or "Your airbag system would ask, 'Are you sure?' before deploying."
A clean sweep
General Motors sweeps 2014 North American Car and Truck of the Year awards for "outstanding innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and value" with the Cadillac CTS (above) and Chevrolet Silverado. Though it is not included in the criteria, GM could also win for "most improved."
Her work cut out for her
New GM CEO Mary Barra spends her first six months in office saying "no" to appearances with Ginni Rometty, Hillary Clinton, and Meryl Streep; keynote speeches at women's summits; and suggestions from diehard car buffs that GM build a new electric car; revive Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn; and bring back tailfins.
His work cut out for him
CEO-in-waiting Mark Fields takes over after a year in which Ford recorded healthy retail sales, but the Lincoln MKZ stalled at the starting line, the Escape crossover was recalled for a seventh time, and GM shares outperformed Ford stock with a 42% to 17% gain.
The future of Nissan's Taxi of Tomorrow for New York City is dealt a fatal blow by new mayor Bill de Blasio when he declines to overturn a hybrid motor regulation. His decision consigns riders to uncomfortable trips in the two-most-used yellow cabs: aging Ford Crown Victorias and discontinued Ford Escape hybrids.
Now that the 2014 Ford Mustang has been officially revealed, the motoring press turns its attention to uncovering details about the rumored V-8 powered Cadillac flagship sedan with over-the-top styling lifted from the Elmiraj concept car (above). Unmoved however, luxury car buyers in New York and California vow they will give up their Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis only when they are pried out of their cold dead hands.
Dodge's breakout success using Ron Burgundy to promote the Durango SUV leads to copycat campaigns starring John McClane for the Chevrolet SS, Indiana Jones for Range Rover, and Ironman for the Toyota Prius, while Subaru threatens to bring back Crocodile Dundee.
Musk's many suitors
Ford is rumored to be buying Tesla. So are GM, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Chery. Elon Musk says he won't agree to a sale until Hell freezes over -- and then merges with Fiat-Chrysler.
Management moves: Renault-Nissan
After overhauling his management teams in 2011, 2012, and 2013, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, 59, does so again in 2014 as he chases his impossible dream of 10% U.S. and 8% global market share.
Management moves: Daimler
With his contract due to expire at the end of 2015 and two ambitious engineers jousting to succeed him, Daimler and Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche, 60, starts work on his memoir, The Chrysler Years: 2000-2006.
Management moves: Volkswagen
After acquiring Lamborghini, Porsche, and Ducati, Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the Volkswagen Group, 76, solidifies his legacy as an industry genius by buying Alfa Romeo from Fiat and merging its operations with Ducati, the motorbike maker he acquired in 2012.
China stalls out again
Recall this Fox News headline from May 12, 2009: REPORT: GM TO SELL CHINESE CARS IN THE U.S. The story references a leaked report that GM planned to sell nearly 18,000 Chinese-made vehicles in America in 2011, with that number rising to over 50,000 by 2014. Well, no. GM didn't sell any cars made in China in 2011, 2012, or 2013, and safety and quality standards mean that no Chinese cars by any manufacturer -- American, European, or Chinese -- will be coming to the U.S. in 2014 either.