Auto sales continue to cruise along, as buyers who put off purchases during the recession make up for lost time. Edmunds.com forecasts sales of 16.4 million light vehicles in 2014, an increase over the 15.5 million expected in 2013, driven by pent-up demand. If sales in fact exceed 16 million, it would be the first time they have passed that number since 2007. While that would still leave them well below the pre-recession five-year average of 16.6 million, it would represent a healthy recovery for the industry. Rising sales don't mean any slackening of competitive fires, and automakers are redoubling their efforts to make gains using their tried-and-true methods: unleashing new models. While the 2014 model year has only just gotten underway, manufacturers are entitled by government regulation to classify any vehicle introduced after Jan. 1 as a 2015 model. And so they are. Who wouldn't enjoy bragging that he's parked next year's model in his driveway? There will be plenty of opportunities in 2014. The year will see a rush of high-profile new models, some with breakthrough new technology as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford (F), and others hurry to cash in on the rising market. Here are some of the highlights.
2015 Ford Mustang
Mustang is core to Ford's identity, if not its volume, and the 2015 model, due to be unveiled in December, will get a huge publicity push from the company and wall-to-wall coverage from the automotive press. The redesign is long overdue for the retro-inspired fifth-generation model (above), whose sales have fallen by half since its introduction in 2005. Among other features, the new Mustang will get turbocharging and an independent rear suspension for the first time.
2015 Ford F-150
America's truck gets a makeover when the 2015 model debuts a year from now, notably wearing more aluminum that is said to subtract several hundred pounds from its bulk. It will have a lot to live up to. For all of CEO Alan Mulally's efforts, Ford remains dependent on the F-series for a huge chunk of its profits. And the Atlas concept for the new model (above) caused a sensation when it was dropped from the roof of Cobo Arena at the Detroit auto show in January.
2015 Cadillac Escalade
General Motors (GM) is giving the new Escalade a lot of runway prior to its launch early next year, starting with an unveiling in October. The King of Bling keeps on truckin' with an even more sumptuous interior and LED taillights that stretch from the bumper to the roof. With competition more intense and the EXT model discontinued, the fourth-generation 'Sclade will find it difficult to match its old sales record of 62,000 units set in 2006.
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA
Locked in a tight U.S. sales battle with BMW, Mercedes is adding models, mostly smaller ones, with more expressive styling. Exhibit No. 1: Mercedes's first compact crossover (not to be confused with the slightly larger and beefier GLK compact SUV). One of the first Mercedes with front-wheel drive, it arrives in U.S. showrooms in the second half of 2014 with advanced aerodynamics, sculpted side panels, a turbo four-cylinder engine, and a price tag in the $30,000 neighborhood.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-class
Exhibit No. 2 in the Mercedes revival is the latest version of Mercedes's best-selling model with sinuous body sides, a sumptuous interior, and elegant interior. More than a pretty face, the C will also be some 200 pounds lighter, thanks to the use of aluminum and other high-strength metals. All will be revealed at the Detroit auto show in January. Through September, Mercedes had sold 66,596 of the outgoing model (above).
2015 BMW i8
Tesla (TSLA) gets a worthy competitor next spring when the i8 goes on sale in the U.S. The most exotic BMW ever, the plug-in hybrid i8 grand tourer has a carbon-fiber body and two motors, one electric with a 22 mile maximum range, and the other a three-cylinder gasoline one with a restricted top speed of 155 mph. BMW calls it "innovation disguised as a sports car." The price of all this technology naturally does not come cheaply: $135,700.
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne had promised "for sure" that Alfa's first car in its latest rebirth would be coming to these shores in 2013. Not so, it turns out; Chrysler now says the second quarter of 2014 looks more likely for Alfa's return. The coupe is seriously light (it weighs less than half as much as a Jeep Grand Cherokee) and is just as seriously fast, getting to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds. Still unclear is the U.S distribution channel: volume-starved Fiat dealers or high-end Maserati and Ferrari dealers.
2015 Hyundai Genesis
Never shy about stretching the design envelope, Hyundai pulled the covers off the new Genesis way ahead of schedule to get onlookers used to "Fluidic Sculpture 2.0." The most notable feature is the oversize, in-your-face radiator grilles that seems to have been borrowed from Audi. Hyundai has also announced that the 2015 model will be equipped with a new all-wheel drive system, carbon dioxide detection to keep drivers from falling asleep, and a hands-free trunk that opens when you stand in front of it for three seconds. Customers have liked the current Genesis; Hyundai has sold more than 25,000 of them so far in 2013.
2015 Tesla Model X
Tesla's innovative blend of minivan and SUV, enlivened by so-called falcon-wing doors for rear-seat passengers, has already drawn $5,000 deposits from 6,000 potential customers. Production of the vehicle, which will cost $70,000-$90,000, is set to begin in late 2014. Range for the seven-passenger all-electric Model X is said to be 270 miles. Some analysts believe Tesla could sell as many as 30,000 a year, which would help support its enormous market capitalization.
2015 Audi A3
In a nod to customers in the U.S. (and China), the first new A3 to arrive on these shores next spring will be a sedan. The hatchback, which had been the predominant style, comes later. With LED lights front and rear and conservative styling all around, it will be instantly recognizable as an Audi. "We do not want to shock our customers," an Audi executive told Car & Driver. The base price may give them a bit of a jolt, however. At $30,795, it is more than $2,500 steeper than the outgoing model.