Will General Motors (NYSE:GM) "win" the New York International Auto Show this week?
Big auto shows are big events for automakers. Important new models are shown for the first time, and key executives are often on hand to talk to members of the world's business and automotive media.
The stakes are high: An automaker that "wins" the media's attention at the show can get a great deal of favorable publicity, helping its new model off to a strong start. And GM plans to show off two very important new cars in New York. It needs a strong positive reception to both.
Does it have a chance? Here are the key contenders I expect to see at the show this week.
The all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
This is a big deal for General Motors, which has launched a string of successful new products since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. In fact, only one new model has fallen flat: the current Malibu.
Today's Malibu isn't a bad car, but it has come up short of the standard set by its crosstown rival, Ford's (NYSE:F) stunning Fusion. While it does its job well enough, there's nothing special about it -- and in this brutally competitive and massive market segment, a car that isn't a Toyota (NYSE:TM) Camry or a Honda (NYSE:HMC) Accord needs something special to stand out.
The General hopes the new car will fix that. It released a "teaser" photo of the upcoming Malibu, shown above, that suggests more dramatic styling, possibly along the lines of the bigger (and successful) Chevy Impala.
General Motors promises the new Malibu will have more rear-seat legroom -- a key feature in the Chinese market, and one that is appreciated here in the U.S. as well -- and a host of new features. And there will be a hybrid version, a first for GM in this market segment.
Will the new Malibu help GM finally gain ground on Toyota and Honda? We'll know more after we see it, but don't count GM out: The General's other recent products have been strong contenders.
A new Lincoln Continental?
Ford's luxury brand is expected in New York to show a "concept" version of the big sedan that will replace the current Lincoln MKS. Following Ford's recent practice, the concept will likely be a thinly veiled preview of the production version, which should follow next year.
So what should we expect? Ford hasn't dropped much in the way of hints, but it's unlikely to be a dramatic change from the MKS formula. The online rumor mill hints at a revival of an old name for the new sedan, Lincoln Continental, that will be affixed to a big sedan based on front-wheel-drive architecture like the current MKS -- but with more dramatic styling and a posh new interior.
The current MKS, a sibling of the Ford Taurus, has been an also-ran among big luxury sedans. Sales have been slow and reviewers have been unimpressed. But Lincoln's latest midsize sedan, the MKZ, has been a hit. Will the big new Lincoln share its strengths?
The Cadillac of Cadillacs: GM reveals the all-new CT6
Unlike its old rival Lincoln, which is sticking with front-wheel-drive architectures shared with more pedestrian Fords, GM is spending big to give Cadillac its own identity. The new CT6 is the first product on GM's new vehicle architecture, called Omega. Omega is rear-wheel drive, and it has been benchmarked against some of the world's very best cars -- including Mercedes-Benz's vaunted S-Class.
The CT6 is said to be a little bit smaller than the S-Class, but it's considerably lighter, thanks to innovative construction techniques that involve a mix of aluminum and high-strength steel. A recent TV ad offered a quick glimpse of the car, revealing a low-and-wide sedan with a sweeping roofline and chiseled edges in keeping with other recent Cadillac designs.
The CT6 will likely be offered with a few different engines, including GM's new 400-horsepower 3.0 liter twin-turbo V6 and a plug-in hybrid system of some type. Inside, the CT6 should be posh -- posh enough to get the attention of Mercedes-Benz customers, GM hopes.
General Motors is making a $12 billion bet that it can push Cadillac to the forefront of global luxury-car brands. The CT6 might not sell in huge numbers, but it will be a very important statement about where GM intends to take the brand. That makes it a big deal, and I'll be checking it out closely at the show this week.
Other significant debuts: A new Nissan Maxima, and a new hybrid for Toyota
Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) is expected to formally unveil its new Maxima sedan in New York. It might look familiar: The new car was featured in a Super Bowl ad last month. The Maxima's sales aren't close to those of its midsize sibling, Nissan's hot-selling Altima, but it's still an important model for the brand.
Meanwhile, Toyota said on Thursday it will add a new model to its world-leading range of hybrids: A new hybrid version of the popular RAV4 SUV is coming to U.S. dealers. Very little is known about the RAV4 Hybrid, but Toyota did give us this teaser photo:
Who will steal the show?
The new Cadillac will get a lot of attention, and rightly so -- but in terms of sales potential, the new Chevy Malibu is arguably more important for GM. General Motors needs a more competitive entry in the midsize sedan segment, which includes several of America's best-selling vehicles.
General Motors has to be hoping the Malibu makes a big splash when it is unveiled next Wednesday. But another automaker might have a big surprise for us -- one that disrupts GM's plans.
My Foolish colleague Rex Moore and I will be on hand when the new models are unveiled, and we'll have full video reports for you from the show floor. Stay tuned.