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Luxury models dazzle Detroit auto show

DETROIT, Michigan, Jan 14, 2013 - Stand-out styling, performance and luxury were on display Monday as global automakers sought to stake out ground in the high-profit premium car sector at the Detroit auto show.

From a 202 mph Bentley cabriolet to a clutch of new BMWs and Audis, car makers were confident that lower-volume, higher-margin cars would find buyers in the coming year despite the slow global economy and the recession in Europe.

Auto makers are also increasingly taking aim at younger buyers no longer seen as bound to their parents' brands and - according to Infiniti chief Johan de Nysschen - not wedded to the idea that only the Germans get it right.

Despite the slowdown in Europe, manufacturers are optimistic that the rebound in the US market and the still-strong China market will be enough to keep them going.

US sales are expected to rise five to 10 percent in 2013 after jumping 13 percent in 2012, the biggest yearly gain since 1984.

And China, the world's largest car market, is expected to grow five to six percent.

The Detroit Three carmakers are raking in huge profits again after years of painful restructuring and a renewed focus on the product side of their business.

Their Asian and European counterparts are also investing heavily in the United States, as they jostle for position in the highly competitive market amid a slowdown in China and Brazil and the collapse of European demand.

“The product is the best consumers have seen in a long time,” Jesse Toprak, an analyst with the automotive site, told AFP.

In China, the world's largest market, last year's double-digit growth is slowing, but could still hit five to six percent in 2013, according to BMW marketing chief Ian Robertson.

GM's new Corvette was the most hotly anticipated debut of the show.

Dubbed the Stingray, a name Corvette used for its iconic 1963 model, the quintessential 60-year-old American sports car nevertheless had an “Italianate”feel in its complete makeover, its first in eight years, said one auto analyst.

“The soul of our company is sitting right here in Corvette,” GM North America president Mark Reuss said.

“This car is the reason I work at GM.”Daimler also offered a sneak peak at an entirely new car, the compact, stylish -- and lower priced -- Mercedes CLA coupe, which is aimed squarely at the youth market.

“The CLA is a style rebel,” Mercedes design chief Gordon Wagener said.

“The dynamic design idiom is manifested in breath-taking proportions, muscular, flowing contours and sculptural surfaces.”US luxury makers Cadillac and Lincoln - ever-aspiring to the ranks of the German luxe-purveyors - also unveiled new wares.

Cadillac's electric touring coupe the ELR was a fresh bookend to the ATS gas-engined sedan introduced last year, which pulled in the North American Car of the Year award in this year's Detroit show.

Lincoln showed its MKC, a luxury compact sport utility vehicle billed as a concept car that looked not too far from production.

Luxury wasn't everything: the global battle is still on among the moderately priced cars which make up the bulk of sales, numbers released Monday showed.

Toyota regained the global sales crown lost when the 2011 Japanese tsunami devastated its supplies, as US rival General Motors saw its share of the global market shrink.

The largest US automaker, whose sales have been hit by a deep downturn in Europe, a reduction in its offerings and a decision not to chase market share with costly incentives and low-margin fleet sales, shrugged off the bad news.

“As I said last year, I didn't necessarily want to be number one in sales as I wanted to be number one in profitability - that's what we focus on,” GM chief Dan Akerson told reporters.

Meanwhile Honda laid out an aggressive goal of boosting its total sales by 50 percent to six million units in 2016.

The Japanese automaker introduced a stylish new “urban SUV” concept car aimed at providing the flexibility, performance and function of a sport utility vehicle in a much smaller package.

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