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Chevrolet wins at Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler talks future for Jeep

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Chevrolet Silverado named 2014 North American Truck of the Year Chevrolet Silverado named 2014 North American Truck of the Year
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray named 2014 North American Car of the Year Chevrolet Corvette Stingray named 2014 North American Car of the Year
Toledo-built Jeep Wranglers on display Toledo-built Jeep Wranglers on display
Toledo-built Jeep Cherokees on display Toledo-built Jeep Cherokees on display
DETROIT, MI (Toledo News Now) -

Monday is the first day members of the media got a sneak peek at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The show is expected to bring in about $400 million to the city and attract at least 800,000 visitors when it opens to the public Saturday.

General Motors' Chevrolet brand swept the North American Car of the Year and North American Truck/Utility of the Year on Monday, giving the resurgent Detroit automaker another boost at the beginning of the Motor City's annual auto show.

The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray received the car award, and the truck was the Silverado. The Chevy sweep came after General Motors Co. made the most appearances on this year's list finalists, which also included the Cadillac CTS and Mazda3 on the car side and Acura MDX and Jeep Cherokee on the truck/utility side. 

The Cadillac ATS took top car honors last year.

The awards always kick off the press preview days for the North American International Auto Show, though they aren't affiliated with the show. Forty-eight full-time automotive journalists vote on winners from the list of finalists.

The win for the Corvette, which starts at just under $52,000, is a strong point of pride for the company. The Stingray debuted exactly one year earlier and represents a redesign of a model that's been in production for 60 years.

Alan Batey, soon to be GM's North American chief, said the company can't make enough Corvettes.

"Everything that's in the factory is pretty much customer sold," he said.

Batey added that the Chevrolet brand isn't as healthy as it needs to be globally, but the independent awards should help show that the brand and automaker are "on the move."

Sweeps are a frequent feature in the awards program: GM also nabbed the truck honor for the Silverado in 2007, while the car award that year went to the Saturn Aura. Ford pulled off a double-win in 2010 with the Fusion Hybrid and Transit Connect. Honda's Ridgeline and Civic pulled it off in 2006.

A vehicle must be all new or substantially changed to be eligible for the awards, now in their 21st year. 

Organizers accept no advertising, though carmakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the honors.

Incoming GM Chief Executive Mary Barra, who attracted a throng of moving journalists as she left the hall where the awards were announced, said the sweep shows that designers, engineers and product development specialists "sweated the details." The awards, she said, should translate into customers at least considering the Chevrolet brand.

"I hope that people look and if they haven't considered General Motors or Chevrolet, they'll get into the showroom, because I'm confident if they get into the showroom they'll see a lot of vehicles they like," she said.

Chrysler has several Toledo-built Jeeps on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the man in charge of the automaker says the future looks bright for Jeep in Toledo.

 Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne is expecting 2014 to be a big year for the Jeep brand.

 "We sold 732,000 cars in 2013. We're going to get to a million - which is nearly a 50 percent increase over 2013 - in one year," he said.

Marchionne says Chrysler is reviewing the possibility of expanding the Wrangler plant to be able to boost production without shifting any production out of Toledo.

 "We're looking for ways to increase output of that plant because one of the commitments we've made is never to produce the Wrangler outside of Toledo."

Also this year he says decisions will be made about updating the Wrangler while being careful not to call it a redesign.

"Bring about substantial light-weighting of the vehicle," he said. "We got to take some weight out and second, we have to improve its powertrain capabilities, and in the process I think we'll update design and style without touching the fundamental elements of the Wrangler. You have to be very, very careful."

 Shifting over to the Toledo-built Cherokee, Marchionne says the growing pains with the launch are in the past, and the early sales figures are very encouraging.

 "That car can do it, it has all of the prerequisites to get it done. We're going to be spending a lot of resources now to position the Cherokee properly and we've done little internationally."

The Toledo-built Jeeps are a prominent part of Chrysler's NAIAS display, which opens to the public on Saturday.    

Find NAIAS ticket information here.

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