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Luxury cars in spotlight at New York auto show

David Shepardson and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

New York — Automakers are rolling out new cars this week at the New York International Auto Show — especially some top-of-the-line luxury models — even as low oil prices have helped boost SUV, crossover and pickup sales.

General Motors Co. will unveil its new flagship Cadillac CT6 sedan at an event Tuesday in Brooklyn ahead of the press previews that start Wednesday, while Ford Motor Co. on Sunday beat its rival to the punch by showing off its concept Lincoln Continental sedan at an electronics store in midtown Manhattan. Those two models will likely get the lion’s share of the buzz — but will account for a fraction of the sales of cheaper mainstream cars being revealed here.

“Obviously, New York has a luxury feel to it,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “As we move around the show and look at some of the big introductions with Mercedes-Benz with the GLE, the RX for Lexus, I think that’s an important one to watch since that really defined that segment.”

Schuster said the Lincoln Continental and Cadillac CT6 introductions represent “an interesting duel.”

Other big car reveals this week at the show include the Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Malibu, Focus RS, Kia Optima, Jaguar XF, Chevrolet Spark, Scion iM hatchback and 1A sedan. There are also a number of new SUVs being revealed, but this show is largely about cars — and unveiling cars that may be strong in international markets especially China.

New York has traditionally been the largest market for big luxury cars — since it is home to Wall Street and lots of well-heeled buyers. To be sure there are a number of SUV reveals including a new Hyundai Tucson, Infiniti QX50, Lexus RX, RAV4 hybrid and Mercedes Benz GLE.

Automakers are making some big bets on car segments that aren’t performing great in the United States as they eye foreign markets. Ford CEO Mark Fields noted that full-size luxury sedans were flat in the United States, but expected to rise sharply in China. The New York show has traditionally been the last major auto show before the fall — but now automakers are using a show in Shanghai coming next month to introduce some important models.

Still, automakers are pushing ahead with new cars that get much better fuel economy, anticipating that fuel prices will rise again. Ford, for example, is not going to offer a V-8 version of its new Lincoln Continental — and instead is offering a V-6. That’s something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Many of the new luxury vehicles are lighter and faster than previous versions.

“This year’s New York show featured an array of world debuts from mainstream and luxury brands, but it was interesting to note the relative lack of SUV and crossover debuts compared to the high number of all-new sedans, coupes and hatchbacks,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “There was also little to report from the world of alternative or ‘green’ transportation, which seems to have been replaced by automakers touting advanced technology in the form of connected cars and autonomous driving features.”

McLaren Automotive will reveal its couple Sport Series, Rolls-Royce is showing a custom Phantom Drophead Coupe, BMW is unveiling the Alpina B6 Gran Coupe and Audi will show the A3 Sportback e-Tron — but offer more details on its EV later this year.

Automakers are showing cars and sedans at the New York show because of timing in the companies’ product cycles and because New York is the top luxury market in the country, analysts say.

GM’s new Cadillac CT6 will be built beginning later this year at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, where the company invested $300 million for the car. The luxury car will feature a new best-in-segment, 400 horsepower, 3-liter twin turbo V-6 engine and a plug-in electric option also is expected. The CT6 will be Cadillac’s most expensive vehicle and features mixed materials. It goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2015.

GM will debut a newly designed 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, including a hybrid version, and a newly designed 2016 Chevrolet Spark minicar at the New York show next week. The automaker’s GMC brand will show refreshed 2016 Terrain and Terrain Denali crossovers Tuesday, while GM’s President Dan Ammann is giving the keynote address Wednesday to kick off press days at the show.

The Malibu is a very important car for GM, and Reuters reported that the automaker has told suppliers to be prepared for a big jump in sales.

“2015 is a car-heavy year for Chevrolet with five sedan/car redesigns, and the Malibu may be the most important redesign of them all. Design cues should lean toward the attractive Chevy Impala, yet the Malibu will need more than styling to catch up to the segment leaders in the ultra-competitive mid-size sedan category,” said Akshay Anand, analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com