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For new models, the brakes are coming off

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- One week in San Diego should be enough to remind you that you are still working in a hyper-competitive auto market.

It's been easy to forget that lately.

Just as things were getting fierce back in the 2005-2007 timeframe, with some automakers developing the ability to bring new models to market faster, the crash began. The industry fell to its knees for a while, and the mood of the past 24 months has been politely subdued.

But now the brakes are coming off.

In San Diego this month, all during the same pre-holiday week, Ford Motor Co., Hyundai Motor America and Nissan North America separately flew automotive writers into town to start the media drumbeat on new key products that just couldn't wait for the new year.

Ford showed journalists the new-generation 2011 Explorer crossover, a supremely critical product that the automaker previously built in Louisville, Ky. Ford is maneuvering products around the country as part of a future-product strategy that involves hundreds of millions in plant investment supported by low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Energy. The new Explorer will be built in Chicago. Louisville will be retooled to produce the next Escape, and other changes are under way.

Meanwhile, Nissan was showing journalists its new Quest minivan in San Diego. That vehicle was first glimpsed by the public less than three weeks earlier at the Los Angeles auto show. But Nissan says the Quest will begin retail deliveries on Jan. 28.

At the same time, Hyundai was showcasing the next Elantra. That compact car also saw its first light of day just three weeks earlier in L.A. But Hyundai is already delivering the car to dealers this month.

And if that's not aggressive enough, consider this: The Elantra is being produced at Hyundai's plant in Alabama. That manufacturing plan was only hatched this summer. It was just approved in September, and Alabama already rolled Job One off the line on Nov. 1

The pace of new product rollouts is not merely "accelerated," it's "maniacal."

Watch out. The industry is not merely preparing to come back, it is coming back with a vengeance.

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