Why the stakes are high for Ford, Honda at Detroit show

Ford and Honda will be taking aim at the Hyundai Sonata, which had sales of 225,961 in 2011.
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

Take a good look at the Ford and Honda stands next week at the Detroit auto show.

You could argue that these two automakers will have the most significant world debuts at the show.

Ford will reveal the redesigned 2013 Fusion and Honda will introduce the Accord Coupe concept. Historically, Honda's concepts mirror the finished product. The redesigned Accord as well as the new Fusion hit dealer lots later this year.

Honda isn't saying anything about the concept. But Ford says the redesigned Fusion will draw on styling cues seen on the highly praised Evos concept that debuted in September at the Frankfurt auto show.

Why are the two cars significant?

Simply put: sales. We're talking big-volume models. Plus, each car accounts for a significant share of its brand's sales.

Last year Ford tallied 248,067 Fusion sales, 12 percent of the Ford brand's sales. Honda's Accord registered 235,625 sales, 23 percent of the Honda brand's sales (not including the Accord Crosstour).

Both models are major players in the highly competitive, similarly priced, mid-sized car segment. The segment is dominated by six vehicles -- Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry, plus the Accord and Fusion.

What's interesting is that four of the major players will introduce redesigned models this year. Besides the Accord and Fusion, the Malibu and Altima will be redesigned. In fact, the 2013 Malibu will be on the Detroit floor -- production begins this month. The new Altima's debut is likely in April at the New York show.

Meanwhile, the redesigned Camry debuted last summer and the redesigned Sonata, well, that was way back in early 2010. A new Sonata is a few years away.

With so many new models, expect the mid-sized segment to be a real dogfight. The media's "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" will have a big impact on sales -- part of the Sonata's success is because of positive reviews by the press.

Last year, 225,961 Sonatas were sold, a record for the nameplate. But what about this year? Sales opportunities could start slipping away.

Why? Simply, the hot-selling Sonata may suddenly look "old" once buyers see the fresh, new, redesigned Accord, Altima, Malibu and Fusion.

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