VW scandal overshadows exuberant Detroit auto show

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VW chief apologizes over emissions scandal on first US trip

Detroit (AFP) - The Volkswagen pollution-cheating scandal overshadowed an otherwise exuberant mood as the Detroit auto show opened Monday amid record US sales.

The Honda Civic and the Volvo XC 90 the North American car and truck of the year to kick off the annual exhibition, as Car and Driver contributing editor Tony Swan declared: "There aren't any bad cars anymore."

More than 40 new vehicles will vie for the attention of more than 5,000 journalists from around the world during official press previews at the North American International Auto Show Monday and Tuesday.

The mood in Detroit is upbeat, following a record 2015 for sales that has created an everybody-wins dynamic among automakers.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the show next week, a trip which would serve to remind how his administration helped rescue the industry from a devastating collapse during the economic crisis in 2009.

"Today, the American auto industry is back," he said in a radio address on Saturday.

"I believe that every American should be proud of what our most iconic industry has done."

But not everyone in Detroit was in a celebratory mood.

German automaker Volkswagen continues to reel from an emissions-cheating scandal.

In his first official US visit since the scandal broke in September, newly-tapped chief executive Matthias Mueller apologized and insisted the German auto giant is "fully committed to making things right."

"We know that we have let down customers, authorities, regulators and the general public here in America," the head of the German carmaker said at a media reception Sunday night.

"We are -- I am -- truly sorry for that and I would like to apologize once again for what went wrong at Volkswagen," he added, stressing that "our most important task in 2016 is to win back trust."

The Wolfsburg-based group admitted to installing software in around 11 million diesel cars of its VW, Audi, SEAT and Skoda brands worldwide that helped them evade emissions standards.

The so-called defeat devices turn on pollution controls when the cars are undergoing testing, and off when they are back on the road, allowing them to spew out harmful levels of nitrogen oxide.

On Monday, the head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry said they will continue to promote diesel cars in the United States.

"Despite the resistance we are naturally experiencing here in the US, the German automotive industry will stand by its diesel strategy," said Matthias Wissmann.

"We stand firmly behind diesel vehicles," Wissmann said.

Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche took a not-so-subtle dig at his rival VW Sunday night.

He told reporters at a lavish party unveiling the new Mercedes E-Class luxury sedan that in contrast to "some German automakers", Santa Claus "left a lot of candy in our stockings" in 2015.

"It's obvious that the last year was not very nice for everybody and for some time the entire industry was affected by that," he later told AFP.

"But there's clear differentiation and we feel full confidence with our customer base and our stakeholders again."

- New Chrysler minivan -

On Monday, Fiat Chrysler unveiled the 2017 Pacifica minivan, a revamped version of its once-mighty Town & Country line that it vowed would "reinvent" the segment and is loaded with the latest technology, safety features and enough space for five car seats. A hybrid version gets up to 80 miles per gallon.

General Motors also got an early start to the day, revealing a zippy new Chevy Cruze hatchback and touting its electric Chevy Bolt, introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

The largest US automaker tried to steal the spotlight late Sunday revealing a new concept sports car, the Buick Avista, and a luxury sport utility vehicle, the Buick Envision.

The Envision will be the first vehicle a major automaker has imported from China when it hits US showrooms later this year.

"We're very excited about the entire Buick lineup," GM chief Mary Barra said.

The luxury market will be crowded, with an all-new Porsche 911 Turbo set to debut alongside Volvo's new S90 premium sedan, Ford's much-anticipated updated Lincoln Continental and fresh models from BMW and Infiniti.

Korea's Hyundai is hoping to replicate the success of Japanese rivals Toyota, Honda and Nissan by introducing a separate luxury brand, Genesis.

There will also be plenty of more muscular vehicles, with Honda and Nissan set to reveal new pickup trucks.