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All-new Hyundai Accent debuts Add to ...

The Montreal Auto Show hosted the surprising North American debut last week of the upcoming all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent, and it looks like Hyundai will deliver another winner when it arrives in the spring.

The 2012 Accent continues the attractive "fluidic sculpture" theme that has drawn widespread praise on the redesigned 2011 Sonata mid-size sedan and all-new 2011 Elantra compact that went on sale in December, a flurry of redesigns that will give the South Korean auto maker one of the freshest product lineups in the business.

Instead of the current sedan and homely three-door hatchback of the current-generation Accent, Hyundai will offer five-door hatchback and four-door sedan versions, just like its Ford Fiesta and Nissan Versa rivals.

Queue jumpers, lane blockers, gas pump dawdlers, parking lot prima donnas and stop-sign Samaritans: it's enough to make you road weary

The upcoming Accent boasts a six-speed automatic transmission and the most power in its class from a new 1.6-litre, direct-injection four. Its 138-hp rating may sound more like an offering among Civic-sized vehicles rather than the class below it, but Hyundai is also promising segment-leading fuel economy from the little powerhouse, at an average of 6.4 L/100 km city and an eye-popping 4.7 on the highway, though these are preliminary estimated fuel economy numbers.

The Accent made big news a couple years ago by being the only new vehicle available then for less than 10 grand, its $9,995 price coming from a combination of incentives, mostly on the base - make that very base - stripper three-door hatchback. But the Accent also made a notable product splash around the same time for being the first subcompact car to offer heated seats, just like the latest Elantra is the first one to offer heated perches in its class for passengers in the rear seat as well. No such surprise niceties inside for the Accent this time around, although it does offer a full raft of standard safety equipment that includes six airbags, advanced electronic stability control, ABS and whiplash-protecting head restraints.

Hyundai hasn't revealed official pricing, but says prices won't rise over 2011 prices, which start at $15,094 for the base L hatchback with a stick, once you include the considerable $1,495 destination charge. And really, since car makers set it and dealers charge it to everyone, there's no good reason not to include it, just an unstated custom that allows lower prices to be advertised while still providing some profit - or at least more potential haggling room - for the dealer. Look for Hyundai to announce new Accent prices close to the current $13,599 and $14,299 starting MSRPs for the hatch and sedan versions, respectively, perhaps when they arrive at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto in mid-February.

Ford of Canada seeks better car-truck balance

Ford of Canada president David Mondragon is pushing hard to increase the company's small-car sales in 2011, and sell fewer but less incentivized trucks, hoping to achieve more of a balance between car and truck sales. This is a stark contrast to Ford's North American strategy - or at least sales results - for the past 20 years or so, where the product focus and bulk of the profits at Ford were made in trucks.

"We bet the ranch on small and fuel-efficient vehicles," Mondragon said in an interview at the Detroit auto show last week.

Ford's Canadian sales were up by double digits for both cars and trucks in 2010, allowing it to wrench the best-selling company in the country title away from long-time holder GM. Sales of cars were down 9 per cent in 2010, but truck sales were up by 8.4 per cent, helping lift the overall market by 6.6 per cent overall, thanks in large part to sky-high discounts on pickup trucks by all three Detroit-based companies.

Ford of Canada's success has also meant it now represents a larger portion of North American sales, approximately 15 per cent of the continent's sales, compared to its traditional level closer to 10 or 11 per cent, Mondragon said.

GM's Canadian workers are praised

GM's global head of engineering said Canadian employees deserve kudos for the high quality and flexibility coming out of its factories, with some of the lowest warranty claims rates of any of GM's plants around the world.

"Canada has done a fabulous manufacturing job," said Jamie Hresko, global vice-president of engineering and former head of manufacturing, in an interview at the Detroit auto show.

He was particularly impressed with the flexibility shown in increasing the production numbers of the hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain quickly, first at its Ingersoll, Ont. plant, then when additional production shifted to Oshawa in the fall of 2010. All at the same time as Oshawa was also instituting the new Buick Regal production for North America, as well as the new Camaro convertible, which will officially go on sale in February.

SLK looks are toned down

An available folding hardtop roof that can go from clear to sun-suppressing dark black at the touch of a button will highlight Mercedes-Benz's all-new SLK roadster, details of which Benz released just days after the firm surreptitiously showed off its revised C-Class at various spots in Detroit last week.

Both vehicles are slated to receive their auto show debuts at the Geneva auto show in early March, though the SLK will make its public debut at the upcoming 125th birthday party for the first automobile Mercedes is planning to throw at its grandiose museum in Stuttgart at the end of January.

The two-seat SLK's looks become a touch more toned down in this third generation, its nose dropping the heavy F1 cues and taking a more baby SLS approach. The rear-wheel-drive drop-top that helped fuel the tin-top craze will also receive a new Airguide wind deflection system that puts clear plastic wind blockers behind the roll bars, and can be adjusted to various angles to help block whatever wind is not absorbed by the firm's splendid AirScarf neck-height vents.

The C-Class receives an extensive refresh for 2012, which Benz folks showed off in a back room at Cobo Hall, just off the Detroit show floor, and at a reception at a hotel nearby the prior evening.

Changes include new LED lights in a C-shape up front, a totally new dash that offers a nice flat bottom steering wheel, and 10 new safety systems filtered down from higher-end E and S-Class models, though some of those systems may not yet be available in North America (ie., speed limit sign recognition).

Hopefully Benz's decision to bring out the good-looking C-Class wagon is also a sign that it may yet become part of the North American C-Class family, although a Mercedes-Benz Canada official said only the sedan is confirmed to arrive this fall. But they're always looking at other options, as they always say.

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