While the spotlight at this year's North American International Auto Show may be shining on an assortment of futuristic hybrids and battery cars,
the Detroit Three are putting their real bets down on a trio of relatively conventional sedans that could help determine the fate of Detroit's troubled manufacturers.
Between them, the 2010 Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300 and Buick LaCrosse could redefine the passenger car. But they could also blur the line between mainstream and luxury products, as each is equipped with the sort of advanced technology normally reserved for significantly more expensive products.
When the Taurus hits showrooms, mid-year, it might evoke a sense of deja vu, for when the original car bearing that name debuted, in 1986, it was arguably one of the most important cars for Ford since the legendary Model T.
The automaker was in a financial crisis as challenging as the one it faces today, and the failure of that first Taurus might have capsized the company, according to analyst Joe Phillipi, of Auto Trends Consulting.
The '86 was a major success, outselling even such vaunted imports as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. But over the coming years, Ford seemed to lose interest in its midsize mainstay, and by the beginning of this decade,
the bulk of production was earmarked for rental and corporate fleets. Ford finally pulled Taurus from production, then brought the nameplate back on a rebadged version of the unloved Five Hundred.
Now, the company hopes to match the excitement of the original, and with the 2010 sedan, "You wouldn't be stretching the point to call it a make-it-or-break-it car," all over again, said Phillipi.
Unlike the most recent car to bear the Taurus name, the new model is visually dynamic, and it's loaded with an assortment of high-tech features -- from radar-guided cruise control to an automatic parking system -- one might otherwise expect on high-line products like the lates BMW 7-Series.
"We came to the conclusion that being good wasn't good enough," explained Mark Fields, Ford's President of the Americas.