Two of the most important cars on show at Detroit, the new US-made VW Passat and US-specific Hyundai Sonata will be hugely influential in Europe.
How so? The US Passat is VW's attempt to solve its biggest problem – the fact it sells comparatively few cars in the USA. Until it overcomes this, it can't reach the global No. 1 spot it craves. And the car company it most fears? Hyundai, whose Sonata the Passat will have to defeat. VW worries about Hyundai, because it Hyundai is a car company on the way up – Toyota it regards as being a company which has already peaked.
VW is making the new Passat very conservative – a classic three-box saloon for middle America. The Hyundai actually looks far more modern and stylish: no-one can accuse Hyundai of being copycats any more.
The result of this battle is going to influence the car industry for years. If the Passat wins, VW can become clear global No. 1 with a strong presence in every region of the globe. If the Sonata wins, VW overtaking Toyota will be a slightly hollow victory, as Hyundai comes up from behind.