There’s A Lot Riding on These Wheels: Three Cars That Can Make-or-Break the Auto Revival

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Technically, these cars aren’t new. None of them would be described as high-powered or sexy either. They all fall into the unexciting category of the family/commuter car. Still, Honda, Chevy, and Dodge are going to unusual lengths to try to make these run-of-the-mill cars become runaway successes.
Honda Accord
For well over a decade, the Accord was among the top two best-selling midsize sedans. The Toyota Camry usually outsold the Accord, but all things considered, second place isn’t that bad. Last year, though, the Nissan Altima supplanted the Accord at the No. 2 spot, and rankings from Edmunds, U.S. News, and others regularly placed cars from Ford, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Kia, and, of course, Toyota above the Accord in the midsize category. While Camry and Altima sales have taken off in recent months—each rising nearly 40% in March—Accord sales lagged, dropping 8% compared to last year.

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Obviously, Honda doesn’t want to lose more ground, which raises the stakes for the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord to be a hit with consumers. Per the vehicle’s web page:

The Accord has been one of the best-selling cars in America since its introduction 36 years ago. And it’s poised to continue this tradition when it hits the streets next fall.

Not all of the car’s specs have been released, though Honda is already claiming the Accord will have “class-leading fuel efficiency.” What we do know for sure is that the Accord is facing a particularly competitive field. Speaking to USA Today, Honda spokesperson Chris Martin says:

Slow sales this year are “absolutely a concern, but you have to look at the competitive marketplace.” He notes that Camry just had a full model change, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima had full changes in 2011 and “the (Volkswagen) Passat entered the marketplace as an actual, credible contender. So if you look five years ago, a lot of these people weren’t playing seriously.”

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Chevrolet Malibu
Another car being redesigned, the 2013 Chevy Malibu has prominently been shaped by the kinds of people who are most likely to be behind the wheel of such a vehicle: moms. More than half of the cars sold in the U.S. are purchased by women, and women participate in 80% of the decisions to buy family cars. So, naturally, Chevy has made an extra effort to appeal to the pocketbooks of this enormously powerful demographic with the new Malibu. The automaker tells the Detroit News that a group of engineers that’s been key for developing the 2013 Malibu is a foursome of women—all moms. One, Suzanne “Suzy” Cody, seems like a hip, edgy character pulled from a reality TV show:

Cody, who sports blue hair and in her spare time laces up roller skates to compete as “Shovey Camaro” with the Bath City Roller Girls, led efforts to make the car more slippery through the wind, which helped gain 2.5 mpg in highway driving over the Malibu’s predecessor.

She’s also an aerodynamics development engineer, and a single mom raising two boys, ages 5 and 7.

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The Eco version of the Malibu, which gets 37 mpg on the highway, is already on sale, priced from $25,995.

Dodge Dart
The last time a Dodge Dart was produced for the U.S. market was 1976. The 2013 Dart, though, will have more in common with an Alfa Romeo than its American-made predecessor. The new Dart comes with an economy pricetage—starting under $16,000—but it is nonetheless the “biggest new undertaking yet” for Chrysler-Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne, according to Fortune, and here’s why:

The sprightly little Dart has cost a lot to bring to market. The architecture used in Fiat’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta, on which it is based, cost at least a couple hundred million dollars to develop. Chrysler spent a few more hundred million to stretch the mechanical underpinnings to accommodate the corporal largesse of American drivers and to develop the Dart’s design, inside and out.

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Vast amounts of money have been spent, and there are implications well beyond the American market. Most of the Dart’s new engineering is being shared with the Fiat Viaggio, which will be sold in China.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.