Recent trips to Detroit to preview the 1963 cars brought out some good news for fleet users.

Talks with auto engineers, division general managers and company presidents plus a turn at the wheel of the new cars leaves no doubt that the industry has shelved - at least temporarily - the trend toward flashy styling, planned obsolescence and the gimmick. Functionalism and quality are the new kings in Detroit. Long live the king!

While the new cars do not feature many startling engineering innovations, the feeling is still evident that the industry is on the verge of many major engineering breakthroughs. They could come next year ... or the next. Even the most severe critics of "Detroit iron" are now silent. What was once outspoken criticism of the industry's engineering and styling is now barely a whisper. Public acceptance of Detroit cars - witness the demise of most import makes - is at an all time high and warranties and guarantees on the new cars have never been better. As one observer recently said, "the manufacturer no longer defends his product, he guarantees it."

Typical of this new effort by the industry is the action of Chrysler Corp. in extending the warranty period on major power train components to five years or 50,000 miles. While many cynics will undoubtedly regard the new Chrysler warranty as simply a sales gimmck, it is actually much more than that. For the first time, a major manufacturer is assuming responsibility for major components for more than half the normal life of the car - and for more than one owner. The periodic checks that Chrysler insists upon shouldn't be considered out of line - they are actually part of normal good car care.

At this writing, the rest of the auto industry has adopted a "wait and see attitude" toward the Chrysler extended warranty. The stock answer of auto executives when asked to comment on the Chrysler 5 and 50 program is "we are studying it." You can be sure that if Chrysler meets with sales success this fall, the rest of the industry will fall in line. In the highly competitive auto industry no one company can have exclusive rights on any sales advantage.

The question is will the Chrysler warranty actually sell cars? Ford Motor Co. thought it had a great sales advantage a year ago when it introduced several service-free items. However, Ford's share of the market has declined this year.

Whether or not the Chrysler program sells cars, it is a good move for fleet owners. For the first time, a manufacturer has admitted a responsibility for "workability" beyond the normal warranty period.

Lee A. Iacocca, the youthful general manager of the Ford division, is another auto executive who feels that automakers have a moral obligation beyond the normal warranty period. Iacocca said at Ford's press preview that a manufacturer has a responsibility if the paint chips or upholstery tears shortly after the warranty period expires. To this end, Iacocca said, Ford is putting its money where it counts - on functional improvements that guarantee long life.

"Some of these improvements are not noticeable, but I can assure you that they are there," Iacocca told AUTOMOTIVE FLEET.