NT News - Motoring - - NEWS - By PAUL GOVER in DETROIT

HAT a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Or not. Mo­town is still shiny and new for 2010, putting on its best face for the North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show and high­light­ing the po­ten­tial for prof­its and sales im­prove­ment af­ter one of the worst years in the his­tory of the car busi­ness.

Ford and Gen­eral Motors are more global than ever be­fore, the Euro­pean flash brands have good look­ers with po­ten­tial for ex­cite­ment, green cars are still mak­ing the pace, and there is a peek at the po­ten­tial of the Chi­nese.

Only Chrysler, in a strange and con­fus­ing joint dis­play with its new part­ners from Fiat, seems com­pletely lost.

As I walk into Cobo Hall in down­town Detroit I am not sure what to ex­pect.

The record shows 2009 was a dis­as­ter for the Amer­i­can mo­tor in­dus­try in ev­ery way and some of the flashy draw­cards at any ma­jor show — Porsche, As­ton Martin, Rolls-Royce and oth­ers — have skipped Mo­town to con­cen­trate on busi­ness.

Last year’s Detroit show had a whiff of death, and not just for two of Amer­ica’s tra­di­tional Big Three.

Sales had tanked and most com­pa­nies had dif­fi­culty find­ing any­thing good to say.

The good news for 2010 is that the bad smell is

Wgone, blown away like like Pon­tiac and Saturn, and peo­ple are talk­ing again of good times up ahead. The op­ti­mism is re­flected in a wide range of cars, from the first truly global Ford Fo­cus to the chunky GMC Gran­ite con­cept, the Volk­swa­gen NCC that points to the new Jetta and the Mini Ur­ban Beach con­cept that will be­come a born-again Moke.

‘‘Fifty years from now, peo­ple will re­mem­ber 2009,’’ said Bob Lutz, the best known ex­ec­u­tive in Amer­i­can motoring.

He is talk­ing big and draws huge crowds when­ever he steps on to the cen­tre stage at Gen­eral Motors.

In typ­i­cal Lutz style he draws the Ja­panese car brands into talk of the down­turn, and dead­pans an ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion for any Amer­i­can.

‘‘I re­main dry-eyed,’’ Lutz said.

GM has sta­bilised and looks to be on the way back from its bank­ruptcy and Ford seems strong as I check the blue-oval stand, tak­ing a close look at the im­pres­sive Fo­cus and the Coy­ote V8 en­gine that will soon be in­stalled in the Fal­con.

Chrysler? Next ques­tions. There are far fewer con­cept cars at the Detroit show of 2010, but the ones that are rolled into the spot­light have some­thing im­por­tant to say.

And most are, in sharp con­trast to the dreamy days of the noughties and ear­lier, ac­tu­ally de­vel­oped from real-life pro­duc­tion cars and not just some de­sign fan­tasy.

The Fo­cus is ab­so­lutely real and comes as a sedan and hatch, the GM Aveo is the next Ba­rina with big w h e e l s and tuner body­work, the NCC is the up­com­ing Golf, and the Honda CR-Z is — well, ac­tu­ally the pro­duc­tion CRZ hy­brid.

But Detroit 2010 is still not what the show used to be and mean.

The best ex­am­ple is the GM dis­play, which has a lot more open space af­ter the loss of Pon­tiac and Saturn

ABOVE: Mind your head ... a Dodge pickup on the ceil­ing made an in­ter­est­ing side­light at the Detroit Mo­tor Show.

RIGHT: The Volk­swa­gen New Con­cept Coupe. The NCC looks like a lot of fun

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