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