The nation's most important auto show opens to the media Monday in Detroit, with 60 new models scheduled for unveiling in an extravaganza that carmakers hope will help fuel a nascent recovery from the worst downturn in car sales in almost three decades.
Also on the schedule for the two-day media preview is a visit Monday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other congressional leaders and Obama administration officials who helped engineer the government bailouts that kept General Motors and Chrysler from financial collapse last year as they entered and then emerged from bankruptcy.
The North American International Auto Show typically draws more than 5,000 media members to Detroit's huge Cobo Center. While it hasn't been the most highly attended by the public -- New York's show holds that distinction with more than a million visitors each year -- Detroit's show generates more news than any other U.S. car show, followed by the New York and Los Angeles shows.
"These are three significantly important venues for manufacturers to get their messages out," said president Mark Schienberg of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, who plans to visit the Detroit show. "No single show can do it but Detroit, being at the beginning of the new year and in the heart of the auto manufacturing world, is extremely important."
This year's Detroit show will open to the public Saturday. Organizers say more than 700 cars will be displayed.
Vehicles scheduled to be shown for the first time, or at least the first time in the United States -- range from hot performance models like the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and twin-turbocharged BMW Z4 sDrive35is to economy models like the redesigned Ford Focus -- the last not due in showrooms for about a year.
"Most car shoppers will focus on value and fuel economy as the economy continues to recover," Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at the auto information Web site Edmunds.com, said in a recent industry status report.
Despite the Cash for Clunkers program - and what appeared to be an improvement in consumer sentiment in December, automakers sold 21.2 percent fewer new cars and trucks in this country last year than in 2008, or about 10.4 million, the lowest total in 27 years, according to the Michigan-based auto information company R.L. Polk.
Polk forecasts a 10 percent increase this year.
Other small cars to be displayed are the Mazda 2, a four-door hatchback smaller than the company's 3 series, due in showrooms in the summer; the Chevrolet Cruze, the replacement due in showrooms later this year for the compact Cobalt; and the subcompact Ford Fiesta.
Debuting in Detroit is an experimental or "concept" Chevrolet Aveo RS, a thinly disguised preview of the next generation of the subcompact economy car. Chevrolet says the new model is roomier and more powerful than the current model and is due in U.S. showrooms sometime next year.
An array of green vehicles to be displayed include an experimental two-seat Honda hybrid, the CR-Z; an electric version of the Fiat 500, to be shown by Chrysler, now controlled by Italy's Fiat; and the Toyota FT-EV II, a hybrid about which little advance information has leaked; and experimental hybrid versions of BMW's 7-Series and 6-Series cars.With wire reports