2009 Detroit Auto Show: Looking ahead

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The Detroit Auto Show, aka the North American International Auto Show, was the first big international auto exposition held after it became apparent the U.S. recession would be serious and prolonged, after General Motors Corp. received federal bailout money and before Chrysler filed bankruptcy.

But hope springs eternal, even in today’s auto industry. By definition auto shows feature new models that aren’t on the road yet, with new looks and promising new technologies.

Here’s a slideshow look at 10 new models that debuted at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, demonstrating that even in a downturn, automakers are still working on models and technologies they hope will become the next big thing.

10 top debuts at Detroit auto show

A few new, sporty models like a new-generation BMW Z4 Roadster pierced the gloomy atmosphere at the Detroit show in January 2009. Nearly every car company also featured “green,” gas-saving models, like the Cadillac Converj concept car. The Cadillac Converj shows that GM expects a growing demand for luxury-brand hybrid cars.

Another sign of a potentially powerful new beginning was the presence of Chinese automakers at the Detroit show, such as BYD Auto and Brilliance Auto. BYD, incidentally, stands for Build Your Dreams.

Chinese car companies made appearances at earlier Detroit shows, but never before with sizable displays on the main show floor. This year, other car companies stayed away, and that created room for the Chinese companies.

Detroit was the first big auto show in a generation where one of the six top-selling brands in the U.S. market, Nissan, decided to opt out. Nissan skipped Detroit to save money and because its most important new models, the Nissan Cube and the 350Z, had already been shown at the earlier Los Angeles Auto Show. Several smaller-volume import brands, like Land Rover, Mitsubishi and Suzuki also skipped Detroit.

Some major companies, like Chrysler, settled for a relatively no-frills display. For instance, Chrysler left off an expensive, computer-controlled fountain that was a fixture at the Jeep display. The fountain squirted a curtain of water that could be made into shapes and also words, like “Jeep” and “Wrangler.” This year’s Chrysler display looked like a carpeted version of a dealer lot.