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[DETROIT] Luxury and performance vehicles look set to steal the headlines at the first major international auto show of the year in Detroit, further proof the industry is back to its boisterous best after near-collapse.
The world's top vehicle manufacturers were Sunday putting their finishing touches to their extravagant display stands and there was no mistaking the prevailing sense of optimism and anticipation.
The US auto industry last year clocked up its best year in sales in nearly a decade and, with the low cost of gas and low interest rates, has created what analysts are calling a near-perfect storm.
With host Detroit now on the long road to recovery after the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history, experts are expecting the North American International Auto Show to let its hair down.
More than 40 new car and truck models are forecast to go on display from Monday, when the show opens its doors to the media.
All the talk points to the luxury sector as being the one to watch this year.
"I'm convinced the US economy and auto market are on the same upward trajectory as the city of Detroit," Mercedes-Benz chief Dieter Zetsche said Sunday, presenting the new GLE Coupe - a hefty combination of power and luxe - at an upscale downtown hotel.
Much of the pre-show buzz has surrounded a new incarnation of Honda's legendary Acura NSX supercar and Ford was expected to roll out one of its own in the shape of an eagerly awaited new GT.
"The NSX is going to be beautiful. This is what you go into journalism for," said Scott Burgess, Detroit editor at Motor Trend.
"You could almost have a motor show just for the NSX." Ford's refusal to give any information away has served only to whet appetites and increase speculation.
"Ford has been the quietest in not telling us what they have," he said.
Not to be outdone, Cadillac will show off its most powerful product in the brand's 112-year history, the new 640 horsepower CTS-V. And then there will be Lexus with it GS F performance sedan.
"It's a very exciting time to be a luxury brand in the US. Luxury cars are making inroads into the mass market," said Ravi Shanker, executive director and lead auto analyst at Morgan Stanley.
Brian Bolain, corporate marketing manager, Lexus division, told the same Society of Automotive Analysts conference Sunday: "Luxury is about the brand, always has been, and will continue to be so." But while the overall mood in Detroit is overwhelmingly more positive than in recent memory, it is not all good news.
The European market "continues to bomb," said Mr Shanker, while emerging markets in Brazil and Russia "are struggling a bit." And while the low price of gasoline is drawing buyers back to gas-guzzling performance vehicles, there is a downside to that too, said Shanker.
"It's good because there are more dollars in consumers' pockets," he said.
"But then it's bad because lots of the US economy depends on the gas and oil industry." And then there is the sensitive issue of recalls - a record 60 million vehicles in the US last year, with GM in particular in the spotlight over an ignition problem linked to dozens of deaths.
But amid all the gleam and muscle on display, no one was talking about recalls as the show poised to open.