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The first major auto show of the season is technically the Los Angeles show in November, but the most significant show in North America is the one held in Detroit every January. In recent years, the LA show has been the place to show off “green” vehicles, but the North American International Auto Show is a barometer for the larger automotive industry, often hinting at future trends months before they arrive at other venues.
The 2012 show was no exception. BMW showed the new 3-series — including its first-ever hybrid 3 — for the first time, and Audi revealed its new compact SUV in the form of the Q3 Vail concept. The new Merc SL also made its first public appearance, as did Bentleys’ new V8 Continental range. The Volkswagen stage was abuzz with concepts that would have been more at home at the LA show, such as the electric E-Bugster Beetle roadster concept and the production-ready 2013 Jetta hybrid. Neighboring family member Porsche took the roof off its new 911, but held off on announcing the new Boxster until a couple days after the show.
D-town is of course home to the domestic automotive market, and many high-end manufacturers don’t actually sell very well in southeast Michigan. As a result some of the premium makers no longer attend the show, including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and even Land Rover. The last one was particularly surprising, since the new Range Rover Evoque walked away with virtually every truck/SUV-of-the-year award that exists.
So maybe Detroit isn’t the show for fans of European machinery, but this year’s event proved that the domestics are getting their acts together and making quality design and premium features much greater priorities than in the past. Ford’s new Fusion was a universal favorite, and the Dodge Dart — based on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta — was overwhelmingly received as well. Chevy showed a particularly BMW 1-series-esque concept called the Code130R. Acura’s new NS-X concept was also the talk of the floor.
More important than the machinery on display was the overall feeling that the industry is on solid ground once again. Many manufacturers posted record sales in 2011 and are hoping to carry that momentum forward. In all, 2012 is looking to be a good year for the automobile.