A return to glory for Detroit Motor Show

As a city, Detroit resembles a badly punched face, or a post apocalyptic movie set. It's so different from the sunny success fest of LA and the tower of power that is New York that you'd swear it was in a different country altogether.

This was my first visit and hardened colleagues told me this was a shame because it used to be fun and Hollywood-tastic. Chrysler used to hire the fire station across the road from Cobo Hall and turn it into a bar, where its top execs would pour the beers and chat with you about how gosh darn great things were.

Cars were unveiled with pizazz - a pick up truck was once driven through the glass doors of the convention centre, others leapt out of waterfalls and dropped from roofs.

But a few years back Detroit, the Motor City, was hit with the economic equivalent of an atom bomb - the GFC. Its population has since halved. Empty, burnt out and broke windowed houses and office buildings are everywhere. You can buy a five bedroom mansion here for $500. But no one wants to.

The past few motor shows have been grey, sombre and even sad events, but this year marked, if not a return to the good ol' days, at least the turning of a corner.

GM was not only bullish about its fantastically stunning new Corvette Stingray - the star of the show, launched in one of the city's many empty warehouses with plenty of rockin guitar and smoke. The thousands-strong crowd welcomed it with actual whooping and hollering, with one elated woman shouting "Yeah baby! Come on! Take that! Hell yeah!"

Perhaps more significant were the numbers. Chevy had its best sales ever in 2012, selling a staggering 5 million cars and trucks in 140 countries, with more than 60 per cent sold outside the US. A new Chevy is now sold every 6.4 seconds.

This has got to be good news for the US people, who lent them the money to stay afloat. And for Detroit.

Chrysler was similarly bullish while Ford - off the back of its best ever sales in North America - hired out an ice hockey stadium to show off... a pickup truck concept. Americans are buying trucks again, apparently, and to hell with the environment.

Everyone seemed to have records to extol. Mercedes-Benz launched the CLA and a refreshed E Class range, with Bruce Hornsby tinkling the ivories and the lovely Dianne Kruger plugging their hybrids on stage. Benz sold 1.42m in the US last year, its best year ever.

It also promised a move to more autonomous driving. Technical issues no longer stand in the way of self driving cars, they say, only legal ones. Their cars can now do the boring bits of driving, peak hour traffic for example, "leaving you fresh to do the driving you want to do".

Global powerhouse VW had its best year in the US since 1973 and unveiled a guilt free SUV for Americans, the Cross Blue concept, a diesel hybrid six seater capable of a staggering 89mpg.

BMW leads the premium segment in the States and it, too, recorded best ever figures in 2012, powered by the 3 Series, which makes up half of all the BMWs in the US. It launched the M6 Gran Coupe, an even lumpier version of a Miami drug dealer's chariot, and the 4 Series Coupe Concept, which looks not only fantastic and sleek, but mean. The M4 should look brutal.

Trucks might be king in America, but the best selling actual car, for the past 11 years in a row, is the Toyota Camry. Sure enough, Toyota had a boom year as well, selling 2m cars locally for the first time since the GFC, out of a total market of 14.5m - the highest since 2007.

The Corolla concept Furia, unveiled on Toyota's massive stand is what we all wish they'd do with the world's biggest selling car, but we all know they won't.

Japanese rival Nissan sold over 1m cars in the US for the first time in 2012 and unveiled the Resonance, a disturbing glimpse at what the next Murano might look like. Hopefully the gold wheels won't make it.

Lexus's new IS made one of the splashes of the show, but opinion is divided over whether its spindle grilled nose is super sexy or simply awful. In the flesh it looks like a lot of plastic, perhaps an appropriate face for American customers. And it does have the awesome switchable digital dials on its dash, just like the LFA.

The two biggest stars for me, though, were at the Tesla stand, where they not only unveiled the Model X, but spoke with great enthusiasm about the future being a place you'd actually want to live, and drive - and the Hyundai concept car.

The HCD 14 (the CD stands for Californian design) is yet another love it or hate it concept in terms of exterior design, with a nose that looks like a futuristic block of flats and a lot of Audi A7 going on elsewhere. Apparently it gives hints of the coupe/sedan look the next Genesis will have, something that should be of interest to Australians now that the big rear-wheel-drive sports car is finally coming down under.

The cool stuff about this car was all on the inside, though. The designers wanted to reduce dash clutter and come up with a method of interaction based on human communication, using your eyes and your hands, as well as your voice.

The HCD 14 features eye-tracking technology, which allows you to open various functions just by looking at them on the heads-up display. The menus can then be scrolled through and selected by waving your hands in the air. Italians will love it.

"We're using cameras that can read your eye movements and even fine finger movements, you can turn up the volume just by making a rotating movement in the air with your hands," says John Krsteski, one of the car's designers.

"We think it improves safety, giving you more time to focus on the road. Fewer touch points also means a cleaner interior."

The technology is "production feasible" and, after watching it at work, we can tell you it's pretty damn impressive too. Don't expect to see it in cars for at least five years, though.

The Hyundai represented the Detroit Show this year, a bit exciting, forward looking and yet, in a way, entirely bonkers. God love America.

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