Detroit auto show to open with hopes of brighter 2010

Detroit, Jan 11 - North America's biggest annual auto show was to get underway later Monday as the beleaguered US car industry hopes to gain some momentum for 2010 with an emphasis on smaller, greener vehicles.

General Motors (GM) and Ford, as well as foreign rivals Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and others were set to unveil new 2010 models and concept cars on the first of a two-day press preview of the North American International Auto Show.

More than 5,000 journalists were expected to attend and about 700 models will be on display at the Detroit show. Global carmakers are hoping they can tempt US consumers back into the market after a deep, two-year economic recession that brought the industry to its knees.

Like last year, much of the extravagance that once made the Detroit show famous will be scaled back, in recognition of the still-sputtering US economy. The worst recession in generations pushed US car sales down more than 20 percent in 2009 to about 10 million. Sales averaged about 16 million vehicles for the rest of the decade.

The "Detroit Three" of GM, Chrysler and Ford insist they have learned the lessons of the past. All three will be touting smaller cars more in keeping with the lean economic times.

Toyota, the world's largest carmaker, is also hoping for a rebound in 2010 after posting its first annual loss in history in 2008 and suffering a similar fate in 2009. The company that has cornered the hybrid market with its Prius will launch a new hybrid concept car at the Detroit show.

In keeping with the greener theme, electric cars will also be given a special place at this year's auto show, with an "Electric Avenue" being created to showcase the alternative energy vehicles.

GM and Chrysler are hoping to emerge from under the cloud of bankruptcies in 2009 that have left them heavily indebted to the US government.

GM brand Chevrolet will unveil a new version of its Aveo and a new compact model known as Spark. Chrysler will merge its exhibit with its new owner, Italian maker Fiat, which will also be highlighting smaller models like the Fiat 500 that could one day reach the US.

Ford, the only major US carmaker not forced into bankruptcy, will highlight its popular European model Fiesta, which will go on sale in the US over the summer. It will also release a new global version of its popular Focus Monday. (dpa)