After three long and tumultuous years, there's a far different feeling about the Detroit Auto Show, aka the North American International Auto Show. For 2012, you could say, the buzz has returned. For automakers and auto fans, it's long overdue.
At this year's show, there will be two primary stories: fuel efficiency, and whether several brands can roll out new models to turn around their fortunes.
Ask any auto executive and they'll tell you gas prices are going back up. Nobody's foolish enough to suggest a target price, but several have told me they are preparing for $4 a gallon gas to hit sometime later this year. As a result, we'll see the auto show spotlight shine on small cars, hybrids and more fuel-efficient engines.
Unlike a few years back when it seemed that virtually every automaker was trying to make a big splash with electric models, the focus now is on more practical hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
At the same time, from Honda to Lincoln to Cadillac, several brands will be touting new chapters with new models or concepts.
Lincoln will show its new MKZ, expected to be the first of several new models that will change the brand's fortunes. Lincoln needs it. In 2011, sales dropped while those of the overall industry rose 10 percent.
Honda is another brand hoping the Detroit Auto Show will convince the media and the broader public that the Japanese automaker hasn't lost its mojo. There will be plenty of skeptics scrutinizing Honda; the brand has seen declines in sales, and even executives inside Honda admit they've dropped the ball in the last couple years.
Cadillac also wants the show to usher in a new era for General Motors' luxury brand.
But whether you are a fan of the Big 3 or foreign brands, one thing about this year's Detroit show that everyone can enjoy is the new energy in Detroit. This is the premier auto show in the U.S., and when it's buzzing, so is the entire auto industry.