Global carmakers steer a path for the motor city as US housing revival gives trucks a lift, writes Richard Blackden.
Detroit recognises that timing is everything. The city is not going to win a glamour contest against New York or Los Angeles, which host America's two other major car shows.
Paris, Geneva and Shanghai, whose shows are also marked in the calendar of every senior car executive, are cities with more attractions.
Detroit, though, has the advantage of inviting the global car industry to visit in January. It is the month of the year in which the industry, like any other, is working out what the next 12 months holds.
Amid the blitz of confident forecasts and predictions, there is the frisson of both excitement and fear that comes from the fact that people don't really know.
Wall Street analysts make the trip because carmakers offer their best guesses at what sales will look like. The show, though, is not principally about numbers and spreadsheets.
That is certainly not why the general public will stream into the Cabo Center in downtown Detroit over the next five days.
"It is still the most important show from a product standpoint," says Peter Nesvold, an analyst who covers the industry for Jefferies.
Here are four of the subjects that will be dominating the conversation in Detroit this week.
THE TRUCK IS BACK
The US truck market was hit particularly hard when the recession ripped through the car industry in late 2008.
Collapsing house prices meant that contractors such as plumbers and electricians, which account for about a third of buyers, vanished. Its peak in 2005 saw the truck market generate almost 15pc of new vehicle sales in America.
With growing evidence that US house prices are now climbing off the bottom, truck sales are expected to recover with them and the broader construction industry.
"The show will all be about pick-up trucks this year," said Mr Nesvold.
It is why GM , whose headquarters tower over downtown Detroit, will be launching new versions of its GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado at the show.
As the Cobo Center prepares to open its doors to the press today (Monday), the buzz is that Ford is plotting to overshadow its arch rival by revealing a concept version - a future design that is not expected to reach dealers for a couple of years - of the F-150. It has been the best-selling pick-up truck in the US for the last three decades.
The profile trucks will enjoy this year is an early sign that the benefits of a recovering housing market should ripple out across the wider US economy this year.
If trucks will bring some cheer to the conversations in Detroit, Europe will do the opposite.
With rare exceptions such as Germany, the continent has proved the central headache for most carmakers over the last two years.
"There will still be a lot of pessimism," says Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Edmunds, a firm that analyses the industry. "People fear Europe will be worst this year."
The majority of predictions have pencilled in another decline, with leading forecaster LMC Automotive expecting a 1.7pc decline in sales in the region.
Sergio Marchionne, the charismatic chief executive of Chrysler (Xetra: 710000 - news) and Fiat (Milan: F.MI - news) , has been urging European carmakers to co-ordinate cuts in capacity to return operations to profitability.
The Italian-Canadian will likely use the show to renew his call that the European Union take the lead in co-ordinating cuts across countries. It is not only the European carmakers who have been punished by the region's weak economy.
Ford has cut jobs, including in the UK , while GM has announced plans to close a plant in the German town of Bochum.
The plans have, at least for now, eased the concern of investors. "Given they (GM and Ford) were able to dig out of a really deep hole in the US, investors will give them the benefit of the doubt," on Europe, says Nesvold.
All those gathering at Detroit, though, will know that the outlook for Europe's industry and its workforce is far from certain.
US FINDS HIGHER GEAR
President Barack Obama took every opportunity he could to point to industry's rebound as evidence of successful economic policymaking during his first term.
Almost four year's on from the government's $50bn bail-out of GM, the mood remains upbeat. US vehicle sales, which includes trucks, are expected to top 15m in 2013 for the first time since the financial crisis.
If the forecast proves accurate, Nesvold says it would be "extraordinary given where we were a few years ago."
An improving housing market and a declining unemployment rate are two clear tailwinds for an industry. However, there is also a recognition that risks remain, with the looming stand-off over America's $16.4trillion debt ceiling being the biggest.
"Fiscal policy is the number one threat we have right now," says George Magliano, head of automotive research at IHS Global Insight.
For many carmakers, Detroit is not actually their first show of the year. Ford, Toyota, GM and plenty of others were all at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
They went because demand for delivering cars with wireless-based services -such as navigation and music - is growing.
Although the CD player is still standard in many cars, it's days are likely to be numbered. Last week, Ford and GM invited developers to begin work on applications that could connect a passenger's smartphone with a wireless-based system in a car.
We can expect to hear more over the next five days.