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Detroit Auto Show: Automakers Flex Their Muscle

Still under wraps, but not for long. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens this week amid an industry reveling in robust sales.

Still under wraps, but not for long. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens this week amid an industry reveling in robust sales. Paul Sancya / AP

Like a parade at the Kremlin, 2015’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit is going to be all about showing off hardware after a year of booming sales, falling gas prices and rising consumer confidence.

As many as 45 all-new cars, trucks and crossovers are scheduled to make their debut in the Motor City at the show which runs from Jan. 12 to the 25. The show opens to the public on Jan. 17 and will parade everything from plug-in hybrids to supercars – and even a hybrid supercar, the reborn Acura NSX that is one of the most eagerly awaited debuts on next week’s schedule.

The broad mix of new products will draw at least 5,000 journalists to the Detroit Auto Show’s 2-day media preview on Jan. 12 to 13. Show organizers, meanwhile, hope to see public attendance reach its highest levels since the start of the Great Recession. They’ve already gotten $5 million in preliminary ticket orders for the black tie charity gala that officially opens the show next Friday.

The show comes not only amid rising sales but also as fuel prices have plunged to their lowest levels in years. And that’s reflected in the list of new products making their debut, which includes a number of high-performance vehicles and trucks.

Why gas might get a lot cheaper 1:11

Japanese pickups

Where Ford delivered the big news in pickups a year ago, however, it’s the Japanese who hope to dominate that segment at the 2015 NAIAS.

After a series of delays, Nissan will finally roll out a replacement for its slow-selling Titan pickup truck this week. The full-size model will face off against the domestic models – such as Ford’s newly redesigned F-150 – that dominate the market. Nissan is expected to deliver a bigger, more capable Titan offering a new stump-pulling diesel engine that could find a niche in the resurgent pickup segment.

Toyota, meanwhile, will weigh in with its next-generation midsize Tacoma pickup, hoping to maintain its sales leadership as it comes under assault from two new offerings from General Motors.

Toyota is also promising to unveil two new high-performance models for its Lexus luxury division, including a 467-horsepower version of its mid-range GS model. Sports cars and other high performance vehicles will abound in the city that invented the muscle car. But many of them will carry Japanese and European badges, including the C450 AMG Sport part of an “affordable” new line of high-performance models from Mercedes-Benz.

Chevy Suburban Turns 80 2:00

Chevy Volt

At the other extreme, Chevrolet will plug into the 2015 Detroit Auto Show with an all-new version of the Chevrolet Volt. The first mass-market plug-in hybrid is expected to deliver more electric range, higher fuel economy in gas mode, and offer a roomier, more upscale interior.

While the plunge in fuel prices has hit the “green” segment of the U.S. market hard, manufacturers aren’t walking away from high-mileage and alternate fuel technologies. At a pre-show media briefing, General Motors CEO Mary Barra stressed Thursday that her company “remains committed” to adding more vehicles like the Volt to its line-up – even if it is “responding to customer demand” by boosting truck production.

Honda will bring the final production version of its hydrogen-powered FCV sedan to Detroit’s Cobo Hall. And Hyundai will have two high-mileage versions of its midsize Sonata sedan, an updated hybrid and the company’s first plug-in hybrid.

One of the most intriguing introductions set for Detroit, however, is the 2016 Acura NSX. The original model, launched in 1990, showed that the Japanese could challenge even the most exotic European brands. The new 2-seater could again redefine the performance car. The NSX will pair a turbocharged V-6 with a three-motor hybrid system that is expected to yield Ferrari-like performance, and Toyota Prius fuel economy.

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