DETROIT: It was showtime again in the Motor City, but not as glaring, full-blown and bustling as before.
A heavy snow on the eve of the opening day added to the chilly atmosphere at the North American International Auto Show. The annual event heads the list of international auto shows for 2009, which is shaping up as possibly the most difficult year in the history of the now-reeling industry.
"The empty, desolate and cold exhibition hall with infrequent visitor traffic far beat my expectation," said Lara Zhang, a sales assistant from China's BYD Auto Sales Co Ltd who visited the Detroit auto show for the first time.
"Just imagine that I can only spend no more than one hour to pay a visit to nearly all the major booths in such an international auto show in Motown, compared to the two days of hurried general view to Beijing or Shanghai auto show," she said.
As the industry emerges from the worst US sales year since 1992, many major automakers chose to save their dwindling funds instead of paying the high costs of participating in the Detroit show.
Nissan, Suzuki Motor, Ferrari SpA, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Porsche have pulled out of the annual gathering, leading to the most subdued Detroit show in decades.
The show also lost its fascination to Chinese automakers as only two companies, BYD Auto and Brilliance Auto, exhibited their vehicles and green technologies in two relatively small but adjoining stand spaces next to General Motors, down from five participants from China in 2008's show.
"We got the invitation from the show organizer one and a half months before the opening to lay out our hybrid and electric cars in the main exhibition floor in Cobo Center from the previous hallway underground, thanks to Japanese automakers and European luxury and sports cars' skipping," said Li Zhuhang, general manager of auto export trade division with BYD Auto.
However, Li told China Daily that with the same area but poles-apart positioning, BYD's outlay for the booth was no greater than in 2008, highlighting the depreciation of the exhibition rental fee.
He Guohua, vice-president of Shenyang-based Brilliance Auto, who travels around the world to visit the major international auto shows every year, admitted that the first show after the industry collapse of 2008 was "obviously gloomy and bleak".
However, the Detroit-based US Big Three on the edge of bankruptcy were still trying to affect a festive atmosphere for the once-thriving show in their headquarters, now battered by rising unemployment.
General Motors dreamed up a pep rally with more than 600 cheering employees and supporters at its stand, jubilant over a fleet of 17 new models, and stressing its upcoming Chevrolet Volt plug-in and a 40-mile-per-gallon minicar.
"The financial crisis caused by the credit crunch really hit the city a lot, but will not destroy our hometown," said Brandy Lincoln, a staff member with the Detroit travel information center.
"Economy always emerges as a circle. Now the backbone industry has reached the bottom; however, we, the citizens in Detroit, hope that it will recover soon by the efforts the Big Three are actively taking."