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“Of course you want to have the show in Detroit. There are so many things that Detroit needs — economically, they have lost so much, so it’s hard to make it up with just one auto show. But I think the overall psyche or emotional element of being able to have the show there, it’s a very positive thing, just from a subjective point of view,” said Mr. Merkle, who is president of Autoconomy.com.

He said automakers are realigning business for the new economy.

“I think the theme is really going to be about getting back to the basics and putting your best foot forward, showing off the product that is there to restore the company,” Mr. Merkle said. “I think the Detroit show is going to be a lot better than it was last year.”

Nissan and Mitsubishi return to the 2010 show after pulling out in 2009, as sales declines around the world hit records. Both companies plan to showcase new electric vehicles, which will feature a 37,000-square-foot “electric alley” area spotlighting greener innovations and new hybrid battery plug-in technology.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he predicts a new tone for the 2010 auto show as the economy slowly begins to rebound.

U.S. automakers have reduced costs per vehicle in the past year by cutting so-called “legacy” costs of retiree and worker benefits that put them at a disadvantage compared with foreign competitors, he said. Those changes enhance their chances to rebound, even as concerns remain over fickle currency values and fluctuating gas prices.

“What we have seen in the auto industry is not a normal recession. This has been a depression … a catastrophe,” Mr. Cole said.

“I think what we’ll see at the show this year is the recognition that this industry is far leaner and prepared to be far more competitive for many years ahead,” he said. “I think we’ll see fairly dramatic evidence of … far more dynamic companies.”