DETROIT -- As Marc Harlow walked around Detroit's Cobo Center during the first day of the 2012 North American International Auto Show, he saw a different scene from recent years. To Harlow, one of the members of the show's public relations team, the buzz of the Detroit Auto Show had returned amid a brightening global outlook on the automotive industry.
There were no gaping holes where companies once brought their new concept and production cars to exhibit -- this year, the floor was filled. From fellow organizers, company executives and even returning press members, congratulations poured in.
Everybody who saw us from afar was even giving a thumbs up, Harlow said.
Signs of the broader auto industry's recover were on full display around the Cobo Center during the press preview days, something show organizers expect to continue with the public show beginning Saturday.
There were more vehicle introductions this year -- more than 40, in total. Automakers introduced production cars and futuristic concept cars amid lavish displays in front of large crowds. Vendors and parts suppliers lined Cobo's inner hall. More members of the press -- about 5,200 -- attended than in any recent years, said Harlow, who has worked with the auto show for about 10 years.
The Cobo Center and the Detroit Auto Dealers Association recently agreed to a deal that will keep the NAIAS in Detroit for the next five years.
All of it adds up to a drastic change from only two years ago, when General Motors North American president Mark Reuss said a lot of stuff happened, in reference to the company's 2009 performance.
The exhibits that you see at the show and the vehicles that were launched and are showcased are the clearest indicator of a revitalized industry, Harlow said. GM, Chrysler are both independent companies again. They're really using this show as an opportunity to express that. They're back. The buzz is back.
Dan Bedore, now Nissan's director of communications, was there for the lean years of 2008 and 2009. In 2009, he remembers strolling through the Cobo Center to a Chrysler stand without signage on its parked cars.
The lights were shut off -- at the stand and, almost, for the company as a whole. Chrysler was submerged in troubled waters, later in 2009 emerging from bankruptcy protection with the help of the United States government.
Overall, it was a pretty bleak feeling walking around the show floor, said Bedore, who at that time was with Hyundai's communications team. There were a lot of questions in the air regarding the future of a lot of automakers. You could see it. It was evident on the stand itself.
It was a very difficult time to see competitors and your counterparts and friends in other places in such dire straits. That was a tough time.
Now, though, the missing automakers and manufacturers then have been replaced by dazzling displays. That includes U.S. automakers Ford -- which saw a very upbeat Detroit, said global product communications manager Said Deep -- and Chrysler, which unveiled its highly anticipated Dodge Dart on Monday to a crowd of hundreds of journalists, analysts and executives.
In his remarks, Dodge brand CEO Reid Bigland addressed Chrysler's rebound, saying it had been through hell and back.
We remain extremely thankful for the second chance we were given a couple years ago, Bigland said. Rarely in life does this happen. We've been through hell. We're not looking to go back.
When Bedore worked for Hyundai in 2009, his current company, Nissan, was in the midst of a two-year hiatus from the Detroit Auto Show. It was one of the gaping holes Bedore saw meandering through the Cobo Center.
This year, Nissan came back. Its sales and market share grew across the board in 2011. It plans introductions for a new SUV Pathfinder and midsize Altima this year.
And what better way to springboard into 2012 than in a revitalized Detroit?
It was a pretty good year for automakers this year, and an outstanding year for Nissan, Bedore said. We were happy to be back, and we felt quite good about being back.