Dodge Dart
Dodge Dart Chrysler

The Detroit Auto Show 2012 has been so far a testament to value, efficiency, and design, key elements that deliver winning car products.

The Hyundai Elantra kicked off the first day of the North American International Auto Show -- as it's officially called -- Monday with a somewhat surprising win as Car of the Year. The compact Elantra, cited by voting jurors for its low price and high efficiency with 40 miles per gallon, beat the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passat for the annual honor.

Beaucoup bang for the buck, impressive mileage; if feels more like an expensive car, said Playboy's Ken Gross, one of 50 jurors for the car of the year award.

Moments later, Ford drew the biggest crowd of the day from among the 5,000 international journalists in attendance at Detroit's downtown Cobo Center, the usual venue for the annual affair that's known as the American showcase for world's automakers. Detroit just signed a new deal with keeps the NAIAS in the city and at Cobo for another five years.

Before hundreds in Joe Louis Arena, which connects with the Cobo Center, Ford unveiled its new 2013 Fusion -- a radical redesign created to tackle Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord as the mid-size sedan.

The 2013 Fusion will offer gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, with a new design including a sleek silhouette and a freshly designed grille that, along with other exterior cues, represents Ford's most progressive styling yet in the mainstream mid-size sedan segment, according to a release at the event.

Taking the stage for Ford was CEO Alan Mulally, Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas.

The new Fusion is starting from a position of strength, Fields said. The time is right to change the way people think about midsize cars.

Ford was first up at this year's Detroit Auto Show, but competitor General Motors got a head start on Sunday night with an event unveiling the company's new Cadillac ATS. In keeping with the theme of efficiency this year, even among new higher-end vehicles, GM said its Cadillac brand has a game-changer with the ATS, the most mass-efficient car in its segment.

The 2013 Cadillac ATS sports sedan is a major American attempt to put a European-type spin in compact sports car luxury.

Affordability was the theme unveiled by Chrysler's Dodge division on Monday, however. Saying that Chrysler's resurgence in 2011 missed one key element -- the compact car -- the company's Dodge brand let journalists kick tires of the 2013 Dodge Dart, with a starting price of $15,995.

We weren't competing in this segment, so we wanted to create a world-class compact car, said Dodge CEO Reid Bigland. And we approached this segment with a clean slate -- no baggage.

The company expects the car to get 40 miles per gallon, hoping that efficiency combined with styling and an affordable price makes the Dodge Dart's comeback a success.

GM's first event at Cobo on Monday after the company's pre event Sunday night before the auto show officially opened featured the global introduction of the new Sonic RS and the new Spark. The Sonic RS is scheduled to go on sale in late 2012. It is an aggressive version of Chevy's Sonic subcompact.

Volkswagen also drew one of the larger crowds of the first day of the auto show on Monday. The company opened its first manufacturing plant in North America in 2011 and said the U.S. is a critical part of its future growth. A Volkswagen executive said the company planned to launch a product offensive in the U.S. in 2012 to spur growth. Last year VW unveiled its new Passat at the Detroit Auto Show. The car, being manufactured at the new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., was a finalist for the car of the year award.

This year VW unveiled the new 2012 Jetta Hybrid, which goes on sale in November 2012. The Jetta Hybrid had its world premiere in Detroit Monday, said by the company to be one of the most efficient automobiles in the world. The new Jetta Hybrid goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than nine seconds, the company said, and can travel 44 miles per hour with zero emissions in pure electric mode -- achieved with one click of a button.