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The 2009 Detroit Motor Show

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Icy winds and snow are blowing across Motown, dumping on the auto capital of the world at a time when American politicians are applying relentless pressure for a major shift in the way that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler do their business.

The Big Three have already cut drastically into their usual show programs, cutting the frills and fun in favour of hard-edged business and cars that are real.

The early favourite for local hero honours is the 2010 Ford Taurus, but Chrysler has its latest electric-car concepts and GM is going showroom-ready with the Cadillac SRX, Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Equinox.

The newcomers come just a couple of days after Ford revealed fuel economy figures for its mid-sized Fusion which put it into the 5.8 litres/100km range and ahead of the Honda Accord and Mazda6.

Euro brands are going tough at Detroit, with Mercedes-Benz unveiling its all-new E Class, BMW revealing the showroom-ready Z4 roadster with folding metal roof, Audi showing its A7 concept ahead of a production run for the Benz CLS rival, and Bentley running out the Continental GTC Speed.

From Japan, Toyota has its first fully-electric car - the FT-EV concept developed from the tiny iQ - as well as the third-generation Prius hybrid and a new hybrid from Lexus, while Honda has is bringing the Insight back as a head-on hybrid rival to the Prius.

But Nissan is one of the companies which has passed on Detroit '09, after revealing its headlining 370Z sports car and updated Murano SUV at the Los Angeles show in November.

While the show stands are the focus in Detroit, the big three are working hard on all areas of their business as Chrysler and GM burn through the $US4 billion cash lifeline from the Federal government.

One of their toughest jobs is cutting the number of dealerships, with GM committed to downsizing from 6375 shops at the end of 2008 to 4700 by 2012 and Ford and Chrysler - without revealing exact numbers - on a similar path.