Detroit Auto Show preview

You know things have changed in the car industry when a company like Ford launches one of its biggest European models - the new Focus - here in America.

I'm in Detroit, it's the night before the annual motor show, and the buzz is that Ford will give the all-new version of Britain's most popular family hatchback its world premiere here on Monday.

It makes sense too. Ford's recession-busting strategy revolves around globalising its products – meaning that it wants to sell some of the same models in America as it does so successfully in Europe. And bringing the Focus and the Fiesta Stateside is just phase one.

But it's not as though we Brits should expect F150 Lightning trucks down at Dagenham Motors in return. No, no, no - this is an American-only culture shift that's been prompted by the financial squeeze many households here are reportedly feeling. By launching the new Focus in Detroit, Ford is saying it thinks Americans want to downsize their cars to smaller, cheaper-to-run models.

The big question is: do they really? The minute you step out of the airport here, it's the XXL proportions of the vehicles you notice first. They love 'em big and brash and spacious, with crap suspension. The Obama administration would love to see car choices here change, but only time will tell if everyday Americans will be tantalised by efficient, small European hatchbacks. After all, despite reaching record highs, gas prices have subsided in recent months meaning Average Joe can afford to drive his V8 pick-up again...We'll be gauging the Focus' reception closely in the arena when the covers come off.

Speaking of which, 12 months ago this arena was desolate (even more desolate than run-down Detroit is normally.) The night before the show last year, I was drinking beer in a deserted bar with only our photographer Stuart and the rudest waitress in the world for company. But this afternoon I'm gazing out of my hotel window and there's life: journalists, TV trucks, the world's media, press relations people, show girls and guys with Ford or GM apparel wandering around looking busy.

This time we're expecting fifty new car launches over the next two days – fifty – that's more than double last year's tally! The green shoots of recovery perhaps, or a sign of desperation as models that have been on hold all year have to be rolled out or binned?

It's probably a bit of both. But beyond the Focus, highlights look likely to include Ford's fresh Mustang V8 (proving that the brand's not forgotten how to build old-school Michigan muscle), a range-topping, red-hot version of BMW's Z4 that we can't wait to drive (because even the base model is a beast), an electric 1 Series concept, Cadillac's CTS-V Coupe (which is probably irrelevant but quite pretty), the Honda CR-Z sports hybrid and an electric Fiat 500.
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