Suzuki, hybrids and crazy concepts go missing

Acura showed another NSX concept this year that is more production than concept. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- As always, there's a lot to see at the Detroit auto show.

But here's a look at some of the things NOT here this year:

Suzuki: After bowing out of the U.S. auto market in 2012, Suzuki has joined the ranks of Saab, Mercury, Pontiac and other ghosts of auto shows past.

Suzuki also skipped last year's show in a bit of foreshadowing, but now we know it's officially never coming back. Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and Porsche, all of which bypassed Detroit during the downturn, are here, however.

Hordes of hybrids: For the past few years, hybrids and electric vehicles have taken center stage. With sales of those vehicles still struggling to get much momentum and gasoline prices on the decline, automakers would rather spend the time talking about their higher-volume models and the performance cars that enthusiasts drool over.

Crazy concepts: Automakers are (mostly) making money again, but they're not spending it on wild fantasy vehicles that have no chance of making it to dealer showrooms. (Think the Jeep that could spin in a circle.) Nearly all of the concepts on display this year are essentially early looks at production models that might show up in the next couple of years, minus the wacky grilles and hidden door handles.

Leaks in the roof: Detroit's Cobo Center, where the show is staged, was in such bad shape a few years ago that there were tarps in the rafters to keep rain from coming in and organizers threatened to move the show elsewhere. Now, Cobo is near the end of a huge renovation that has the place looking better than it has in decades. New this year is a vast glass-walled atrium overlooking the Detroit River, and next year automakers will get the full benefit of a facility designed to meet the technology and space needs of today's auto show.

Gaggles of politicians: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood helped open the show, as he has done for a few years, and outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis toured the exhibits with UAW officials. Beyond that, there was little Washington presence this year. Recently, the show has become a popular stop for presidential candidates and members of Congress -- both friends and foes of the auto industry -- especially during the height of the bailout debate. Now that General Motors and Chrysler have repaid their loans and gotten much healthier, Congress is back to focusing its attention on … something, I'm sure.

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