US auto industry exuberant heading into 2013

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SummaryMaybe it was the brand new, bright red Chevrolet Corvette gleaming in one corner, or the elegant BMW coupe in the other.

Maybe it was the brand new, bright red Chevrolet Corvette gleaming in one corner, or the elegant BMW coupe in the other. Maybe it was just the free-flowing espresso at nearly every stand. But car companies were positively giddy this week as the North American International Auto Show opened in Detroit.

They have reason to be. U.S. new car and truck sales reached a five-year high of 14.5 million in 2012, and many executives and analysts think they'll climb to 15.5 million this year. Credit is easier to obtain, interest rates are low and many people who held on to old cars during the recession are ready to buy.

To catch those customers' eyes at the Detroit show, car companies are unveiling 59 new cars and concepts. That's up from just 41 in 2012, a sign that auto makers have more profits at their disposal and expect higher sales. Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes have larger, more elaborate displays. Ford is luring visitors with the oldest surviving Ford in the world, a 1903 Model A, and the newest, a chiseled pickup truck concept called Atlas that could become the next F-150. General Motors can just sit back and watch the crowds gather around the Corvette.

The Detroit show, one of the country's biggest, opens to the public Saturday. Here are five trends visitors will see:

Getting more efficient:

One lesson from this year's show: There are plenty of ways to squeeze more efficiency from cars and trucks.

Volkswagen is showing a plug-in hybrid SUV prototype called the CrossBlue that mates a diesel engine with two electric motors. It can travel 14 miles (22 kilometers) in all-electric mode and gets an estimated 35 miles per gallon (6.7 liters per 100 kms) while running on both gas and electricity. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is also making a jump to diesel power with a new, optional 3-liter V-6 diesel that gets 30 miles per gallon (7.8 liters per 100 kms) on the highway, five better than the gas-powered V-6.

Automakers are trying other tricks to save fuel as they face higher fuel economy requirements, even in muscle cars. The eight-cylinder engine on the 2014 Corvette kicks down to four at highway speeds. The grille and wheels of Ford's Atlas concept pickup have shutters that automatically close at high speeds to cut wind drag. Many carmakers are replacing steel with aluminum, carbon fiber and other materials to save weight.

Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman

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