By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You’d expect Doug Fox, the cordial co-chair of the North American International Auto Show, opening to the public on Saturday, to have some good spin on how this event will rise above the stench of economic panic in the Motor City, and the country.

Not only does he have the goods, by the end of our conversation Tuesday, I was convinced that this is a pivotal, but not hopeless time for the car industry.

Fox thinks this is not just an important, historic show, but “the most significant show without a doubt” in the 21 years since the NAIAS became a designated international show.

The automakers, he believes, are thoroughly jazzed by the technological road race in front of them and ready to turn out more energy efficient vehicles faster than “even they thought they could.” (Good point there. But then what are the alternatives for the American makers? Sell the remaining inventory of Navigators to the residents of Dubai and take early retirement?)

From his perch in the balcony above the convention, Fox pointed to the evidence supporting his premise: GM’s all-electric Volt, on target for market in late 2010 (as far as we know), and soon to generate new American jobs in batteries; the Prius, enough said; the Insight, back from the dead and touted as economical too; and the promised Chrysler EVs (Fox hadn’t spotted those on the floor, but suspected strongly that they’ll be surfacing).

And don’t forget China’s whimsically named Build Your Dreams (BYD) cars, keeping the pressure on our flabby U.S. flank to build hybrids and all-electric cars in big numbers, but with smaller price tags.

“I think clearly there were some people coming here, arriving thinking this would be a gloomy funeral like atmosphere,” said Fox of the NAIAS convention. “But when they walked into that hall and heard some of the announcements being made…there’s no other show anywhere in North America like this show.”

“The word I use is hope. That’s what this show has shown us. There is hope on the horizon,” he said.

So maybe all we have to fear is fear itself? We’ll see how that flies, or drives, in the months to come.

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