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Less is more at Detroit auto show

The Volkswagon exhibit is seen during the press preview for the Detroit International Auto Show at the Cobo Center January 12, 2009 in Detroit, Mich.

Steve Chiotakis: Here at home, there's word today that the Hyundai Elantra won the North American Car of the Year award. The award was announced in Detroit, where the North American International Auto Show opens to the public this weekend. At that show, more than any other car companies show off their biggest makes and models. But this year's turning out to be a little different.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports.


Tracy Samilton: If there's a theme for the Detroit auto show this year, it's "small." Small regular cars, small sports cars, small hybrids. Nissan's new Pathfinder will be the only big SUV on the floor.

Joe Phillippi is president of Auto Trends Consulting. He says it's a reflection of the new frugality.

Joe Phillippi: Even though we're still in a recovery, consumers' budgets are still pinched.

And something else is at work. Jesse Toprak with TrueCar.com says small cars used to mean boring, and stripped down. But car companies are putting a lot more time, money and resources into their small vehicles  now.

Jesse Toprak: A lot of consumers who could otherwise afford a larger vehicle are now choosing a smaller one simply because they like the styling.

Not everything at the show will be small. Detroit's Cobo Center was expanded to create more floor space. Ford Motor Company is taking full advantage of that, with a bigger display that includes an amusement park ride that lifts people 20  feet into the air to view an Imax-style video.

I'm Tracy Samilton for  Marketplace.

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