Over the past 18 months, auto shows around the world have taken a huge hit as the economic melt-down has caused a collapse in sales and automakers have tried slashing spending. Many of us in the business of writing about cars have wondered if the age of the big auto show is drawing to a close. One person who doesn't agree with that projection is Bill Perkins, president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and member of the Organizing committee for the North American International Auto Show that opens its doors to the press today.

The Detroit show was particularly hard hit in 2009 as several manufacturers including Nissan, Mitsubishi and Porsche pulled the plug on participating. Meanwhile, Chrysler and General Motors scaled back their efforts as they veered toward bankruptcy. Perkins spoke with Autoblog last week and was feeling outwardly confident. While last month's LA Auto Show was looking a bit sparse, Detroit this year seems to have stabilized and even recovered a bit.

Read more after the jump.

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Perkins tells us that the number of official manufacturer participants on the show floor this year is up from 50 in 2009 to 54. In addition to the main show, the public will be able to check out "The Gallery" at the MGM Grand Hotel for the first time this year. The gallery is a collection of exotic and luxury vehicles including the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Porsche. This is actually the third year for The Gallery but the first time it has been open to the public. On Sunday January 10 it will be open exclusively to American Express black card holders, but anyone can get in on Monday and Tuesday. The $25 admission fee also gets you access to the public days of the main show at Cobo Hall. The Gallery provides smaller volume manufacturers a less expensive alternative to building a full stand on the main show floor in Cobo Hall. Including The Gallery, there will be 60 automakers present in Detroit this year.

However, even some of the manufacturers that will be in Cobo have opted to forgo a full stand, including Nissan and Mitsubishi. Along with several smaller firms, those two companies are only taking part in the Electric Avenue display, which is dedicated to just plug-in vehicles. That means you won't be seeing the new Nismo, Z-roadster or GT-R, just the battery-powered Leaf. Even suppliers Michelin and Denso got space on the main floor in 2010 rather than being relegated to the basement as in past years.

Speaking of the basement, it will again be the domain of the EcoXperience in 2010. A jungle track has been built down there where visitors can go for a ride in a number of different zero-emissions vehicles from different automakers. While the media will get to drive these EVs, the public will only be able to go for rides due to liability reasons .

In spite of all the activity, we asked Perkins why Detroit and other shows still matter. According to Perkins, Detroit in particular is important to automakers because it's the biggest media show in North America and one of the largest in the world. Even with all the financial problems, there will still be 5,500 credentialed members of the press at this year's show. That's down slightly from over 6,000 in the past, but according to Perkins, the number of media outlets represented has remained constant. Some outlets have just reduced the number of people they send to Detroit.

Because of all that media, Detroit remains an excellent platform for carmakers to get their message out. The number of media preview days has been cut from three to two this year but there will still be 40 new vehicles revealed. In order to keep manufacturers coming to Detroit, the Cobo Center authority that took over management of the facility last year from the city of Detroit has held the line on costs. The cost of crews to build the stands in 2010 is either the same or lower than it was in 2009.

In addition, the authority has moved rapidly to address many of the facility's issues that have drawn complaints in the past. The leaky roof has been repaired and upgrades to the loading docks and electrical system were all completed by December 1 of last year. Expansion plans for Cobo are currently being developed and it is likely that the adjacent Cobo arena will be either gutted or demolished to provide more floor space.

Auto shows like the one opening in Detroit today are critical to both local dealers and automakers, and Perkins is publicly confident that the Detroit show will again grow as the economy picks up. It's certainly possible that consumers may come back to shows as they become ready to start buying again. If so, that will certainly bring back some manufacturers to at least display cars if not actually hold press conferences to reveal new ones and concepts. These events may well still continue to shrink as companies find new, less expensive ways to reveal cars away from shows, but only time will tell. On with the show!

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