For a while there, I thought the swagger had gone out of the Chicago Auto Show.
Instead of toting over-the-top motorcycles, Suzuki held a news conference to insist rumors of its death were exaggerated.
Cementing the ho-hum impression were Toyota and Honda press events intended to hype new vehicles that flat-lined as executives found themselves having to talk recalls, not redesigns.
Had the recession and recall epidemic put a cramp in the panache so central to the auto show's style?
Fortunately, Chrysler came to the rescue. Hotshot Dodge boss Ralph Gilles promised faster cars, tougher trucks and tears of joy from drivers in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago at the auto show.
In an international twist, Gilles referenced his Haitian heritage and Canadian upbringing as he explained how Chrysler's partnership with Italian carmaker Fiat would breathe life into one of America's auto industry giants.
"We're doing nothing short of rebuilding who we are, what we mean and what we drive," said Gilles, Dodge Car Brand president and CEO.
Led by new Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne, the automaker is promising by 2014 to repay its debt, increase sales, and improve fuel economy by 25 percent.
The partnership means Chrysler can take advantage of the Italian company's sporty, small car expertise. Fiat can benefit from Chrysler's experience in building larger vehicles, Gilles said.
"Without Fiat, we probably wouldn't have a shot," he commented. "Our portfolio is so lopsided."
The merger means Chrysler will start selling its European hit - the Fiat 500 subcompact _ in America this year, while reinventing some of its best-known models like the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 300 sedan.
When the new models come out, "I want grown men and grown women to have tears in their eyes," Gilles said. "I want people to say, 'Go America.' When you shut off the key I want people to look over their shoulder and smile at their car and say 'Thank you.'"
One other thing
The auto show runs until Feb. 21 at McCormick Place. For details, check out Chicagoautoshow.com. Here are some dream and reality cars you shouldn't miss:
• Hyundai's Blue-Will plug-in hybrid concept car features roof-mounted solar cells that recharge the battery. It's got touch-screen controls, converts hot exhaust into electricity and is easy on the eye.
• The GMC Granite concept offers "suicide doors," that open out like French doors.
• The Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS Gullwing is worth a look, especially if money is no object. Priced "under $200,000," the doors on this sleek convertible lift up. Other features? How about a rearview camera to help when you're in reverse and a headlamp washing system.
• They didn't headline it in Chicago, but Ford's 2012 Focus was a hit at the Detroit auto show. Available starting in 2011 as a sedan and hatchback, it's supposed to get 10 percent better mileage than the current Focus.