The American car industry is looking more and more European.
Small, hybrid and electric cars took center stage at the Detroit Auto Show as automakers adapt to the changing demands of a market ravaged by recession and soaring fuel costs.
A clutch of manufacturers also displayed fuel-efficient cars with designs inspired by Europe, in stark contrast to the traditional gas-guzzling behemoths favored by American motorists in a bygone era of cheap gasoline prices.
Chevrolet unveiled its Aveo "subcompact" and Spark cars, while Ford revealed the much-anticipated update to the Fiesta. Fiat, which took over Chrysler last year, has presented both the standard and hybrid version of its 500, due to arrive in the U.S. market by the end of 2010.
Hyundai USA vice president David Zuchowskisaid the trend of smaller cars in Detroit reflected the changing face of the marketplace as tighter federal fuel efficiency standards loomed ever closer.
"The composition of our market is going to change quickly because of the federal mandate," Zuchowski told AFP.
"Our industry is going to become more like the European industry in the next couple of years, with more smaller cars, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to compromise on performance."
Ian Robertson, vice-president of BMW, added that the market in small cars was expanding worldwide, noting the success of the rebooted Mini, whose biggest market remains the United States. An electric Mini is on show in Detroit.
But Christian Klingler, executive vice-president of sales and marketing at Volkswagen, said he doubted "that tomorrow everyone in the United States is going to be driving small cars."
Ford meanwhile urged visitors to its Detroit stand to "Drive Green", showcasing its hybrid Fusion, crowned North American Car of the Year. Ford also announced more than 500 million dollars of investment in green vehicles in the United States.
Several automakers used Detroit as a shop window for their new hybrid models, notably Honda's CR-Z coupe or prototypes such as Toyota's FT-CH, Volkswagen's NCC compact coupe or Hyundai's rechargeable Blue Will hybrid.
Despite the drive towards smaller, hybrid and electric cars, the unit sales "will still be modest", said Jeremy Anwyl, analyst with Edmunds.com.
"Consumers will be influenced by environmental issues, and also by the cost," Anwyl said. "Pricing will be the key."
Electric cars meanwhile were available for a test drive at a tree-lined basement track and were parked on the Detroit Auto Show's "Electric Avenue", where pint-sized vehicles from firms such as Korean company CT&T and Commuter Cars are on display.
Commuter Cars tiny electric car, the Tango, is a slimline two-seater where the passenger rides behind the driver.
Toyota is showing off its tiny urban electric FT-TV (Future Toyota electric vehicle), while US carmaker Tesla trumpeted the success, range and reliability of its Roadster electric sports car by driving the vehicle cross country some 2,700 miles from Los Angeles to Detroit.
Nissan meanwhile displayed its four-seater all-electric Leaf, which has a maximum range of about 100 miles (160 kilometers) per charge.