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The Buzz Is Back at the Detroit Auto Show
CNBC.com | January 06, 2012 | 03:14 PM EST

After three long and tumultuous years, there's a far different feeling about the Detroit Auto Show , aka the North American International Auto Show. For 2012, you could say, the buzz has returned. For automakers and auto fans, it's long overdue.

At this year's show, there will be two primary stories: fuel efficiency , and whether several brands can roll out new models to turn around their fortunes.

Ask any auto executive and they'll tell you gas prices are going back up. Nobody's foolish enough to suggest a target price, but several have told me they are preparing for $4 a gallon gas to hit sometime later this year. As a result, we'll see the auto show spotlight shine on small cars, hybrids and more fuel-efficient engines.

Unlike a few years back when it seemed that virtually every automaker was trying to make a big splash with electric models, the focus now is on more practical hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

At the same time, from Honda to Lincoln to Cadillac , several brands will be touting new chapters with new models or concepts.

Lincoln will show its new MKZ , expected to be the first of several new models that will change the brand's fortunes. Lincoln needs it. In 2011, sales dropped while those of the overall industry rose 10 percent.

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