No U.S.-market downturn is in evidence at this month's North American International Auto Show in Detroit (Jan. 13-21), where automakers are taking a “damn the torpedoes” stance with plans to roll out plenty of new hardware — both concept and production.

Give the Japanese credit for mounting a behind-enemy-lines assault, as they look to steal a good share of the spotlight with new production-ready sports coupes, big trucks and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs).

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s turnaround guru and president, Carlos Ghosn, is expected to be on hand for the unveiling of a close-to-production version of what may be the most-scrutinized vehicle of the show: an all-new interpretation of the Z sports car set to go on sale in 2002. And don't be surprised if Nissan's upcoming full-size pickup truck and SUV make appearances — at least in concept form.

Mazda Motor Corp. answers with another “refinement” of what's likely to be the next-generation RX-7 rotary powered sportster — but this car's a quasi-sedan like the RX-Evolve shown last year at Detroit.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. will show off its new RS-X, which will replace the Acura Integra in '02, and the Model X concept, a $20,000 SUV that will be aimed at the youth market.

Toyota Motor Corp. will unveil a Lexus IS300 sport wagon, with a Supra concept possible. And Isuzu Motors Ltd. will bring in a competitor to the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, plus its BVX concept, an SUV larger than the Trooper but with a targeted starting price of $15,000. Subaru of America will pull the wraps off the STX, a Brat-inspired short-bed pickup. And Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is promising a 300-hp sports car/SUV.

But don't count the Big Three out. Sure to star is DaimlerChrysler AG's new Jeep Liberty (see story, p.47). Also on hand will be a Jeep Willys concept, powered by DC's Brazilian-built 4-banger and featuring an interior that can be hosed clean. More refined is the Crossfire concept, a 2-seat roadster with a Mercedes SLK-like retractable hardtop. The Dodge Super 8 Hemi concept is billed as the unlikely marriage of Viper and Durango. The Powerbox is a hybrid-powered pickup along the lines of 1999's Powerwagon concept. And DC is promising at least one other surprise. Could it be the next-generation Ram pickup?

General Motors Corp. already gave the press a sneak peek at its stable of concepts, which will include Cadillac's version of the Chevrolet Avalanche, called the Escalade EXT, and Cadillac Vizon crossover utility vehicle (CUV). The Buick Bengal is a V-6 roadster based on GM's Epsilon platform. Also on hand will be the first look at the new Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV, Pontiac Montana Thunder production minivan and GMC Terracross concept SUV convertible. It's any-body's guess whether the Oldsmobile '04 4-passenger open-air sedan concept still will make a showing.

Ford Motor Co. will focus mostly on its new production Thunderbird and several spin-off concepts, including the Forty-Nine urban cruiser. The car features an all-glass roof, V-8 engine and design cues taken from the T-bird and the classic Forty-Nine production car. Based on the LS platform, Ford officials hint the concept has a good chance at getting the green light for production.

A stroll through the European importers' section of the show will get you a look at the new Land Rover Freelander small SUV; BMW M3 convertible; Porsche 911 GT2; Volkswagen Passat; Mercedes C-Class wagon and AMG SLK; and “Safety Car” and a possible SUV concept from Volvo Car. Rumor is Volkswagen AG may exhibit a modernized concept of its hippie-era bus. But there's no word yet whether VW and Porsche AG will bring their upcoming SUVs to Detroit. Saab Automobile may show off its version of the Pontiac Aztek/Buick Rendezvous CUV.

The Los Angeles auto show (Jan. 6-14), which opens a week prior to Detroit, also will have its share of debuts, with BMW, Dodge, Ford, GM, VW, Isuzu, Acura, Daweoo, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Suzuki all promising world firsts. Among those expected: the Chevy Borrego concept truck that converts from a 4- to a 2-seater for extra cargo room; and Pontiac's version of the NUMMI-built CUV. A rotary engine-equipped Mazda is possible here, too. And no one will be shocked if automakers roll out a few hybrids to play to California's green movement.