A new year. A new millennium. Let's ring in the new year with a Detroit auto show that bares no resemblance to the debacle of last year - one that is devoid of blizzards, airport snafus and stolen backpacks from the Nissan exhibit.

This year's North American International Auto Show promises to be memorable because General Motors Corp. got the bright idea of bundling up each of its 11 international brands (even Australia's Holden) into a single pavilion, one that will occupy nearly a third of the main hall at Cobo Center.

The "GM Experience" will include four all-new concept vehicles (see WAW - Nov.'99, p.33), two new production vehicles (including the five-passenger Chevrolet Avalanche "Ultimate Utility Vehicle") and an 800-seat theater. And for the first time, GM will tip its hat to the United Auto Workers union, which has a new contract with the No. 1 automaker.

Sounds extravagant, but GM had to do something big after being upstaged last year by Ford Motor Co.'s glistening, two-story pavilion that everyone pored over to see the new Thunderbird concept.

Also at Detroit, the Acura luxury division of Honda Motor Co. Ltd. arrives with its MD-X concept sport/utility vehicle, which is striking for two reasons: its gorgeous interior and its resemblance to the competition, the Lexus RX-300.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes-Benz unveils a new roadster concept that is a foot shorter than the SLK and has a hood and fenders adapted from the high-performance SLR sports car shown in Detroit last year.

Suzuki Motor Corp. introduces its six-passenger XL6 concept luxury SUV, which is larger than Grand Vitara. And based on media speculation, Volkswagen AG could show up with a concept pickup truck.

But it's not all concepts. Toyota Motor Corp. takes the wraps off its long-expected fullsize sport/utility vehicle, the Sequoia, which comes off the same new assembly line in Princeton, IN, as the Tundra pickup and goes on sale in the fall as a 2001 model.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will display the all-new 2000 Sentra (certified for SULEV) and a brawnier 2001 Pathfinder SUV, which gets a 3.5L version of the award-winning 3L "VQ" V-6 engine. Volvo Cars debuts its new flagship T-5 estate, or wagon, with 250 hp.

The Detroit show is big, but it's not the first of the new year. That honor goes to the Los Angeles International Auto Show, where the 2001 Infiniti QX4 SUV will be shown. Acura will display the high-performance (260-hp) Type S version of its 3.2CL coupe, which is available in March.

Also in LA, Honda shows its "Spocket" concept that transforms, with the touch of a button, from convertible to sports car to pickup. Mazda Motor Corp. will have its Tribute SUV, which goes on sale in summer.

And in case you missed it last year, Detroit's People Mover will be fully operational for the auto show, which is open to the public Jan. 15-23.