This was surely the weirdest US motor show opening of modern times.
The three biggest participants, GM, Ford and Chrysler, should have been using their vast stands to display hordes of new cars and promote the aura of confidence in the future that helps sell them, but the California air was actually full of the car industry's ever-accelerating financial desperation.
In the space of two days, GM sold its share in Suzuki and Ford most of its stake in Mazda, evidently just to keep the lights burning.
The morning broadsheets had run full-page ads from GM, explaining that if the government refused car companies the $25 billion bail-out they were seeking, then the whole American economy would suffer. A million job losses had been mentioned.
Inside the halls, signs of meltdown were obvious. Chrysler's vast stand (populated mainly by lacklustre Jeeps) was void not only of pearly-toothed execs but of light as well, evidently because Chrysler simply couldn't afford the kind of lighting rig that Audi had set up across the aisle.
And remarkably, there was half an hour's downtime straight after the opening Nissan press conference, because GM had decided to pass up its habitual first-morning opportunity to talk to hacks.
Only Ford, of the Big Three, took a 'business as usual' route, showing improved (and enticing) 2010 versions of the Mustang and of the Mondeo-sized Fusion with impressive new economy credentials.
At least Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn was able to strike a note of normality in an impressive keynote speech. He adroitly pointed out that wasting time deciding which car company was most in trouble was a fatuous exercise.