I arrived in downtown Detroit yesterday afternoon to be met by ultra-clear blue skies and sub zero temperatures.

Our hotel is just a few minutes walk from the Cobo exhibition centre, so I wandered down the street in order to pick up my press pass early.

Even that short walk in the bright sunshine told you most of what you need to know about this extraordinary city. The wide, boulevard, roads are very lightly trafficked and there are plenty of clear patches of ground that bear witness to demolished buildings.

There was a genuinely eerie sense, on this Sunday at least, of a city that’s been stripped of its people. If you want a sense of just how grateful people are that the automotive circus still comes to Detroit in the freezing New Year, when our Delta flight landed, the captain thanked the media onboard for attending the show.

Opposite the Cobo hall is a venue called the Fire Station, which was being prepared for the incoming media hoards by a handful of workmen. Watching them tidying the place up and putting out the hoardings gave the strong flavour of slumbering, icy, streets only being jumped out of hibernation for a couple of days.

Right outside Cobo, standing in the freezing wind, was a small group of protesters. I could hear a man with a megaphone complaining about the “hundreds of thousands” jobs lost in the industry. One protester held a banner complaining that “years of tax cuts” had not led to “trickle down economic” improvements. But I’m not sure who they were addressing. The media pack was not due until the following day.

It’s odd to see the car industry still trekking here, the old cradle of US auto manufacturing and squeezing into an exhibition centre in the middle of empty roads and empty buildings. But the chances of the North American International Autoshow ever leaving the streets are near to zero as the temperatures.