I've just arrived in Detroit for the motor show, and I have to report that the sub-zero temperatures gripping the city pretty much match the mood of the place. Indeed, after conversations on the plane with a representative sample of industry figures, it's fair to say that some people are wondering whether this will be the last 'proper' Detroit show.

The omens aren't particularly good, with the several big manufacturers, including Nissan, having already turned down the opportunity to show their wares. For the premier auto show in what is still – recession notwithstanding – the biggest car market in the world, that's a bitter blow.

When the Big Three reigned supreme, Detroit was the corporate shop window, and the obvious place to show new models. But with at least two of the US makers teetering on the edge of the abyss, it seems other manufacturers are wondering if it's really worth coming all this way to debut new models.

Yet it would be an enormous shame if the Detroit show was relegated to backwater status. This is the city where the modern motor industry was born, and there isn't a more car-centric place on the planet. From the immigration officer to the cabbie who drove us into town, the first question was always the same: “Here for the show?”

And the brash confidence that made Detroit great is still in evidence, despite the knocks. From my hotel room I can see GM's global HQ at the RenCen, a smoked glass tower that looks like Michael Douglas's character in Wall Street should be occupying the penthouse at the top.

I, for one, hope the city – and the show – gets its swagger back.