This Is the Industry That Will Electrify 2012

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This time last year I was struggling just to secure my itinerary for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The NAIAS is where automotive companies from all over the world come to unveil their latest innovations, newest technology, and brightest ideas. Seeing as Detroit has held the event for more than a century, it's understandable why many automakers consider this to be the mother of all auto shows.

I'm sensing a theme here
Last year's show keyed in on two major themes: electric vehicle technology and the rebirth of the American auto industry. To be sure, Ford (NYSE: F  ) and General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) garnered loads of attention. Both presentations had the feel of rock concerts, though if I had to give a trophy, Ford won going away.

Never before have I witnessed such anticipation and pride as at the NAIAS last year. And lucky for me, I'm going back. I'll be attending the press preview slated for Jan. 9 and 10 and this time I've got my itinerary all set. Maybe I'll even get lucky and score another interview with a big CEO. As I plan my attack, here are some key companies I'm keeping my eye on.

Last year Ford stole the show, period. With the introduction of the "C" platform, Ford proved it was up to the challenge of cutting costs while producing cars that folks want to drive, and the Focus Electric was the belle of the ball. This year should be more of the same; Ford has the only American vehicle in the running for the North American Car of the Year award. There's also speculation that Ford will debut the 2013 Ford Fusion bright and early, which is sure to keep the chatter going.

General Motors
Simply put, General Motors is still in the middle of a turnaround. The Chevy Volt has picked up some bad press with battery issues and the recent recall of Chevy Sonics due to potentially missing brake pads doesn't do it any favors. Still, GM is a major player in this industry and it plans to debut four new vehicles at the show, including a new Buick Crossover. I'll be excited to see what this big name in automobiles has in store.

(OTC: NSANY) hasn't exactly helped its cause by being absent from the NAIAS for the past three years. While management felt resources were better allocated elsewhere, the announcement that Nissan will in fact be back to the show this year has been well-received, especially considering the increasing focus on electric vehicles. Nissan's Leaf is a pioneer in the movement and has to be the one Nissan vehicle folks can't wait to get their eyes on.

Not long ago, Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) co-founder and CEO Elon Musk came and spoke to us here at the Fool and the man flat-out impressed. He is an extremely intelligent and very driven individual, and while Tesla may still be in its early innings, I would never bet against it. Best-known for its all-electric Roadster, last year management unveiled the Model S prototype at the show as the next step in affordable electric vehicles. With the Model S ready to hit the market this summer, I can't wait to see what the company has its sights set on next.

It's no accident the German automaker has the 15th most powerful brand in the world. This year BMW (OTC: BAMXF) plans to debut the sixth generation of its popular 3 Series in an effort to boost sales, particularly in the U.S. market. Add to that the focus on the development of the i3 electric car and display of the i8 concept vehicle and BMW is certain to capture a lot of the attention as well.

Prepare yourself
Detroit in January isn't just cold; it's freakishly cold (at least for a Southerner like myself). Even my time in Kazakhstan didn't fully prepare me for the weather last year. But other than a jaunt with some Detroit Fools to grab a bite for dinner, I plan on spending as much time as I can inside the Cobo Center, learning as much as possible about what we can look forward to in automobiles. It's going to be the hottest ticket in town, and I'm thrilled to have a front-row seat.

Stock Advisor analyst Jason Moser owns no shares of any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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