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The global car industry doesn't tend to have many quiet years, but 2006 promises to be interesting even by the automotive sector's own turbulent standards.

Just days into January, the huge Detroit motor show is offering an insight into the big questions facing the industry's major players as they gather in what still likes to consider itself the planet's auto capital.

And it is clear that the behemoths of General Motors and Ford - long considered the twin powerhouses of the sector not just in America but around the world - have most to ponder.

The hammering these stalwarts of the US economy have taken in their own back yard was summed up by the double success of Honda in winning the prize for both the car and the truck of the year in an awards scheme voted on by North American motoring journalists.

Not only was this the first time that a single manufacturer had picked up the top gong in both categories, it also served as a painful reminder for GM and Ford of the huge progress made by Asian, and particularly Japanese, manufacturers on their own turf.

The reasons for the advances of Honda, Toyota, Nissan and the rest can be put down to their foresight, combined no doubt with a fair bit of luck, concerning the end of America's unconditional love affair with the gas-guzzler. Recent rises in fuel prices may seem modest to Europeans used to paying through the nose for their petrol. But in the US they have made some of the more extravagant models simply uneconomic for their owners to run, leaving an increasing number of car buyers wondering if big really is beautiful, or just plain expensive.

For the moment, the tide is flowing with the giants of Asia. A benevolent combination of high reliability, low fuel consumption and competitive pricing has put them in the driving seat. If they establish themselves in that position, we may all have to reconsider our notions of where the real power in the world of automotive technology resides.

Andrew Lee
The Engineer Magazine