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Detroit — Auto show season starts to sizzle in Los Angeles next week before coming to a full boil here Jan 7.
From the eagerly anticipated new Toyota Tundra pickup to a totally reworked Chevrolet Malibu, an all-new Honda Accord and Ford's workhorse heavy-duty F-250 pickup, here's the lowdown on some of the most exciting models expected at the shows:

New Chevrolet Sedans: The name is just about the only thing Chevrolet didn't change on the 2008 Malibu, which will be shown in Detroit. Chevrolet hopes the new Malibu's rounded shape and attractive interior will raise the midsize sedan's profile and help it compete with stalwarts like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

“GM should be able to compete with Accord and Camry,” said Joe Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting, Short Hills, N.J. “Their design has gotten much better, they have improved the interiors of their cars.”

Detroit may also see the unveiling of a Chevrolet concept car based on the replacement for the brand's Impala full-size sedan. One person who has seen sketches of the concept called it stunning. The rear-wheel-drive concept reportedly shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Camaro concept that wowed crowds at the show earlier this year.

Saturn Vue: Saturn's Euro-styled Vue compact SUV will premiere in Los Angeles. The new model is a near clone of the rounded Antara that GM's European Opel unit will sell.

The 2008 Vue's exterior styling and interior design and materials benefit from Opel's European design team.

“They've stepped up two or three notches from the '07,” said Brian Moody of “If they get this one right, it could steer a lot of people into Saturn dealerships.”

Ford Fairlane: The production version of Ford's intriguing Fairlane wagon is likely to debut in Detroit, more than a year before it's scheduled to go on sale in 2008.

Ford hopes the Fairlane's distinctive design and flexible interior will make it the next breakthrough family vehicle. The production version is reportedly similar to the popular concept car Ford unveiled at the show in 2005.

Ford will show a new version of its popular Escape compact SUV in Los Angeles, while the company's hot-selling and highly profitable F-250 Super Duty pickup debuts in Detroit.

Chrysler: Chrysler will show its new Sebring convertible at the Los Angeles show.

“It's a key product to Chrysler,” said analyst Rebecca Lindland of Global Insight, Lexington, Mass. “It's a convertible with a practical back seat, which makes it almost unique.”

Chrysler's iconic minivans will debut at the Detroit show.

Company insiders say styling changes will be more dramatic than the mild reshaping the vans got the last time around.

The big question is whether Chrysler has another killer interior innovation like the Stow `n' Go seats it unveiled in 2004.

Toyota Tundra: The full model range for Toyota's eagerly awaited Tundra full-size pickup will debut in Detroit. The big new pickup will feature three engines, including a 5. 7-liter V8 that generates 381 horsepower.

“People are going to go crazy for the Tundra,” Moody said. “It's a big deal for Toyota, and having it come out so close in time to the new Chevrolet Silverado has made both brands raise their game.”

Toyota's only released a few of the specifications so far, and all eyes will be on its fuel economy. The new Silverado has set the bar for full-size pickups, and GM executives are confident they've got Toyota beaten, despite the Tundra's six-speed automatic transmission.

Cadillac CTS: The 2008 CTS that debuts in Detroit softens the lines of Cadillac's angular exterior design theme with a subtler shape that incorporates a deep V-shaped grille similar to the Escalade SUV.

“The new design is still expressive, but less alienating than the original CTS,” Lindland said.

The interior gets new materials to create a more welcoming and luxurious passenger compartment.

Chinese SUVs on the March: Chinese automaker Changfeng plans to show four budget-priced trucks from its brand, Liebao, which is the Chinese word for cheetah. Liebao's stand will have two SUVs and two pickups. Liebao may also show a concept vehicle.

Honda Accord: Honda hasn't breathed a word about the new Accord midsize sedan it will unveil in Detroit, because it is one of the few models with a strong enough following that no advance publicity is necessary.

However, the sporty personality that once defined it has softened as sales grew, Moody said.

“The Accord needs to go in a more enthusiast-oriented direction” in terms of styling and handling, he said.

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