The Detroit auto show, also known by its more grandiose name — The North American International Auto Show — is in full swing. But it’s an awkward swing, like a 12-year-old boy with size 10 feet dancing with his mother.

Big auto shows usually have great atmosphere. Hard not to, I guess, when you’ve got world debuts of exciting vehicular creations and very theatrical press conferences and displays.

The whole point of these auto shows, it seems, is a chance for the auto players to one-up each other, show a little swagger, and give us that sizzle we so much like with our car steaks.

Put someone on a stage to be humble, however, and, well, it’s not great theatre. Unless, of course, you were looking for tragedy or a train wreck. But we didn’t get that either. The 2009 Detroit auto show was not nearly as exciting as past years, or as entertainingly bad as some had hoped.

Even when someone had something cool to show the world, like VW did with its brilliant, minimalist, mid-engine roadster concept, it was done in the wake of a sombre speech by its chairman, outlining the company’s commitment to “the show, the city, and the U.S. auto industry.”

As you know, many of his import colleagues didn’t show up. Many others decided to go low key, with simple displays and no “unveil.”

Ford is the sole Detroit-based automaker that isn’t dipping into government bailout money — for now at least. It seemed to revel in that position, with decidedly more whiz-bang in its unveilings, and more strut to its stride than exhibited by either of its U.S. brethren.

One of its introductions, the 2010 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500, also gave us gearheads one of the few occasions to holler — not only is it a great 540-hp boy toy, it exited the stage in the Cobo Center via tire squeal. Some in the crowd actually squealed back, in delight no doubt, for putting a small dent in the political correctness warp shield that seemed to be in force around the whole show.

Nobody whooped or hollered when Ford talked about its new Fusion hybrid, or later, when Toyota announced that its new Prius would return a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg, or when Chinese automaker BYD took the wraps off the world’s first production plug-in hybrid (on sale in China later this month).

But that’s OK. This was not a show to stir the emotions; this was people trying to figure out a new dance.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.