As we walked though the Darling Harbour Exhibition Centre on the morning of the industry preview for the Sydney Motor Show, a colleague said to me: "These Australian shows always feel a bit flat when the local companies don't do anything special."
I had to agree, although I'm not sure that Ford and Holden would agree that they had failed to do anything special. What was missing was what you normally expect at an Aussie show: a huge spotlight on locally produced product and unexpected variations thereof.
Instead, Ford showed off its forthcoming European models - the EcoSport baby crossover and the next-generation Mondeo. There was a concept car, but it was a familiar one: the Evos from last year's Geneva Motor Show.
At Holden, the talk was of the Volt, upgraded infotainment technology for Barina and some new Korean cars: a wagon version of the Cruze and the Malibu mid-sizer.
A short presentation next door at HSV about its 25th anniversary was low key indeed.
It's a sign of the times that they will be next year at Melbourne. Holden managing director Mike Devereaux couldn't resist a reference to next year's all-new VF Commodore in his speech, and Ford chief executive Bob Graziano got Australia media very excited when he confirmed that there will be a revised Falcon of some kind in 2014. No doubt there will be more Falcon news next year to combat rival Commodore's launch. But with sales of both large cars in serious decline, that might be the last time Aussie large cars are a big deal at an Aussie show. At Sydney this year, some brands were conspicuous by their absence. That's not unusual for an Australian show; for the past few years, many distributors have decided the million-dollars-plus required for a decent presence is better spent elsewhere. Among the missing were Ateco Automotive (distributor of Ferrari, Maserati, Lotus, Citroen, Great Wall and Chery), Audi, BMW (and Mini), Chrysler (which also distributes Jeep, Dodge, Alfa Romeo and Fiat), Rolls-Royce, Renault and Volvo.
But the show did go on. Those mainstream makers taking part covered plenty of floorspace and while the mood was businesslike, they had plenty of important new models to display. Small cars came to the fore: Mercedes-Benz had the new A-class, Mitsubishi the new Mirage, Hyundai displayed the i30 wagon and Nissan reintroduced the Pulsar name after a seven-year hiatus for the badge (complete with a 140kW SSS version) and Skoda revealed the all-new Rapid.
Those with a taste for exotic fare were not disappointed. Subaru showed off a range of modification packages for the BRZ created by Possum Bourne Motorsport, while Jaguar and Land Rover brought along the F-Type roadster and all-new Range Rover - complete with design bosses Ian Callum (Jaguar) and Gerry McGovern (Land Rover). Crossovers, too. Sydney marked the world debut for the facelifted Mazda CX-9 (although it was overshadowed by the Mazda6) and Mitsubishi introduced the new Outlander.
When we talk about Australian carmakers it's easy to forget that there's a third that makes far more cars in the lucky country than its two rivals and outstrips both for exports. That'd be Toyota, then. While there was not a wild concept version of the Aussie-built Camry, Toyota Australia did unveil the new Corolla with quite some fanfare. In fact, Toyota was one of the few brands to go for an old-school singing-and-dancing launch for Corolla, with a flashmob seemingly infiltrating the show stand and dancing to popular music through the decades, as each an example of each generation of Corolla through the years was unveiled, leading up to the latest 11th-generation. It was all a bit cheesy but you had to admire the Japanese/Australian maker for remembering that motor shows are supposed to fun as well as informative.