General Motors stage-managed chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner’s Detroit show keynote address with the same sort of carefully-vetted ‘supporters’ waving banners for the TV cameras seen at presidential campaign stops in the US last year.

At first, it looked like a protest by irate workers who’d managed to invade the Cobo Hall when a group of chanting, banner-waving employees gathered on the GM stand as Wagoner prepared to take the stage.

But, on closer inspection, these workers turned out to be rather more on-message. Their banners – looking suspiciously professionally signwritten – carried slogans such as “Here to stay” and “40mpg”. These workers weren’t protesting – they had been bused in to cheer-lead The Boss.

A cavalcade of GM products trundled out on to the stand, accompanied by whoops and hollers from the workers. That, Wagoner said, was the point.

“Our recovery plan is actually what you see here – great products and great people.”

Significantly, the GM new car parade included the Beat small car concept from 2007, which Wagoner confirmed would be called Spark worldwide, and would replace the Chevrolet Matiz from next year.

Leading the cavalry was the Chevrolet Volt, the spearhead of GM’s electric vehicle drive, due to go on sale by the end of 2010. GM now calls the petrol engine powering a generator to charge batteries that power the car only by electric motors ‘Voltec’ (remember the Ecotec petrol engines?) and it’s already being lined up for other products including the Chevrolet Equinox compact SUV and the Cadillac Converj coupe.

“Electricity is one of our best options to replace gasoline and reduce our dependence on petroleum,” said product development head Bob Lutz.

Speculation continues that GM might close or sell one or more brands – and it was significant that neither Saab nor Pontiac was represented in the car parade – though Saturn, perhaps the most vulnerable brand, was present as an Aura, the US equivalent of Opel/Vauxhall’s Insignia though it’s based on the final Vectra.

GM Asia Pacific head Nick Reilly said it would be wrong to read too much into this, though he conceded it was likely that some brands – perhaps Pontiac – could be restructured so they have a much smaller range of niche models, perhaps without a stand-alone dealer network.