There was a weird word that emerged from the Detroit Auto Show this week: "Innovation."

The roster of new American cars is packed with innovations this year, outshining the latest offers from Germany and Japan. Two cases in point: the Tesla Model X, which, though at prototype stage, would revolutionize the electric car market if it became popular, and the 2014 Corvette Stingray, which uses the latest in lightweight materials and has an expected fuel efficiency of more than 26 miles per gallon. Indeed, the entire show seemed to be a showcase for technological advancements that both reflects and advances the demand for more environmentally friend cars.

It also suggests that the money given to Detroit as part of the auto bailout — that's our money — was put to good use. American car companies are bringing innovations in battery life (a priority, you'll recall, of the first Obama stimulus), design, and reliability. There will be plenty of debate about the cars themselves, but the industry clearly did not simply take the government's money and sit on it. More examples: The significant advances in the efficiency of the engine of the Ford F-150 "Atlas" concept, as well as a new lighter-weight design; the F-150 is the country's best-selling auto right now. And Cadillac's special play for rich folks with California consciences: Their new ELR, a luxury hybrid.

Note: By 2025, car companies' fleets have to average more than 54 miles per gallon, so there's a way to go. But the American auto industry, using some of our money, is making significant strides in that direction.