Sunday, April 12, 2009

car talk

I've wanted to check out the New York International Auto Show for some time now, and yesterday provided a perfect opportunity, what with some soggy April showers ruining outdoor plans. Plus, my brother had recently turned me on to an awesome British car show called Top Gear, so it would be a great chance to see a few of the models they'd demoed. I had actually been, briefly, to the Auto Show once before, but only to test drive the Honda FCX, a fuel-cell car that I was reviewing for work. This time, I wandered among next year's factory models and future-looking concept cars, camera in hand, like a kid in a candy store.

As it turned out, the latest version of the FCX, the FCX Clarity, was the first car I came upon, and wow, what a difference five years had made! The car's looks had gone from clunky and nerdy to sleek and beautiful, and it even sported a tag labeling it one of four Cars of the Year for 2010. Though the FCX is available in California, it's still somewhat of a concept car, since very few people have the means to refuel these guys (they require liquid hydrogen, which isn't commonly available at your local rest stop). But it definitely looked like it was ready for prime time.

Speaking of concept cars, it seemed like there were relatively few, compared with the pictures I'd seen from years past. I asked one staffer whether there was a set area for concept cars, and she pointed me downstairs. On the bottom level, I again didn't see very many, so I asked another woman, who pointed me upstairs. I had to conclude that the auto industry decided to pare things down. As a car design aficionado, I was a bit disappointed, but I certainly understand their reasoning.

I will say, though, that of the actual production models available, I'd call two-thirds of them downright ugly. Even the really expensive ones looked hideously ostentatious (ostentatiously hideous?) with their gigantic grills and wacked out headlights. One of the bigger disappointments of the day, since it's from company I generally like, was the Volvo C30. I spotted one on the street for the first time last week, and seeing it up-close just confirmed that they are not pretty.

That said, there were plenty of beauties to behold. Small cars were in full force, whether it was new microcars like Smart's Fortwo series and the fantastic neon yellow Scion iQ (at right), or vintage models like the BMW Isetta and the Peel P50, the smallest production car ever made. And a few of the sportier sedans and coupes, including a trio of cherry red Audis, had me absolutely drooling. But I was a bit astounded to see just how many trucks and SUV's there still were, considering how few people actually buy them nowadays. I mean, there was a whole area just for Hummers. Seriously? Come on, GM, enough already. Haven't your lots full of Hummers that you can't sell taught you anything?

Anyway, with the throngs of people in attendance, it certainly appeared that the auto industry is nowhere near dead. The reps were very upbeat—although I did hear more than one reference to the current economy (and, let's face it, reps are paid to be upbeat). Perhaps most telling of the times is that someone at Volvo started following my Twitter feed after I tweeted that I was at the show. I'm not sure whether that's awesome or sad, but I guess it's where we are today.

4 comments:

  1. I thought I had written something about the New York Auto Show.

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  2. I'm guessing they still do in NYC because it makes money and because there is a TON of press already based in NYC. Press outlets are probably more likely to send reporters if they don't have to pay for travel. I do agree that it's a little strange that they don't do it in, say, Detroit, considering their stake in the industry is much higher. But how many national press outlets do you know of in Detroit?

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  3. The North American International Auto Show takes place at the Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan. But I think you're right - New York's Auto Show gets more press coverage.

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  4. Neat! Looks like they had more concept cars...maybe I'll go out there next time ;) Also, their t-shirts are WAY better. The ones at the Javitz center were godawful.

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