Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Big New York Auto Show

This is the week for the annual New York International Auto Show at Javits Center. Having once attended twenty years ago I decided that it was time for a repeat visit. Obviously not a car aficionado, I could count the number of car magazines that I've bought in my life on one hand, if I could remember any of them. That said, I do like cars and here's what I saw.

Hands down my favorite exhibit was Hyundai. I entered a drawing to win a new Hyundai vehicle of my choice, an opportunity that I did not see elsewhere. The hosts and hostesses on the floor for all of the other car companies were either dressed in uniforms(the women) or suits or nice business casual for the men. On top of that they seemed mostly to be hired hands for the week. The guy I talked to at Hyundai had worked for the company for two years and was based in L.A. He was in his late 20's I guess, and was wearing casual pants with his shirttail out, had a soul patch and a three day growth, short messy west coast style hair. He knew absolutely everything about the cars, was relaxed and made eye contact, and was a real low key promoter---there was no one like the Hyundai reps anywhere else in the Center. The cars are mostly so so in appearance but they have been moving up the charts on safety and reliability big time. The Azeri looked good and was priced well. The big deal was the Genesis, due out in late summer I think, a new car that will really compete in the luxury sports sedan category. Looked good, great price for such an impressive seeming car, and this guy could lay out a sell rationale---"Hyundai can build great cars and undercut pricing of the competition because as a conglomerate they are vertically integrated, for example they have a shipping company so they control their costs there unlike any other car company(sounds like a cross subsidy so investors take care), these cars will be a bargain like Lexus in 1988 when very few people in the U.S. really thought that they could compete with Mercedes" etc. etc. All made sense to me, but what do I know.

And the others---Ford had some interesting looking new styles like the Flex Limited but they seemed to be just new covers for the same old stuff---same for Mercury except for one amazingly gaudy large wedge shaped sedan that was spinning slowly around on a pedestal. It was so self consciously "modern" and no doubt had had some interesting new features. It was getting some attention, wish I paid attention to its name---GM cars just look to me like GM cars have always looked, with the exception of the universally acclaimed Cadillac CTS. That is one handsome car inside and out---Acura was a big disappointment. I'm interested in those cars but they just had all of the familiar models on display and not even a picture of, much less a model of, the new Acura TL, coming out in September with a complete redesign---Chrysler cars are not faring well in the world of car ratings on most counts, and they seem to think that they can compensate by putting the most chrome, and impossibly shiny chrome, on the sides and into the grills and light frames of the cars. They are over the top in going for catchy design, a sort retro late '50's in some cases, that batmobile hearse look in others, that they just don't pull off in my book---Audi had an incredibly German display of cars all in a line, evenly spaced, all silver with black interior, they looked too perfect to drive---BMW, the take I had when I saw the new 1 series and its price is that it is essentially taking the 3 series pricing point and the entire line is moving up the pricing scale. Other than that surprisingly no surprises here. The display was just messy in its organization, the exact opposite of Audi---Mercedes, do they really need to put champagne bottles in the caddy between the two back seats to remind folks of their place in the car world, beautiful cars of course---Lexus, nothing unusual but I was interested the the 350 Hybrid, the first luxury hybrid that's really in full production that I'm aware of, with mid 30's gas mileage, not bad for someone who can afford it---Nissan, same old stuff too. Their Altima Hybrid was interesting for several reasons, not necessarily good. Altima Hybrid has a base price around $25,000 while the regular Altima sedan has a base of $20,000. The gas mileage on the hybrid is 35 in the city and 33 on the road while the gas mileage on the regular is 24 in the city and 33 on the road. Somehow that doesn't seem like an automatic yes on the green monitor, as in both environment and money---Toyota didn't have much new and the many hostesses in their matching dresses knew absolutely nothing about the cars. The little Prius with its 48mpg city and highway remains the hybrid standout and the Camry hybrid, large enough for me to sit in without getting cramps had the exact same specs as the Altima just discussed. Interestingly the base price on the Prius was $23,000, just $2000 less than the Camry---Honda generally didn't show much new either but there were some high points. The base Accord LX is just obviously one of the best buys there is with its nice redesign, Honda's perfect fit and finish, 171 horsepower, 21mpg city/31mpg highway, and Honda road feel. That's my opinion. I asked the uniformed but extremely well informed young Honda hostess whether there was an Accord Hybrid(there is a Civic Hybrid that is the same basic size as the Prius but the Prius still seems to be the better designed car and is the most efficient) and she explained that there was an Accord Hybrid but it was discontinued because the mileage was not that much better than the regular Accord and it cost quite a bit more. She explained that it was just not popular because of that. Having just had the same thought over at Nissan, I felt like I understood. Then she took me over to the new Honda FCX Clarity to be introduced in southern California this summer. What a stunning looking car, a wedge shaped midsized sedan that really seats two comfortably in the back and it was more low key stylish than anything I had seen during the day. And by the way, it has no emissions, zero. It was just beautiful. One problem though. It runs on hydrogen and apparently only southern California has some type of service station where you can refill your car with hydrogen. My last exhibit of the day, and I felt like I had seen the future.


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