Thursday, April 28, 2011

New York Auto Show 2011, part 3

On Friday, April 22 I returned to the Auto Show. My day started early. I had to remove the Saab from its spot by 7am—not a problem for someone used to getting up at 4:15, though I did sleep in until about 6:00. While alternate-side parking rules were suspended that week for Passover, finding anyplace to park that was legal was a bit of a challenge. Forty minutes of doing haphazard laps through the cross streets finally yielded a legal spot, and I decided to leave the car there for the duration of my stay.

After a leisurely breakfast, I borrowed a Metro card and took the #6 train downtown to 33rd Street, then walked across town to the Jacob Javits Center. This was opening day for the show, and as made my way closer toward the Hudson I became part of the throng that was heading, en masse, to the JJC. After the relative quiet of the JJC on Thursday, Friday was different—more New York: it was crowded, bustling and noisy. After securing my ticket I went straight to the Saab display.

The Saab display was teeming with people. The Phoenix was on a turntable, as it was on Thursday. This day, though, it was rotating and there was a fence to keep gawkers at a safe distance. That’s when I realized that I had never availed myself the opportunity to sit in it. Perhaps another time. Swade was there. He recounted his morning, and how he had been doing a filming of the Saab display with his tiny Hero Cam, with the intent to show it in high-speed, condensed form—thirty minutes of recording replayed in four as seen
here. After hanging around some, listening to the attendees, and staying rather incognito, we retired to the food court to grab some lunch. Afterward, Swade retrieved his bags from the coatroom and bade the NY Auto Show goodbye as he headed off to Kennedy Airport.

Since my hosts would not be back until late day, I went back into the show. I did spend more time at the Saab display. Again, I was looking more for peoples reactions than looking at anything in particular myself. While the Phoenix, Ice Block, massive video screen and Independence Day Convertible were all draws to the stand, the 9-5 Combi seemed to have the most people lingering over it and giving it real, thoughtful attention, as though they were picturing themselves in it, or it in their driveway. I can see why. Say what you will about the treatment of the rear door windows and the awkward line they create moving to the rear. I was not terribly bothered by this when seeing the car in person. I was happy to see the European hatch, with its lower portion deflecting rearward to be flush with the rear bumper. While adding visual appeal and being unique, I think this would present a nightmare in our real world. It wouldn’t take much of a bumper tap to stove that hatch in, and likely leave it incapable of being opened. Overall, the balance of the design is aggressive, cool, and much striking than the sedan’s.

While there were inquiries about the 9-4x, there wasn’t much fuss about it. This is unfortunate, since this vehicle comes to market quite soon. The 9-4x was off to the side and locked. I did not understand this. Sure, that 9-4x was likely not a production car and there may be some subtle differences compared to an actual production version. Who cares? The presenters did speak about the car, but that didn’t bring too many around. There should have been a bright light on the 9-4x, and it should have been open. The other misstep on Saab’s part was the absence of iQon. After all the buzz that came out of Geneva, there should have been a mock-up, or even just something on the display screen. This omission seems very odd to me.

Eventually, I tired of the Saab display and decided to take my tour of the show. I started on the lower level, which touted trucks from every manufacturer, and a few automobiles from manufacturers who must not have wanted to pay the upstairs rent. I’m not a big truck or SUV guy, so I skipped most of those displays. I did spend a few minutes at the Mercedes display. I’ve always fancied the old G-wagon, though not all tarted out the way MB sells them now, and the Sprinter vans were presented in a variety of configurations. I did go and see the Subaru stand, to see the new Imperezza…..yawn. I had hoped there would be rally car, but I couldn’t find one. The most entertaining display was from Suzuki. They were spending a lot of time proclaiming the Kizashi as the greatest car since the invention of the Otto-cycle engine. I’m sure it’s fine…What I liked there, though, was that they included everything Suzuki. There was a big outboard engine (I loved the Suzuki built outboard we once had) and a trio of motorcycles. The one that made me stop and stare, as it always does, was the Hayabusa. I am not a speed freak. Rather the opposite. Yet I revere that machine and all that it is capable of. I appreciate its unorthodox style, its fundamental simplicity and ordinary architecture, and admire Suzuki for building such a no-holds-barred contraption. It is a beast like no other.

I took a peek at the electric car indoor test-drive, also in the lower level, and concluded that it was just stupid. I also wondered about the people queued up for this test drive. Conversely, on my way back to the upper level, I went outside to see what the Jeep contingent was up to. They had a large installation outdoors, that consisted of a test-track to demonstrate the off-road prowess of a Jeep. It was a great amusement park ride! Attendees rode along as passengers, and Jeep provided the driver. First, the Jeeps, many different models, drove up, over and down a huge metal arch at such steep angles, you’d swear the Jeep should just slide off, especially coming down. Then it was through some sloppy stuff (deep mulch), big bumps, off-set bumps to lift individual wheels off the ground, and over an obstacle to prove its ground clearance. Jeep had enthusiastic hawkers with bull-horns encouraging onlookers to go for a ride, and they were packed all day. Good for Jeep!

Next, it was back to the upper level. I saw a bit of everything. Besides the cars that ought to take your breath away, like the Aston Martin, Bentley, Lotus and Spyker, there were two displays I did not tire of looking at: Jaguar and Fiat. I am Jaguar ignorant. I know the difference between an XKE and an XJ6, but not much more than that, especially regarding the new offerings. I can tell you that based on pure automotive sex appeal, these were the class of the show, both individually, and especially when seen as a group. It was just hard for me not to stare, and then stare again. The Fiat 500 was loads of fun. The sardine-can retractable cloth roof, reminiscent of the 2CV, is wonderful. I wanted to get inside one for pictures but it was just impossible with so many people trying to do the same. I love diminutive cars. An original Mini is on my bucket list. [I might like the current Mini, but an acquaintance whom I loathe drove one and now I can’t look at a Mini without being reminded of them, so new Minis I do not like.] So is a 2CV. I never craved the original 500, and they did have a lovely one there. The new 500 shows well, and I am sure, especially with gas prices doing what they’re doing, that these will sell well. Good for Fiat!

Some honorable mentions need to go out: Audi, for building the A7 (Take a look Saab. The 9-5 could have been such a hatchback.); Mazda, for getting rid of the Joker-face on the 3; Mercedes, for showing an A-class sized car, albeit some alternate power version; Infiniti, for displaying the Renault F1 car; Scion, for showing that Japanese car makers can have an interesting display; all the European brands, except Volkswagen, for having attractive presentations. Boos and hisses go out to Volkswagen, who seems to bask in the glory of indifferent blandness in both its cars and its display; to Lexus-Toyota-Acura-Honda for being uninspired in their presentations (except for Lexus having really cushy carpeting at their display—how appropriate!); Mercedes, for presenting a concept car so fake, it had painted cardboard behind the wheels to look like brake components.

At the end of the day I had museum legs and I was tired. Still, I had a fabulous time at the Show. It was great to meet up with old Saab friends, especially Swade, meet new ones, like Jason Castriotta, and see all the exciting product in the pipeline. Thank you, Dan Leahy and Charles River Saab, for permitting me to go on this junket. I hear that Frankfurt is going to be something this year…..

1 comment:

Admin said...

I'm a little surprised they closed the 9-4x up. It was open in the morning when I was there. one lady spent around 40 minutes in it, including 20 with her husband and friends. She went away with some brochures and seemed to really like it (as I'm sure others would too).

Maybe something happened inside?

Anyway, great to see you there and enjoyed your impressions of the show. I wish i'd seen the cardboard Mercedes brakes. Back in the SU days I'd have ripped them to shreds :-)