2011 New York Auto Show Highlights
Smaller cars shine while hybrids and electrics fade, and performance cars roar from the sidelines
NEW YORK CITY—While some auto shows have been shrinking in scope lately, the 2011 New York auto show opened with a flourish of promise. Show organizers claimed a record number of vehicle debuts, whether global or for the North American market. The final count announced was 56, though not all proved as earthshaking as the manufacturers might have believed, and few yielded significant surprises.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
Plenty of words were spoken about fuel-efficiency, and spokespersons for a number of new and redesigned models touted the improved gas-mileage figures of their latest creations. “There is no doubt that fuel-efficiency is driving much of the change in this industry,” said Mark Scheinberg, president of the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association. Still, increased horsepower figures often took precedence, competing with fuel-economy estimates for attention.
In their news conference remarks, more auto executives appeared to be focusing on improvements in the conventional internal combustion engine as a means to greater fuel-efficiency. Electric cars and hybrid vehicles, which have been the unabashed stars of previous auto shows, slipped to the background this year in New York.
2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
Only a couple of hybrid vehicles made it, and neither qualifies as an economy car. Porsche unveiled its Panamera S Hybrid, a gasoline/electric rendition of the ultra-stylish sport luxury sedan. Volkswagen introduced a Hybrid version of its reworked Touareg SUV.
Mitsubishi announced the starting price of its i-MiEV electric car ($27, 990, less a $7,500 federal tax credit), but that car has been seen at several auto shows before. No new battery-powered vehicles made it to New York this year, apart from a racecar based upon the Nissan LEAF.
BMW’s exhibit included the ActiveE electric car, based on the 1 Series coupe, which debuted at the Geneva (Switzerland) auto show in March. No news conference was held in New York, but BMW had already announced that the ActiveE will be leased for $499 per month, later this year.
Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt: World Car Winners
Hyundai continued to emphasize its 40-mpg theme, but Honda was practically alone in launching a specifically thrift-oriented model: an HF edition of its redesigned 2012 Civic. HF “heralds the return of a high-mileage model,” said Honda sales chief John Mendel, adding that a Honda Fit EV will reach southern California dealerships in 2012.
In his keynote address to the media and auto executives, Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan Americas, noted that last year’s oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico from a BP rig “shined a light on transportation solutions.” That’s what should have happened, but the evidence suggests that few people—in the industry or outside—heeded the message for very long after the disaster occurred. No one else at the major auto show news conferences even bothered to mention the oil spill or its impact.
Tavares noted that the documentary film “Revenge of the Electric Car” was about to open in Tribeca. The Nissan LEAF electric car is gradually gaining broad availability, and will be sold nationwide in 2012.
The Few Totally New
All-new models were in short supply at New York, led by the compact Range Rover Evoque crossover and Infiniti’s new JX full-size sport-utility vehicle. Audi showcased its brand new A7, which, logically enough, slots between the existing A6 and A8 sedans; but that A7 is already on sale.
Seven familiar-name compact cars turned up at the show in 2012 form: the Kia Rio, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, and Volkswagen Beetle. But rather than new models, all are redesigns that were expected. Only the new Fiat 500 Cabrio, with a retro-styled sliding fabric roof, qualifies as a microcar.
Performance cars (and SUVs) were more numerous, including the Hemi-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Chrysler 300 SRT8. More costly examples included several AMG models from Mercedes-Benz, a Jaguar XKR-S, and the Lotus Evora. Shelby unleashed a GT500 Super Snake that whips up a startling 800 horsepower—a tad more than needed for daily commutes.
Concept cars used to be auto show staples, but not so much anymore. Scion revealed a bright red FR-S sport coupe in a practically breathless promotional presentation. Mercedes-Benz showed its minimal-size A-Class model in concept form. Suzuki had twin Kizashi-based concepts, and Lexus brought an LF-Gh hybrid, but neither of those companies held a news conference to promote their presence.
Rather than unveil one of next year’s (2012) models, two major car companies each elected to show a 2013 model instead—one that cannot go on sale until sometime in 2012. Ford revealed the 2013 Taurus, and Chevrolet concentrated on its 2013 Malibu.
Japan’s Quake Impact
Many references were made to the Japanese earthquake, which lingered like a dark cloud over the proceedings, even from those companies that have been less affected. During the annual media breakfast that opens Press Days at the show, Alice O’Rourke, divisional vice president of the American Red Cross, explained how that organization had sent more than $100 million to its partners in Japan. More than 2 million trained volunteers were over there, helping to provide emergency health care, as well as food and “comfort items” (such as blankets) for the 130,000 people still in shelters. O’Rourke indicated that the relief effort was “comparable to activating a Fortune 100 company in just a few days.”
Echoing the comments by a number of executives, Honda’s John Mendel advised that “we continue to be challenged by the parts supply issue” stemming from the earthquake. Several manufacturers announced a move of one of their models to production in a U.S. factory, including Nissan and Kia.
Outside the Box
As usual, a small flurry of pre-show presentations and receptions let manufacturers showcase their latest wares at more exotic venues than New York’s Javits Convention Center. Some of those lavish presentations generated more media coverage than the unveilings on the show floor.
Summing up, it may be a record year for the 2011 New York auto show. Yet, only the appearance of the KISS heavy-metal rock group at the MINI news conference stimulated the sort of excitement and enthusiasm that used to be the rule at all of the top auto shows.
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