The auto industry is still abuzz over dueling, East-West auto shows: The New York International Auto Show, April 22-May 1, and the Shanghai (China) International Automobile Industry Exhibition, April 21-28.
Once upon a time it wouldn’t have mattered much – NYC would have been the place to be – but the Chinese car market zoomed past that of the United States in 2009, with a record 18 million cars sold last year. So it’s no surprise that many auto manufacturers put their best new sheet metal, and fashionable leather interiors, forward on both continents instead of choosing one show over the other.
Steps are being taken to ensure the schedule conflict doesn’t happen again. Both shows offered plenty to see.
The coolest concept car honors in New York were a competition among Lexus, Scion and Mercedes. The Lexus LF-Gh premium luxury hybrid “…changes the current notions of power, efficiency, safety and environmental consideration…” according to press materials.
In other words, Lexus wants to appeal beyond its customary upper-middle-class, middle-age market. Scion’s FR-S (front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sport) concept oozes sex appeal. The Toyota-Subaru joint venture has a 2.0-liter, direct-injected boxer engine with a six-speed transmission. Wired magazine’s “Autopia” blog said it is “…So Hot, We Can Taste It.” The FR-S is supposed to be in production within a year.
Mercedes A-Class concept, when it goes into production, should fill the under-$30k space in the German manufacturer’s line and appeal to younger drivers. Scheduled for European markets next year, expect to see it here in the US within the next three years.
Fuel efficiency was a dominant item at both shows. Honda, Nissan and Kia made strong showings among compact cars. Honda’s new Civic caused a stir with six different models, including a 44 mpg hybrid. Nissan’s Versa, with its under-$11k price tag, gets 30 mpg city/37 mpg highway. The new Kia Rio intrigues with idle-stop, saving fuel by shutting down the engine during long stops and starting up again when the driver lets up on the brake. It’s rated at 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway.
Bragging rights for style among smaller cars went to the Fiat 500’s new convertible version and to Volkswagen’s lower, beefier, next generation, Beetle.
Among electrics, BMW showed off an all-electric 1-Series coupe that it will lease for $499 per month to 700 volunteer demonstration drivers on both US coasts. Nissan unveiled the Nismo Leaf RC, an all-electric two-seat racecar. It will go from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, and can sustain its “race” mode for about 20 minutes on a charge; Nissan seems to hope to ignite a thirst for electric racing. Nissan’s 5-door hatchback LEAF was named “World Car of the Year” at the NYIAS.
New mid-sized cars also are more efficient. Most notable are the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO, with sleeker styling and a 237 hp engine that Ford brags will get 31 mpg highway, and the 38 mpg Chevy Malibu ECO, which GM introduced in Shanghai and in New York, will sell in almost 100 countries. At 26 mpg city/38 highway, Chevy boasts that its 4-cylinder engine “mild” hybrid system gets better mileage than the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion hybrids.
More and better electronic connectivity was the trend at both shows. Ford already had its SYNC system allowing voice-activated music and cell phone use. Toyota now has Entune, with voice recognition and smart phone connection allowing use of some apps. Hyundai’s Blue Link, coming this summer, has interactive voice response, built-in cell service and a button to press if you want to talk to a live operator.
Both BMW and Mercedes continue to expand on-board use of new apps. As the New York Times wryly observed, “…owner’s manuals are going to be a lot thicker next year.” With April figures showing auto sales continue to grow, clearly consumers have a lot to look forward to in the next few months and years.