While not exactly a whimper, the kick-off to another international auto show season — fingers crossed — certainly didn’t start with a bang, as the New York Auto Show took centre stage this week in downtown Manhattan after a two-year absence.
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Far from being a showcase of the world’s best and brightest automakers, the pickings, and new vehicle reveals, were slim, with none of the major German brands, save for Volkswagen, on the Javits Convention Centre floor. Even home-country heavyweight Cadillac gave the event a miss.
The lingering question after opening press day among the not-so-teeming throng of the world’s motoring press was: Is this year’s show a taste of what is to become of the world’s top shows, or instead merely a reflection of the globe having still not fully emerged from the global pandemic? Well, just as car journos often disagree on things — take for example the aesthetic appeal of BMW’s new kidney grilles — there really isn’t consensus as to whether we left peak auto show in the rearview before COVID-19 became a thing, or if shows’ relevance will be restored in the coming years.
Personally, I believe the health and welfare of auto shows — from the big daddies to the regional ones — is just fine, particularly from a consumer, paying-customer point of view. However, I think the days of auto shows commanding the attention of the press is waning, mostly because the automakers themselves prefer to hold their own events, albeit on the eve of the shows. The thinking is they get more bang for their buck that way rather than fighting it out for coverage amongst each other with show-floor reveals on dedicated press days. And they are right.
So, all that being said, there was still a lot to digest during New York’s opening press day. Here are my top five takeaways.
Build it and they will drive
EV ride-and-drives are nothing new at auto shows. My home show, the Vancouver International Auto Show, and the Canadian International Auto Show have been hosting these kinds of events for several years. But New York had a different take on this concept, which essentially allows the public to get behind the wheels of several new electric vehicles and go for a drive. For many people, this affords their very first opportunity to drive an EV.
However, where previous EV ride-and-drives have been held outside the show venues on city streets, New York had not one, not two, but three indoor tracks for the test drives. The main one was in the sprawling basement of the convention centre, and featured electric vehicles from a few manufacturers, including newcomer VinFast, Volvo, Nissan, Kia, Ford, and Hyundai.
However – and call this a silver lining to the shortfall of automakers in attendance – Ford and Hyundai had their own tracks adjacent to their booths in the main show area. Good thing, too, as without them there would have been big empty spaces. Instead, the public could take a spin, albeit slowly, in a Mustang Mach-E and Ioniq 5. Just another benefit of zero-emission vehicles: no tailpipes mean no exhaust, which would be a non-starter in an indoor setting.
Subaru still sells the sizzle
Not to date myself here, but when I first started attending auto show press days, the big-time automakers tried to outdo each other with wilder and wilder displays. Jeeps crashing through walls, Bruce Hornsby tickling the ivories as the sheet was pulled off a new vehicle, actors rappelling from the ceiling like stuntmen in a Bond film. It was like a day at Universal Studios Theme Park.
But that has all but come to an end, except for Subaru and its clever outdoor camp interactive display, complete with showtimes. Granted, it has been around for a few years now, but the main stage in New York breathed some life into the show. Displayed there was the all-new Solterra, Subie’s first-ever EV, and behind it stunning IMAX-like aerial footage of what could only be Canada’s Rockies. The spectacle was made better by sprinkling simulated snow on showgoers’ heads and shoulders. (Come to think of it, Bruce Hornsby and the Range would make for an apropos lead-in to an EV reveal, wouldn’t they?)
Automakers still get the ‘concept’
Time was the icing on the cake of an auto show was the weird and wonderful array of concept cars, with oftentimes every manufacturer displaying at least one. Those days, too, are over.
But these imaginative flights of fancy still have a place at the show, particularly for the younger show-goers, so kudos to Kia for rolling out its EV9 Concept in New York. While not a show debut for the all-electric SUV — that was late last year in L.A. — the large vehicle built on the dedicated Electric Global Modular Platform shared between Kia and Hyundai was fun to look at, and it was fun, too, to imagine what the eventual production vehicle will look like.
No shortage of hype to buy into
Supercars are also auto show staples, and with the combined emergence of hypercars and electric cars, shows are increasingly being used as the coming-out party for these wicked-looking, and wickedly fast, vehicles.
New York was no exception, as the Deus Vayanne was unveiled to an appreciative audience. Produced by an Austrian-based company — in partnership with Italdesign, the design firm founded by Giorgetto Giugiaro; and Williams Advanced Engineering — the electric hypercar has a reported output of 2,200 horsepower, 1,475 pound-feet of torque, and a zero-to-100-km/h time of under two seconds. Deus reports that deliveries will begin in 2025, and just 99 units of the Vayanne will be built.
It puts one up front, three in the back
What’s an auto show without some whimsy? Little surprise it was that a Japanese maker brought a smile to the face of showgoers with its own concept vehicle. (I say “little surprise” as the Tokyo auto show is renowned for having almost as many wild and funny little cars as production vehicles on display).
The Toyota Rhombus Concept is a unique four-seat battery-powered electric vehicle designed with consumers born after 1990 in mind. Developed with TMEC, the company’s research and development base in China, there is a single swivel seat up front, and three seats in the back in a lounge-pit-like area.
Toyota has plans to roll out more than 10 battery electric vehicle models globally in the next five or six years, with a sales target of more than 5.5 million electrified vehicles worldwide by 2030. I’d like to think the Rhombus will be one of them, but since I’m born well before 1990, my sensible self thinks not.