The New York Auto Show is more often than not an annual trip into Manhattan to spend time in the non-vintage world. 2011 was not different, or so I thought. It is always an interesting show, and more than a few world debut events usually take place. Like the New York International Motorcycle Show, it takes place at the Javits Center on the west side. However, this show takes up the whole center and all three floors. This year, the Jeep folks had their Jeep experience track setup outside. I did this a few years ago, and basically you get to ride along as a driver navigates an obstacle course demonstrating the trail worthiness of the Jeep vehicles. Fun if the line is short. It wasn't. In any case, the show begins even before you get into the building.
New and interesting this year was the electric vehicle experience. This involved a course inside the building on the lower level where you could try the Nissan Leaf, Chevy, Volt, and a few other electric vehicles on a football-field-sized track. No combustion, so it could take place indoors, a fun way to bring the point home, and what better venue than one of the world's largest cities choked with cars 24X7. I might have tried one if the line had been short. It wasn't. The lines were very short around any non-hybrid small car with excellent mileage. The Nissan Versa, Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris, etc were all quality little cars with mileage not far off from hybrids, and with conventional motors which I have learned must now be referred to as the ICE (internal combustion engine). At the other end of the scale, there was no shortage of very large and very expensive vehicles that got lousy gas mileage. Large SUVs and smaller high performance SUVs, and big luxury performance sedans were everywhere. Range Rover, and BMW, and Porsche, and Audi, and Lexus, and Cadillac, et al, have not forgotten those who are as comfortable with GPM as with MPG.
If you are going to have poor mileage, then a race car is the way to go IMHO. One of the delightful surprises of this show was that Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Formula One car from last year was on display almost close enough to touch. It was on one of those slow moving rotary displays, and it is just stunning in real life. I could not believe how disinterested the crowd was in this car ! It takes a lot to faze a New Yorker, but strolling past a car worth more than everything else in the place combined ??! I stood there for a long time mesmerized until I collapsed from dizziness. Once I woke up, I went on to find more race cars hiding amongst the displays. The BMW ALMS car of Hand-Muller-Werner-Auberlen, the Nissan zero emmission race car, A Ken Block WRC Ford Fiesta, the Bentley ice speed record car. Fascinating stuff that you could actually touch in most cases. It was a show inside a show.
Another nested show if you will, was the prototype/concept show. The New York show is apparently a good place to guage public opinion about just about anything, including cars. There were certainly some designs present intended to push the envelope. The SAAB concept was not my cup of tea, (truth be told, most modern designs are not) but it was striking. Mercedes had a very un-mercedes-like SUV kind of something, and there were many more. The only one I thought looked decent was the VW Microbus which has been on the circuit for a few years now and is rumored to be going into production.
Just in time to save me from all of this was the best surprise tucked away on a lower level. The Lemay museum exhibit which featured small and alternative propulsion cars form the past. There was an actual propeller driven Leyat, along with a Citroen 2CV, an NSU Wankel Spider, a Velorex Dakar, of course a few Isettas, a Honda 600 coupe, and a Goggomobil TS 400. Each car had a placard which included the mileage. It was humorous to note that we had perfectly functional cars delivering 50+ MPG, 50+ years ago. The designs were interesting as well. I couldn't help wishing that some of the designers upstairs would spend some more time downstairs in this exhibit. It was not a large exhibit, but it was well worth the time if the line was short. It was.