Saturday, March 08, 2008

2008 Auto Show Comes to Town

The 2008 Kansas City International Auto Show is in full swing at Bartle Hall. With the opening of the Power and Light District, the new Sprint Arena (any guesses as to the new name when Sprint goes belly up?) and the Auto Show, downtown was bustling for a change. Warm weather and more openings will make it even better, if Bush does not destroy the USA before he leaves office.

The buzz word was MPG, to the likes not seen since the 70's oil embargoes when Ford had a line of cars branded as MPG. Even the big machines were touting higher gas mileage. Hybrid trucks, SUVs, sedans etc. All strangely not available, coming soon or limited availability. With gas at $3 and more and politicians on both sides willing to let big oil rape and pillage, it looks like somewhat brisk business for the small car set.

But, big trucks with huge engines, big SUVs, big luxury cruisers were sill in evidence. And for all you US auto bashers, mostly from the imports. Size still matters.

Being the Midwest, the trucks were often center stage. Chevrolet and Dodge have new trucks, Ford seems to still rule the roost in the truck world. Frankly, I have no need for a truck, they do nothing to stir my blood so I avoid them like the plague. But the ones I saw are more luxurious than a Cadillac was 10 years ago, maybe even more luxurious than a current Caddy.

Smaller, family friendly "crossovers", SUVs and the like were in ascendance: Dodge Journey, Dodge Caliber, Ford Edge, Ford Taurus X, Chevy Tahoe, Chevy HHR, Saturn Vue,Toyota Rav 4, various Hondas and Subarus and so on; continuing for the rap star and big family set, the grandaddy Escalades, Suburbans, Durangoes, et. al. This market will continue to be big even as the gas prices rise.

Big luxury was evident in the new Lincoln MkS the only new Lincoln that would make me part with my 20 year old Town Car. Big sleek and sexy, looks incredible in black. Ford sill produces cars with the keyless entry pad on the doors, the new MkS has its hidden until pressed and then lights up; honestly the best thing since power steering and strangely not copied by others.

To me, the company with the best over all line up was Saturn. After a strong start and then the usual GM miscues, Saturn seems to have come into its own. The Vue is a strong contender in the SUV category, the Aura is a wonderful sedan, especially in blue with the natural brown leather interior. The new Astra is an Opel in disguise but roomy and functional. The Sky is a mini-Vette and more attractive and more fun for damn sure.

To me the cars that had the least appeal were Honda and Toyota, appliances all. Not much different than going to a blender show. People love them, especially the suburban soccer moms and such. Good for them. The Lexus and Infinity are in the same league for me, and remind me too much of Cupcake Land drivers. Buick and Pontiac were not far behind. Sadly, they seem to be anachronisms, both far from their glory days. I see GM soon as Chevrolet, Saturn, Cadillac. Mercury seems doomed as well.

The Dodge Challenger, soon to be available was garnering a lot of attention. A modernization of the classic 70s pony car (which was not a real success when it was in production) it looked great but was totally impractical. A niche market for Dodge and I understand they are almost impossible to get. On the other hand, the Chevrolet Camaro still seemed to be a teasing concept.

Greg and I strolled all evening long, he looking at the MPG figures on the HHR, Dodge Caliber, and berating the Toyota people for not having the Igo that is to be imported. Greg has a new thing for a small car. We stopped by the Smart car display, with many people crowded around the little micro cars. A fellow summed it up perfectly: "great in Paris, just not practical here". The Escalades would smash it and not notice it.

The auto industry is in for a rough ride, despite having some of the best looking, performing and best built cars ever. Everyone has incredible warranties that takes the fear out of repair. "Good God," I said looking at the engine compartment of a Dodge Journey, "where are the spark plugs and look where the alternator is!" "Who cares" said the sales kid... oh excuse me "Dodge Product Specialist"... with our 200,000 mile powertrain warranty and roadside assistance, who needs to know where they are?" "I might enjoy changing my spark plugs, ever think of that?" No...

In the end, the MkS impressed me the most, I wish it well and think the lack of a V8 may be a blessing in disguise despite the howls from the auto writers, who ignore the fact that most Mercedes and BMWs have sixes. I'd probably end up buying a Saturn Aura and a Sky if I won the lottery, but out of necessity will keep the Queen Mary going as long as I can. Greg decided as well to hold on to his 7 year old PT Cruiser.

I think we were in the majority.

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