Auto Show 4: Awards Time

I have a couple more little Auto Show stories to tell, but since work and the dreaded real life  seem to be rearing their ugly heads at the same time, I thought I’d get on with the Awards!  (Everybody likes Awards, right?)

These are presented in no particular order, over the next day or two …

Best Concept: Honda CR-Z: a revival of the classic CRX. For anyone who doesn’t remember, the CRX was a variation on the Civic with a lightweight, two seater coupe body and a sporty suspension.  Different engines were offered, so a CRX could be an HF model, offering 50 mpg economy and a still-entertaining driving experience or a CRX Si, a full on sports coupe that was once of the first darlings of the early tuner movement.  CRXs were great cars.  There were several times we almost bought one, and I’m sure our lives would have been better if we had.  Heck, an old one in the driveway today would make a great beater commuter.

 So the revival of the CRX is good news.  Time marches on, and this concept is a hybrid.  I love the idea of a sporty small hybrid that is lightfooted in its use of resources as well as in its handling.   And while a two seat car, by definition, has a limited market, there really are a lot of people who could use one, particularly those who live alone, particularly in urban areas, and families and couples who have a larger car for group use and need a commuter ride for one.  Think seriously for a moment.  If you don’t have kids and don’t carpool (oh, and don’t have dogs …), how long has it been since anyone has actually ridden in your back seat?  I drive a sedan that seats four comfortably, and I know it’s been almost a year for me, although the dogs do ride back there fairly often.   Yes, one back seat in the family fleet is probably a necessity, but with reasonable planning, you could probably eliminate some of the others.  Two seat cars are intimate, and romantic, and fun, and when they are lightweight hybrids like this one, they can be fun with a clean conscience.

I’ll admit that some of the design details on this concept are a little funky, particularly the nose, but some of that can be attributed to “Auto Show over-the-topness”.  With a good eye, it’s fairly easy to subtract the drama and see the essential Honda goodness that is a CRX.  Check out that silhouette!  And the rear end is very cool, though I hope they separate the twin exhausts in the production model.

http://automobiles.honda.com/cr-z/

http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/honda/honda-cr+z-hybrid-concept-car-too-awesome-to-be-a-honda-308956.php

And it does seem like there will be a production model.  Rumor has it that CR-Z is a go, and it can’t happen soon enough for me.  Just lose the hyphen, Honda.

Sharkipede 

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Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 4:55 am  Comments (3)  
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Auto Show 3: a very scary car

I saw a lot of cars at the Auto Show, and very few of them surprised me very much.  Part of this is a matter of too much information:  I read Auto Week and Ward’s Auto World and four buff books a month,  listen to Car Talk and watch Motor Week and visit Jalopnik and other car sites regularly.  I’ve seen pictures of almost every new car long before it comes out, often many pictures, and I’m pretty good at translating them in my head to picture the car itself.  Granted, all  cars usually look better in the metal than on the page …(if they don’t there’s a huge problem), but it’s something you get used to.  Very little totally blindsides me.

But sometimes words and pictures, or even the imagination, are not enough.   Usually, that’s a bad thing– a car that is good on paper, and even looks pretty, is lousy to sit in, much less drive.  This is why it’s so good to go to the Auto Show– you don’t get to drive, but sitting in a car tells you a lot.

In this case, it told me a LOT, and none of it was good.  Not good, that is for the US auto industry, and possibly not for the Japanese as well.  The car itself is bodacious.  If it runs and drives as well as it “sits”, everyone else needs to be afraid.  Very afraid.  Maybe not Mercedes and BMW and Bentley and Porsche, not to mention Ferrari and Lamborghini.  Anybody building anything truly sporting, and or truly prestigious is safe (for now). 

But if I were GM, contemplating the future of Buick (and maybe even Cadillac) or Ford, contemplating the future of Mercury and Lincoln,  I would be shaking in my polished shoes.  If I were Chrysler, I would be hiding under the bed.  If I were in the home islands, making marketing plans for Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura, I would be feeling distinctly nervous.

The country is South Korea. The company is Hyundai. The car is a medium-large, rather luxurious, V8 powered, rear drive sedan.  Its name is Genesis. 

http://www.hyundaigenesis.com/  Look at this website now, please, particularly if you have broadband.  It’s got many nifty pics and and says more than I can say here, except to add that the car looks much, much nicer in person.  The hood and front fender treatment is particularly elegant– there is a lovely suggestion of a real fender.

Genesis made its debut in Detroit a few weeks ago, and it was one of the cars I particularly wanted to see.  I expected to admire it (if I found it admirable) from a distance, rotating on a turntable behind a little railing.  Hyundai is to be commended for having not one, but three of them sitting on the floor, to be given a certificate of merit for allowing people to sit in them, and to be awarded a gold medal for having one of them “live” so that visitors could adjust the seats and steering wheel to take a driving position.  This is the kind of thing that makes one think that Hyundai might be interested in selling some cars to people.  They even had a full sized model of theit new Tau V-8 engine on display for the edification of tech heads. 

This is a pretty, pretty car, solid and chunky, and everything about it, inside and out, seems to be of a piece.  I don’t know anything about Hyundai’s design department, but it seems like the people who did the exterior were actually talking to the people who did the interior.   There seems to have been a unifing idea. 

All the details seem right– clean paint, decent quality plastics, nice leather that smells just great.  Chocolate brown leather, the color of a Hershey bar, in one case, in a car painted a lush wine red… this is a car that rewards color, and I was sorry to see the other cars on display were silver over very dark grey leather.   But it still looked good.

Ergonomically, it’s sweet.  I’m normally confused in an all electronic cabin, and I found, and used all the controls easily.  It took me only a few moments to find an excellent driving position, and I automatically crammed down the brake and reached for the controller to put it into drive. I was gonna take that sucker for a spin.  I’ve only done that a few times, ever, in a show room or at an Auto Show, and I consider it a very good sign.

Designwise, it’s clean and strong looking, but hardly a creative breakthrough.  Hints of Toyota/Lexus, Mazda, and Mercedes, even Maybach, abound.  Not that any of that is bad– those are handsome cars, and so is this one.  They are also cars that sell well, and have pleasant associations of quality, luxury, good road manners, prestige, and style.  This puts Genesis right where it needs to be to compete with these cars using Hyundai’s traditional marketing scheme of “an equivalent car, with a better warranty, for much less money.”  This has sucessfully put Camry/Accord customers into Sonatas, and small Buick customers into Azeras.  Will it put Acura/Lexus/Lincoln/big Buick etc. etc. customers into Genesis?  Don’t know, obviously,  but my guess would be, oh yes, it certainly will.

Had a long talk with a product rep from Hyundai about this, and we came to two conclusions.  1) Unless there is a major quality problem that results in the engine falling out in the first two months of ownership or something, the big H has a real winner here. 2) Hyundai has come a long way, not just from the hideous Excel, but from the early cars of their second coming, like that fondly remembered first generation Accent with tinfoil doors and a strong smell reminiscent of a Samsung VCR when you first plug it in.

We sat in a current Accent.  It’s a very nice car, a strong competitor in every way to a Fit.  The new Elantra is very pretty, and I’d take one over a Corolla, a Civic or a Focus. I know three families right now who are strongly considering a Sonata.

Does the idea of Genesis really seem so crazy?  Not to me.  Not when not one of the big three can sell me a modern V-8, rear drive sedan with a Chrysler, Lincoln, Mercury, Buick or Oldsmobile nameplate, and GM has to outsource the new Pontiac G8 to Australia. 

I’m waiting for the final color chart, but I know I want the chocolate brown leather in mine.

Sharkipede 

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Auto Show 2: the world is a carousel of color! (well, maybe.)

This blog is called “No Silver Cars” for a reason. It’s not that silver is a bad color for cars.  Lots of them look all right that way.  And, of course, silver is the German racing color, and is therefore a highly appropriate paint scheme for your Porsches, your Audis, your BMWs, and so on.  That’s fine.   I’m not coming down hard on you for driving a silver car if that’s what you actually like, and I’ve got nothing but sympathy if you are driving a car in a color you’d never pick off a chart, because you got a good deal on it and beggars can’t be choosers. (Do you really think that I would have chosen “Sell Me Now Beige” for my own car if I’d had a plethora of choices??  No.  Red one for me, or maroon, or dark green, or white … ) 

What the Sharkipede is against is a whole fleet of cars, of every size, body style, price class and country of origin, all painted silver.  Look around– it came perilously close to happening, and we are still at risk.  There was a time within the last five years when almost 50% of all new cars were painted silver, and if you include all the shades of grey, it was more than half.  Add black and white, and it’s more than 3 out of 4.  This is, in my opinion, not good.  The Sharkipede  personally likes cars that are painted a color, and prefers that the fleet display a modicum of variety.

So every year at the Auto Show I look for signs that world of automotive color is coming back to life, and this year was on the promising side.  Chrysler, especially, was showing bright blues, and overall silver blues, powder blues and silver greens continued to lift their heads and look around. I was disappointed not to see more of the chocolate browns I so enjoyed last year (Honda?  Nissan?), except, of course, for Mini’s splendid new “Hot Chocolate”, a warm cocoa brown available only on the new Clubman, which will be mentioned again in these reports.

I was also quite interested in some new French greys and warm dark umber greys, like Cadillac’s gorgeous “Double Espresso” or Lexus’ “Truffle Mica”.

Most of the color growth this year seemed to be in the oranges and orangey reds, which seemed to be moving away from coppers to include some orange toned dark reds that recalled the GM “Firethorns” of the seventies.  Those were some pretty colors on a car, not that the cars themselves were that great.  Though I do have some fond memories of a ’75 Malibu Classic sedan, Firethorn red over matching velour …

Some of the oranges I liked were GM’s “Brazen”, a rich dark orange with only a slight metal flake (seen on a Pontiac Solstice roadster), and Mitsubishi’s “Sunset Pearlescent”.

The Firethorn type dark reds included Nissan’s “Sonoma Sunset”, and Honda’s “Habanero Red”, plus Mazda’s “Redfire”.

The winner for Best Color, however, was Honda for its “Blackberry Pearl”, shown on a Fit Sport.  This is a dark, metallic ultramarine blue with a purple cast to it, a very rich, expressive color. It is bold, but subtle–  lovely on the little car and potentially superb on a large, luxurious one.  Accord cries out for this, as does a hypothetical full sized Honda or Acura.  

Creative, poetic, or silly color names are always a favorite here, and this year there were a few good ones, especially treasured since it’s so hard to come up with a creative name for silver.  I’ve already mentioned “Truffle Mica”, but let’s add Lincoln’s “Dune Pearl” (a nondescript pale gold, but a pretty name), Lexus’ “Noble Spinel Metallic” (a dark wine red), and Mitsubishi’s “Optimist Green”, a light grey green.

This year’s best colors all have rather mundane names:  Hot Chocolate, Black Cherry, Blackberry Pearl, but they are strong, vivid car colors, and that can only be good. 

Now I wonder why I’m hungry all of a sudden …

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 15, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Auto Show Reports begin

I’m back from the Auto Show!  I’ve actually been back for a little while, but I was totally car-ed out there for a bit.  I know, hard to imagine, isn’t it?  But the Auto Show is hard to imagine if you’ve never been there.  Biggest Auto Show in the country, Chicago is, and the longest running.  We spent more time on the floor this year, seven hours, than ever before and there are still some little thoughts about things we missed nagging at me .

Sorry, Nissan. I meant to sit in a Rogue, really I did, and I don’t know how I spaced it.  We still really like your Versa small car, though, particularly the hatchback.

Since it’s already rather late, I thought I’d start with some general impressions, and get to the detail stuff, and the awards, later in the week.  (I’m going to try to do daily posts until I get to everything, so please stay tuned.)

This was a big show.  I think there were more cars, and more cars that I sort of liked, this year than ever before.  It was a global show– the most hopeful car from GM was Australian, and the best Buick was Chinese.  Korea has a luxury car that could change everything, and Germany left their most interesting prospect at home.  Japan hangs fire and sticks to its strengths, but we are getting a Skyline, even though they aren’t calling it that.

This year’s show seemed less conspicuously “green”, with less emphasis on emerging technologies and more on conventional cars and trucks that get better mileage and emit fewer pollutants.

Colorwise, things continue to display modest improvements.  Silver has been displaced fleetwide by white, and oranges and orange reds seem to be gaining ground as are silver greens and blues, baby blues, and some odd but pleasing shades of umber and French grey.  And several manufacturers are showing production cars in classic shades of black cherry, which delight me.  Interiors continue to be quite dull, but some brown leather surfaces add a little interest, as do a few black and brown two tone interiors.  The award for “Car with an interior that actually matches the exterior paint (black, white, and grey don’t count)” went begging this year: no qualifying car was sighted, though Mercedes Benz came close with a very pretty CLK coupe, finished in cream over cream leather.  It was decided that this was close, but no cigar.  Has to be an actual color.  Sorry.

Otherwise:

Chrysler is counting on a muscle car to save it.  Challenger is a beauty, much prettier in the metal than in pictures, and the interior is an object lesson in elegant retro, but is it enough?  The production vehicles are pretty crummy.

GM is in product crisis. Dull, dull, dull.  The Malibu is OK, but one midsize sedan with a name that carries a horrible reputation as the nation’s premier rentacar does not a giant conglomerate make.  And the V8 powered, rear drive, full sized sedan is the premier American car.  Cars like that made GM, in every division.  Why then, is the only one that isn’t badged as a Cadillac a rebadged Holden Commodore from Australia?  Nothing against Holdens, which I’ve always thought were very cool, or against the great nation of Australia, but when you have to outsource your Pontiac Bonneville (or G8, as they insist on calling it, which only makes it much, much worse …) to an island in the South Pacific, then it may be time to put a fork in it.

Especially when something very attractive is threatening from a direction some find …unexpected.  It was a long time since the best Buick at the Auto Show was found at the Buick stand.  The Toyota Avalon held the title for a while, with the Hyundai Azera snapping along at its heels.  But those are Centuries, or Regals at best.  Midsize, front drive cars, powered by V-6 motors. 

I have seen the Roadmaster.  And it blows them all away.  Maybe.

More to come.

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Chicago Auto Show is coming!

Run for the hills!

It’s not that bad.  Actually it’s great.  Huge and crowded.  Lotsa new cars.  Corporate reps you can annoy with your personal opinions.  Expensive disgusting food.  Freebies and giveaways.

We’ll probably be going early next week, and I hope to post a full set of reports afterwards.  But before we go, I thought I’d ask if there is anything specific anyone would like me to look at ? 

Are you curious about a particular car?  Want a recommendation in a particular class (small car under $15 K, big pickup for work? silly little SUV thing that’s really just a station wagon on stilts?) or an award for best concept?  Let my Auto Show be your Auto Show.

You can make your request in a comment, or email it to sharkipede-at-yahoodotcom, or to the regular email if you normally use that. 

I’ve got churros to eat and cars to sit in!

Sharkipede

Published in: on February 8, 2008 at 2:08 am  Comments (3)  
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