Right off the bat, let me say that I am not…thrilled with my New York Auto Show coverage. That said, automakers ended the auto show season on a high note, and I’m happy I went.
I am not happy, however, with my Droid 2 going dead before I’d even finished my fourth press conference. Nor was I particularly prepared for this inevitability, as I did not pack my charger, and I did not bring my laptop (it’s my only one, so if something happens to it, I am screwed.) So that is why my live updates ceased around noon time.
Enough of my bellyaching though; here are a few of the highlights from the New York Auto Show, starting with the Big Three.
Chrysler: I missed this unveiling, but as it stands, the only “green” news to come from the Pentastar was the introduction of their new eight-speed transmission on the 2011 300S model. The eight-speed automatic will soon find its way on to other Chrysler/Dodge vehicles, and should increase fuel economy in the 20% range. That means with the V6 engine, the large rear-wheel drive sedan should see somewhere in the 30 highway mpg range (sans all-wheel drive.) No word on the Chrysler 300 hybrid though.
Ford: The 2013 Ford Taurus gets a mild facelift for the next-generation. The changes are subtle, thus the Taurus still looks like the Taurus, which is to say it looks like it could still shed a few pounds. The big news though is that the new Taurus will be the first Ford with two EcoBoost engine options; the 3.5 liter V6 found in the high-performance SHO (which was also updated in the looks department) as well as a 2.0 liter four-cylinder EcoBoost mill that will make in the 250 horsepower range. With the 2.0 liter EcoBoost, Ford officials are confident that the Taurus will get at least 31 highway mpg, which tells me that the large premium sedan segment is the next front on the fuel economy war.
General Motors: If any press conference caught me off guard yesterday, it was GM’s announcement of a the Malibu Eco, which lifts the eAssist mild hybrid system from the Buick lineup, and adds it to Chevy’s refreshed midsize sedan. The new Malibu itself? I can love it or leave it (though they really upped the refinement on the interior.) With the eAssist system, GM says the Malibu should get 26 mpg city and a whooping 38 mpg highway, making it an mpg leader in the midsize segment. The real draw of the eAssist system though, is that it does not add very much to the price point compared to a full-on hybrid system, and GM emphasized that the Malibu will be a value, though no word on actual pricing figures yet.
Also on hand was the Z-Spec Chevy Sonic, and I cannot make up my mind whether I love or loathe this little car. I suppose it all depends on how it handles.
Nissan: What was arguably the most boring press conference of the day actually brought some of the biggest news (in small car form.) That would be the new Nissan Versa, which will offer 37 mpg highway and 33 mpg in combined driving at a starting price point of $10,900. So the cheap car still lives.
For me though, the biggest Nissan announcement was that they are working on a zero-emissions racing series, and to show they are serious they brought along a Leaf race car, the NISMO RC. That’s just huge for the EV world, and while I am sure we are still at least a couple of years away from this series, hopefully by then there will be enough electric car drivers willing to participate. Notice how I just glossed over the Versa? Yeah, it still isn’t much to look at…but considering how it still dominates the compact car market, maybe it is best not to mess with the looks right now.
Hyundai: I can’t blame Hyundai for being a wee bit cocky right now, as sales continue to rise as well as brand awareness. So the plucky Korean automaker had some fun with a video about “saving the asterisks” and offering four vehicles with a real 40 mpg rating (i.e. no special fuel economy packages required.) They introduced the new Accent, which for an economy car looks pretty sharp and comes just loaded with standard features and is the fourth Hyundai to achieve a 40 mpg highway rating.
Interestingly enough, Hyundai also mentioned that sales of its competitors 40+ mpg vehicle packages, including the Ford Fiesta and Focus SFE, Chevy Cruze Eco, and Smart ForTwo are under the 5,000 mark during the first quarter, while the Hyundai Elantra alone has sold something like 30,000 units in the same time period. So are people just not opting for these fuel economy packages? Or is Hyundai just destroying the competition (again?)
Mercedes-Benz: There is nothing more awkward than an old German executive dancing on stage with a bunch of 20-somethings butchering the classic Janis Joplin tune Mercedes Benz. Sure, there was the A-class Concept rolled on stage, and Mercedes seems to think (with good reason) that the market for premium small sedans is on the upswing. But meh. Honestly, once the singing started, I wandered away towards the Saab booth because hey, I love Saabs.
Subaru: I missed this press conference, though I really didn’t miss much. Subaru introduced its new Impreza sedan and five-door hatchback with better fuel economy figures of 36 mpg higway and 27 mpg city, which is awfully impressive for an all-wheel drive vehicle. Subaru improved the fuel economy by dropping weight and the ol’ reliable 2.5 liter Boxer engine in favor of a smaller 2.0 liter Boxer engine and a new CVT transmission. I feel as though they could have done more with the styling. While I applaud Subaru’s engineers for wringing 36 mpg out of an all-wheel drive car, I’m still left wondering just where does Subie go from here? They really need a hybrid or something, because no matter which way you cut it, that standard AWD system is going to keep pulling back the fuel economy figures as it adds both weight and more equipment for the motor to turn. Without AWD, I’d bet the Impreza would get well over 40 mpg highway (AWD-equipped vehicles have anywhere from 10-30% worse fuel economy, depending on the model.)
And really, that was it for me. I’m not going back to the show today, though I do have a nice rant all written up about our railroad system leaving the impression of riding through a third world country. That’s for later though.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.