Monday 31st March - Escaping the overnight gale-force winds, we fly out of Heathrow towards New York and into a 150mph headwind, according to the pilot. In the end, we were only 30 minutes late and drive into downtown Manhattan on a grey and miserable day.
The first stop is a VW press event in a nearby converted factory unit. The Germans are showing cars relevant to the US market: the Golf Alltrack and a series of special edition Beetle models, including the ‘Denim’ cabrio. Older car fans might remember the Beetle ‘Jeans’ special edition from the 1970s that had a real denim interior.
The hint was confirmed the next day by VW board member Dr Neusser: the Beetle will live on to a third generation, based on the same MQB platform as the Golf 7.
Next stop was a photographic studio in another converted factory, arriving just in time for the Porsche Boxster Spyder unveiling. Undoubtedly, it will be another smash hit for a brand that is on an extraordinary roll.
In 2014, Porsche sales leapt 17% to 189,849. A Porsche staffer started the car up and revved it hard a few times, which pretty much summed up the mood in the company.
Tuesday 1 April - The day dawns to a clear blue sky and a drive of a few miles alongside the East River to the first day of the New York Auto Show.
If there’s a way of summing up the mood at the show, it’s probably one of quiet satisfaction. Sales in the US market in 2014 were up one million to a total of 16.5m, the highest yearly total since the boom year of 2006.
Newspaper reports in the US put the good news down to cheap oil, cheap lease deals and pent-up demand in a country where the average car is around 11 years old.
While the mainstream makers are happy to shift SUVs by the boatload and sell saloons on super-value leases, New York reflected the angst of the brands desperate to become ‘true premium’.
Without doubt, the two busiest stands were McLaren and Lincoln. McLaren’s new ‘cheaper’ 570S model is crucial in allowing the company to drive up annual volumes to 4000 units (as well as driving down the cost of the components shared by the brand’s cars), at which point McLaren’s car business will start to lay firm fiscal foundations for the future.
Almost opposite was the impressive Lincoln stand, which hosted the new Continental luxury concept. Lincoln’s design chief is Brit David Woodhouse, who started his career at Rover Group, before heading to Ford’s Ingeni studio in central London.
He took over at Lincoln around 18 months ago and the super-lavish Continental is the first view of Lincoln’s proper relaunch as a premium brand. Easier said than done, of course. But Woodhouse told me that the Lincoln was making aim at North America and China, where it is soon to have 60 new ‘designer’ dealers.
Woodhouse said that Lincoln’s research had shown that Chinese luxury car buyers wanted to be driven during the week (using the cabin as a decompression chamber) at the weekend, however, the owners want to drive themselves.
There are few details about the production car – due in a year or so – but it will be about super-luxury travel rather than having ‘sporting’ pretentions, something Woodhouse thinks has infected too many ‘luxury’ brands.
Lincoln needs to really gain traction in the premium markets. Premium brands continue to expand across the globe and, without success, Ford will be locked out of the market.The day before the show opened, however, there was a bizarre social media incident when Bentley design boss Luc Donckerwolke went onto Woodhouse’s Facebook page to ask ‘if you want us to send the production tooling?’ a reference to his belief that the Continental was a lift of the Bentley Flying Spur.