As somewhere to visit New York beats Detroit by an immeasurable distance. Yet in recent years the Big Apple’s motor show has been the poor relation of Motown’s despite the organisers’ efforts to spice up the annual event on Eleventh Avenue in Manhatten.
This year’s event did, at least, have an international flavour. Merc was out in force early on showing us the remarkable looking SLS GT3 race car that anyone will be able to buy off the shelf by the end of the year to start campaigning in various events in 2011. More significantly insiders were whispering that the GT3’s lighter and slightly altered body will form the basis of a hardcore SLS Black for the road.
More relevant to most of us was the launch of the restyled R-class. Yes it looks a bit less clunky than the under-selling old one but it’s still not going to set the world alight I’d say - even if Merc sales boss Joachim Schmidt described it as the ‘world’s sportiest and most versatile crossover’.
Ford boss Alan Mulally kicked off the show with a breakfast keynote speech and his body language, patter and the expert way he fielded questions confirmed him once again as the motor industry’s smoothest CEO. There’s a lot of substance to the bloke though and he talked expertly about the electrification of the car. There’s an electric Focus arriving next year, plus Ford will also be launching two new hybrids and a plug-in hybrid in the next couple of years. Later on he also launched another interesting tie up with Microsoft to help us manage electricity and optimise when and where to charge EVs.
The other domestic car makers had little to show, though that said the Chevy Cruze Eco was interesting. Pick of the offerings or me was the Cadillac CTS-V estate, with enough firepower to give the hot Audi and Merc wagons something of a fright. This car has been on the cards for a while, we hear, but delayed because of GM's financial troubles.
In the metal it's a handsome effort and, like the CTS saloon, it appears far more desirable and better constructed than previous Caddies. The problem is that this version was originally conceived for European tastes as Americans just don't buy station wagons. But European buyers are voting with their feet against any new Caddy. Even GM insiders aren't sure what the future holds for Cadillac in Europe. My guess is that it may end up being a Russia only brand in the end, so GM better hope that China finally starts 'getting' estates or else it may have extremely limited appeal.
Then again Toyota’s youth-oriented offshoot Scion can virtually count itself as a domestic player. It launched two new cars here. The iQ, virtually identical to the one we know and billed as a ‘Premium Micro sub-compact’. That’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s a terrific little thing and you can see the young trendies in New York or LA taking to it just as they have done with the Mini.
Scion’s other launch was the all-new TC coupe. In an overblown launch you thought they were reinventing the wheel with it. In reality it’s an undistinguished looking small coupe that you wouldn’t look at twice in the UK.
The new Volvo S60 got its US debut, just days after the announcement that Chinese company Geely will be owning it soon. Who knows what will happen to Volvo and whether it will flourish away from Ford. But the S60 itself looks terrific, as will, no doubt, the forthcoming estate version. It’s got a lot of appeal so I hope that the drive can live up to the looks in a way that Volvo’s haven’t recently.
Hyundai is showing a lot of confidence in the US, as well it might as the new Sonata is proving to be a good seller. It added to the range today with a new 2.0-litre turbo version, which with 274hp does away with the need to have a V6. Of more interest though was the hybrid version which, with the latest lithium polymer battery tech and a six-speed conventional auto, rather than a CVT, and 39mpg (in American money) should give Toyota and Ford’s hybrid saloons some stiff competition.