I have never been to a motor show as quiet as the New York show. By the standards of Frankfurt or Paris this is a small show, but it’s not a lot smaller than Geneva and it’s actually less busy than last year’s lacklustre London motor show, an accomplishment I thought would never be achieved by any other motor show this decade.
It also feels distinctly unglamourous. American motor shows have been characterised (well, until the car industry fell into a black hole they were) by a layer of sparkle and glitz underpinned by exceptional optimism – the kind of optimism that takes you with it, makes you feel optimistic.
There was still a little optimism here, most notably the drop of exuberance that accompanied Chrysler’s unveiling of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. VP Jim Press’s body language and face were buoyant and upbeat, but the last year has aged him – he is stooped and small, and looks old. The car itself met with near universal approval from the domestic press and is a huge improvement over the current one, but the exterior is bland and the cabin is still a long way behind the best Japanese.
Over at GM it was all about the three core domestic brands – Buick, Pontiac and GMC. Actually, when I say 'all about' what I really mean is that there was one new car (the awkward and faintly ridiculous looking GMC Terrain, which looks like two cars joined together down the middle and has the squarest wheelarches of any production car ever) and we were told how much the new Buick LaCrosse (a re-engineered Insignia) will cost - $28,000 for the entry level V6. Even at today’s unfavourable exchange rate that’s still a shade over £19,000 for the equivalent of a well-specced Insignia.
I stopped at Land Rover to talk to design director Gerry McGovern about the future of the Land Rover and Range Rover brands; he was surprisingly upbeat about the future of an SUV-only brand but was under no illusions about the way the firm will have to position itself in the future.
Luckily Land Rover managed to escape being made to camp out downstairs, where they put all the SUVs and trucks; it was really, really quiet. Subaru had the misfortune to end up down here, but its new Legacy was barely worth walking down the stairs for. It looks fine from the rear but the front is a badly judged combination of a lengthy overhang and outsized headlamps. It looks undertyred on 18-inch rims and the cabin is bland, with no discernable improvement in quality or layout. A shame, because the old Legacy had character.
Only Acura managed a splash of glamour. They accessorised the ZDX concept, a kind of X6-lite – smaller and less overt than the BMW, with a similar rear roof line and if anything, less headroom. The concept was production ready, with a genuine interior, but it won’t be coming Europe.
So if New York is a barometer for the state of the American car industry, there is still a lot of wound licking and regrouping going on. Outside on the city’s streets there’s 10 per cent unemployment and businesses are still folding all over the place – America’s only national daily paper, USA Today, carried a piece about how shops on upmarket Madison Avenue are closing in droves, unheard of until now. Things are still badly broken here, and it shows.
New York motor show
New York cars: news and images
Acura ZDX, BMW X6 M and X5 M, Jeep Grand Cherokee, GM and Segway, GMC Terrain, Honda's dog accessories, Kia Koup, Land Rover Discovery, Mazda CX-9, Mercedes' clean diesel concept, Mercedes E63 AMG, Mercedes ML450 hybrid, Mercedes S-class, Mercedes SLS, Mitsubishi Outlander GT Prototype, Nissan 370Z Roadster, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Scion iQ, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, VW Golf GTI