It's spring in New York, but green won't just be on the trees. The city's greenhouse-like Jacob Javits Convention Center will have some verdant themes as automakers show off hybrids, diesels, electrics and maybe a few wind-ups at the N.Y. International Auto Show next week.
Organizers say a million or so people will visit from April 2 through the 11th, and although fuel prices are not making headlines, automakers will use pre-show press days on Wednesday and Thursday next week to show they are making clean, abstemious vehicles. Among the 35+ introductions scheduled during press days next week, several are first hybrids for a number of automakers: Hyundai will reveal its Sonata Hybrid Blue Drive, and Porsche will do likewise with its hybrid version of the Cayenne. Lexus will show its first dedicated hybrid vehicle (meaning no non-hybrid option) with the CT 200h compact to go on sale early next year.
Honda will show the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid coupe, and Ford will have an all-electric version of its Transit Connect van at the show, which Ford says goes to dealerships this year. The company says the vehicle can go 80 miles on a charge and can do 75 miles per hour. Among luxury makes, BMW, focusing on its new 5-Series car this year, unveiled a hybrid version of the vehicle in Geneva this month, and will show it in New York as well.
Joe Kyriakoza, VP, Strategic Insights at Troy, Mich.-based research firm Jumpstart Automotive Group, says new and forthcoming mandates like the 35.5-mpg corporate average fuel economy rule that takes effect in 2016 means automakers are serving two masters. "It's the government and its standards for emissions and carbon footprint on the one hand, and consumers who have their own demands on the other," he says. "Gas prices are not at a place where people are in panic mode, and they don't want to take a chance on something they aren't familiar with. Yes, there are early adopters, but the majority are probably saying they've got a car that gets me from place to place and it has to be convenient."
Automakers will also be streaming, tweeting, Facebooking and blogging at the show to take vehicle intros beyond the venue. Hyundai, word has it, will take over a billboard in Times Square to stream its introduction of three new vehicles. Acura will unveil the all-new 2011 TSX Sport Wagon live via webcast and will have a live Q&A session on Twitter. Jeep will do a reality show-style video-streamed contest at the show involving five contestants who correctly answered a Jeep trivia question on Twitter.
The event, promoting the Sahara version of the Wrangler, has the contestants scrambling through a giant sandbox at Jeep's Camp Jeep display outside Javits Center. They will be digging for a tiki-shaped icon containing a key for the Sahara. Finder gets the Jeep. Kyriakoza says the high-tech accoutrements notwithstanding, the automakers' focus on technology has taken some of the zing out of auto shows. "Past auto shows were about hot cars and new concepts and getting people really excited about the brands. Getting people fired up about cars and brands is not happening in a big way any more."