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(Read our interview with Fred Diaz, head of Ram, Chrysler's most award-winning brand).
You couldn’t get into the New York Auto Show without going past the Jeep demonstration area. When we arrived, it was filled with Wranglers crawling along as they were tilted at absurd angles, mounted steep hills, jiggled over simulated logs, and did things normal cars (and lesser Jeeps) can only dream of.
Going into the auto show from the main entrance, one sees the rationale behind the Javits’ Center’s outer skin: it sure is bright and sunny in lobby. State Farm’s driving simulators will probably be a serious attraction once the show starts.
Speaking of Jeep, like all trucks, it was down on the first floor (basement), a cell dead zone; to get to Jeep and Ram, you had to go past Kia, which was, like most of the Asian brands, much more intense than Ram, Jeep, and for that matter, Mercedes, Toyota, and Lexus, all of whom had traditional "warehouse style" displays. Ford continued their special blue area theme, which very successfully sets them off from everyone else. Near the Ford area was a display of classic TV cars, including the Batmobile and Monkees’ roadster; Javits Center being what it is, water was dripping into the Batmobile.
The truck area generally has no models, but this year, one woman was by the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, cleverly shown with all doors off (because most people seem to be unaware of that capability.) While the models in Detroit were obviously dressed to match the color of the vehicles, this year they seemed to be dressed to match the accent colors; presumably the blonde woman was chosen because her hair matched the body paint.
Toyota, moving forward whether you want to or not, had no unintended acceleration issues during the show, but one of their trucks had a problem where the alarm kept going off. This was fixed by the afternoon.
Chrysler seems to finally be getting the idea that people need some reassurance that, despite analysts and pundits constantly saying “Chrysler has no product worth buying,” they do have product worth buying. A relatively small sign proclaimed the Wrangler Rubicon best 4x4 of the decade, according to Four Wheeler; and a much larger sign proclaimed the 2010 Ram Truck of the Year. While the 2009 Ram won numerous comparisons and awards, it didn't get the signage it would seem to deserve.
And next to the big Rams... were the little GEMs.
The Mopar banners were there because of the numerous “speed shop” displays of Jeep and Ram accessories.
Two Jeeps, a Compass and a Liberty, were set up with “snow” and “dirt” graphics. No explanations were given and the cars’ MSRP signs had no indication of these packages.
Chrysler's display (along with Fiat and Dodge cars) was similar to their setups in Chicago and Detroit, albeit a little harder to find, thanks to the large walls now favored by most automakers and the brand's position almost at the back corner of the show, between Porsche and BMW — an odd place for American mass market brands. Chrysler's own "walls" are high but open, so that BMW's slogan was clearly visible; their displays were similar enough that we mistook BMW’s new slogan for Chrysler's, since it was about as similar to "Drive = Love" as "the Ultimate Driving Machine."
A shiny white Chrysler 300 “eco style” sat in the corner, accompanied by male model; Chrysler's Ed Garsten told us that the eco style, unveiled earlier in the year, used many recycled and recyclable materials. The new Chrysler headlight style was clearly displayed, looking perhaps better in person than in pictures.
A UConnect-equpped minivan boasted large exterior graphics to show what it was; Chrysler had UConnect for quite some time without doing serious advertising or marketing, while Ford came much later with Sync and, through advertising and marketing, managed to get name recognition and sales from it. The UConnect van seems to be a way to counter the company's slow start, especially given the newly worked in wi-fi graphic.
Chrysler quietly introduced their SafetyTrac system by having a sign explaining it. SafetyTrac is a set of existing options, now available on all Chrysler Town & Country minivans; ordering the package provides every feature in the group, though on the top end Limited model it includes far fewer additions than it does on base models. SafetyTrac seems to be a attempt to increase visibility of the new safety features; but it really is best explained by the backlit sign, which faced traffic.
As usual, Scion launched their new model in the upper floor gallery, a large, expansive room fitted by Scion to have a nightclub atmosphere. While Lexus launches are dignified to the point of being dull, Scion tries to appeal to youth with high energy -- a dark room with moving blue spotlights and blue patterns shown on the wall, with rapid nightclub music blasting out of speakers up front. Getting in required moving through two levels of security, both checking IDs to make sure only the press got in. The security may have been as much to subtly tell reporters they were seeing something important and secret, as to actually keep competitors out.
Two Scions were introduced: the iQ, which had already been announced for other markets but which will reach the United States next year, and the revised tC, which gained 15 hp (to 180). The iQ is a direct competitor for the Fiat 500; it was introduced as "Mini-er and Smart-er" and probably is both, being a four-seater smaller than the Mini and probably being smarter than Smart. The iQ comes with ten standard airbags to help compensate for its small size; one is the first rear window curtain airbag ever. With its 1.3 liter engine and still-awesome Toyota marketing might behind it, the iQ may impact on the Mini's profits and the Smart's already lagging sales. Or maybe not; it sells for $3,000 more than the Smart, and really only carries three people, with no glove compartment. While the iQ looks much like the Smart car, especially from the side, and has similar dimensions, making it ideal for city parking, it should be interesting to compare its acceleration, gas mileage, and safety record... especially given its price tag.
Back down to the Chrysler display, just two cars were on rotating displays during our visit: the aforementioned eco 300, and a purple Dodge Challenger, slowly rotating and accompanied by the usual model. Other Challengers lined one wall. No Charger squads were shown, though they might have helped impress and attract visitors; kids, at least, tend to be curious about police cars, and the New York Auto Show takes place during school holidays. They might at least be attracted by the red-and-black Dodge Viper against the back wall.
We saw this minivan in Detroit but didn't get a good photo. We didn't get a good photo this time, either. It's really pretty impressive.
The Chrysler Delta again. Their mistake: not jacking it up six inches and calling it a crossover. Americans hate hatchbacks but they love crossovers, as Subaru discovered when they converted their Legacy wagon into the Subaru Outback SUV by, well, jacking it up a few inches and hiring an Australian to sell it.
The Pentastar V6 model from 2009 was refitted with chrome-plated internal parts, lights, and motors; it now actually runs for you, very slowly, so you can see the valvetrain in action.
We may have more photos tomorrow. (Read our interview with Fred Diaz, head of Ram, Chrysler's most award-winning brand).
Visiting The New York Auto Show: Tickets are $14 for adults, $4 for children under 12, and $2 off for groups of ten or more people. Over one million people are expected. Backpacks are not be allowed. Wheelchairs are available and cameras are allowed.
Transportation: Parking lots raise their rates to $40, so if you’re coming from out of town, take the bus or train.
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