2011 New York International Auto Show: A Return to Growth & Good Times

2011 New York Auto Show

The most pleasing aspect of this year’s New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) was that it has returned to what it was before everything went wrong. Almost all manufacturers spoke of their improvement in sales over the same months and quarters of last year. Sales are up, and they were already rising last year. In some cases, sales were record-setting. Whatever the numbers, there was a conviction that the worst is behind the industry, and that even fuel-price issues can’t stop the year from being successful.

BMW and their MINI brand made that clear when legendary rockers KISS appeared, although they didn’t sing. They stood around in their makeup and costumes, talking about the money they’re raising for charity in conjunction with MINI, and making faces at the thrilled crowd. Ah, the good old days. There were also a lot of press parties, where automakers gave the attendees an advance glimpse of what was coming.

2011 New York Auto ShowBut most importantly to this return to growth and good times was the large list of new production cars introduced. Yes, there were still a lot of concept cars, but this year they’re really concept cars rather than modifications of production vehicles gussied up to cover for delayed introductions.

There was also a lot of concern for the Japanese and the impact of the earthquake on the people and the industry. All manufacturers will be affected by slowdowns, no matter their nationality. While cars may be from a particular country, parts aren’t. Nobody was willing to predict how long this will last, but certainly it’ll be months.

The big deal in the model reveals was the number of small cars. Sure, there were expensive and bigger cars introduced: Land Rover introduced a special Range Rover that’ll start at $170,000 but only 50 or so will make it to the U.S. At the same time, they introduced the Land Rover Evoque, their smallest vehicle. It’s great looking, still runs the power through all four wheels, and should start around $45,000.

But speaking of bigger cars, Ford introduced the 2013 Ford Taurus, which got a mild styling refresh. In particular, the performance-oriented Taurus SHO gets a very noticeable black mesh grille, a rear-deck spoiler and stock 19-inch wheels and tires, with 20-inchers optional. A performance package adds even more performance, thanks to stickier tires, a different final drive ratio and some suspension tweaks.

2011 New York Auto ShowThe look of all the Taurus models include subtle differences to make the car more sleek and sophisticated. More attention is paid to interior surfaces, and a new center console refocuses the dashboard design so it’s more modern and attractive.

The bigger news is that Ford will equip models with their 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine called the EcoBoost. This optional engine produces planned 237 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. Because it’s a direct gasoline injection design, the fuel efficiency is also improved, with Ford saying they expect the mid-sized Taurus will get 31 mpg in highway driving.

BMW revealed the 2012 6-Series Coupe, a powerful 2+2 that continues its emotional, almost passionate look. The sleek car makes a very modern statement, while clearly retaining its identity as the BMW boulevardier.

Chrysler introduced three versions of their new 300: the Executive, which will be the flagship model, with plushness emphasized; the 300S, which will be the statement car; and the SRT8 version of the 300C, which features Chrysler’s new 6.4-liter Hemi and goes like stink. Jeep did the same to the Grand Cherokee, stuffing that engine into it and reporting a 4.8 second 0-to-60 mph, making it the fastest Jeep ever produced.

But the biggest news has to be from the small car world. There seemed to be a flurry of activity in this category, as Honda began sales of the new Civic on the show’s opening day.

Nissan introduced the latest generation Versa, which will be on sale next month. The base car will be priced at $10,900 and will include air conditioning. There will be three models, all powered by a new 1.6-liter engine that generates 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque.

Revealing a car in April and then putting in on sale in May is pretty quick timing, but Hyundai’s doing much the same with its new-generation Accent.

This car gets a completely different look that clearly reflects the new modern and aggressive styling. With the Optima and Elantra’s success, the Accent’s job is to bring the same level of style and substance as its bigger siblings to the sub-compact crowd.

Volkswagen joined the sound and fury by showing its new iteration of the iconic Beetle. It’s better looking, lower, longer and wider. It is, says VW now more of a halo car for the brand. It will be a 2013 model.

Kia revealed the next Rio and Rio5. This 2012 model will go on sale as a hatchback and sedan in the fall. The car is powered by a 1.6-liter engine and both the available automatics as well as the manual transmissions are six-speed gearboxes, something fairly special in the sub-compact segment.

The Chevy Malibu, which was introduced first at the Shanghai Auto Show last week, has a shorter wheelbase and is slightly wider. It’ll be sold in China as Chevrolet’s largest offering, and should go on sale here by the end of the summer. The new dual overhead cam 2.5-liter four-cylinder should produce somewhere around 190 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.

Subaru also introduced the next-generation Impreza, which will come in both hatch and sedan formats, naturally featuring a Subaru classic boxer engine. This is a new engine — a 2.0-liter unit that makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, replacing the 2.5-liter powerplant in the current model.

By adding more efficiency features and making the car lighter, Subaru’s looking to make the car more fuel efficient. But the Impreza does continue Subaru’s tradition of all their vehicles having all-wheel drive.

This is the last big auto show of the year for North America, until the new season starts at the end of the year with the Los Angeles show. I can’t imagine any of the manufacturers aren’t happy that they were able to end the show season with optimism and a bevy of new products. We can use some good feelings about now. Let’s hope those feelings last.

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