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April 27, 2009 10:16 PM

Auto Shows


Why do people love cars so much? For some, it's an extension of playing with cars when you were a small child who could barely walk yet imagined driving to the ends of the Earth. For others, it's the memory of spending time with dear old Dad out in the garage while he fixed the family wagon. And for others still, it's simply an admiration of speed, power, and man's ability to build such magnificent machines.

But being a gear head can be a fruitless pursuit at times, if you think about it. If you like movies, you can watch a lot of movies. If you like comic books, you can collect a lot of comic books. And if you like sports, you can get together with friends and play anytime you want. But most car lovers are never going to collect, or even drive, most of the cars they admire so much. So, what's a gear head to do?

Good thing the auto industry has your interests at heart, probably because it's run by gear heads too. Car companies know that they need to allow the public to see their products up close if they want people to get excited about them, so these companies gather in select cities around the world for a series of auto shows, where companies such as Hyundai debut new car models and announce new business plans. These shows are big events for industry types and press outlets, but most of the people at an auto show are simply car nuts from all over who, not surprisingly, travel well!

While auto shows occur all over the world and at any time, the biggest auto shows take place in Detroit, Michigan, USA; Geneva, Switzerland; Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; and Tokyo, Japan.

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), as Detroit's event is called, first occurred in 1907 and was meant to showcase the products of the "Big Three", American automakers Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, but has of course expanded to become an international event attended by car manufacturers from all over the world.

The International Geneva Motor Show, or Salon International de l'Auto, first occurred in 1905 and is held in Geneva, Switzerland in March of every year. In addition to the many luxury cars on display, the Geneva show is known for its hosting of political and social debates relating to the auto industry.

The Frankfurt International Motor Show, or Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung(IAA), is the world's largest motor show. First occurring in Berlin, Germany in 1897, the IAA moved to Frankfurt in 1951, where it has stayed. In 1992, it was decided that the show would be split in two events, each held biennially. Even numbered years show commercial vehicles, while passenger vehicles take the stage in odd numbered years. Expect to see the world's finest luxury and sports cars make waves in Frankfurt every year.

The Paris Motor Show, or Mondial de l'Automobile, dates all the way back to 1898, and is important in that it is held on the home turf of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, or Organisations Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles (OICA).

The Tokyo Motor Show is a biennial auto show held in October and November, and first debuted in 1954. Though a later addition to the auto show scene, Tokyo carved its place into the "Big Five" auto shows on the strength of its heavy emphasis on debuting concept cars.

Unlike production cars, which are autos that are actually made by manufacturers and available for sale at dealerships near you, concept cars are prototypes that showcase developments such as a new idea from Toyota, new styling from Honda, or new technology from Suzuki. Concept cars are made in order to generate a reaction and gauge interest in radical new designs that may or may not one day be produced.

Some notable concept cars throughout history include the Buick Y-Job, which is said to be the first concept car; the Ford Nucleon, a radically-designed automobile that ran on nuclear power; and the Lincoln Futura, which went on to become the Batmobile in the 1960s Batman television series.

At the most recent Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda caused quite a stir with its line of concept cars based on the theme "flow" (or as it is called in Japanese, "nagare"), and stressed aerodynamics and aesthetics. But the tight quarters and dense population of Japan inspired manufacturers from the Pacific Rim to develop concept cars that address other issues as well. Check out Suzuki's attempt at producing low or zeroemissions, Japanese carmaker Daihatsu's offer of high-performance in a compact size, and Honda's radical take on collisionsafety.

Concept cars provide a glimpse into the future, as today's prototypes become tomorrow's transportation of choice. But that doesn't mean we have to wait a long time for the future to arrive, and the 2008 auto show season is just around the corner. Anticipation is already building for a new Corvette that is set to debut in Detroit in January, but it will be just the first of many new and exciting debuts in the coming year.

We're in the fast lane on the road to tomorrow, so fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride!

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