Auto ShowsAuto Shows
April 6, 2010 7:54 AM | By Michael Bettencourt, MSN Autos

2010 New York International Auto Show

The push to make planet-friendly cars appealing is on

Acura TSX Wagon (© Photo: Seth Wenig, AP Photo)

Just a few weeks after the closing of the Geneva auto show, the New York International Auto Show had a tough time living up to the "international" part of its designation. Only a handful of the introductions here were international debuts - the rest were merely new for North America.

Still, the introduction of various wagon models (Acura TSX [see left], Cadillac CTS-V Concept, Mercedes-Benz E-Class) and small cars (Scion iQ and tC, Kia Forte hatchback, Chevrolet Cruze RS and Cruze Eco) suggest that auto manufacturers see an alignment of North American vehicular values with those of Europe and Asia. There's a concerted effort by the brands to not only make vehicles more fuel-efficient, but more appealing as well.

This bodes well for us here north of the border who gravitate to smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles, as it promises us more choices and less pining for unavailable Euro-only models.

How smart is small?

2011 Scion iQ (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)

One such model is the iQ, a small city runabout that's halfway in size and personality between the Smart ForTwo and the Mini Cooper, its two main competitors. It's a Toyota now in Europe, but will arrive in both Canada and the U.S. as a Scion early in 2011, after Toyota's youth oriented small-car brand for the tattooed and pierced crowd arrives in September. That's also when the new tC compact coupe - also unveiled in New York - arrives in both countries as well.

More from the New York International Auto Show!

The Big Apple's top concepts

Hot debuts from the 2010 New York show

Girls of the New York auto show

There is some debate still about whether Americans ae ready to accept small cars, and there's evidence there to support yes (Mini) and no (Smart) answers. The four-seat, three-cylinder iQ will bomb in the U.S., suggested IHS Global Insight analyst Aaron Bragman, because it's simply too small for most Americans.

"It's a four-seat Smart, and for the price of that, they can buy a two-year old Civic with a real back-seat and trunk," he argued. "The Smart sold well in Canada, but it was a diesel for the first few years, so it actually got good fuel economy and didn't need premium gas (like the current Smart)."

The push for green continues

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (© Photo: Seth Wenig, AP Photo)

Fuel economy is a key issue here at the New York show, which saw vehicles previewed in the shadow of the pending U.S. fuel economy revision, which will require an industry average of 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) by 2016. Therefore, new cars like the Chevrolet Cruze Eco trotted out not only fuel-saving technologies, but buyer-friendly and feature-laden interiors to entice customers to actually buy them.

Thus hybrid versions of current cars should proliferate in upcoming years; they did just that at the show with the world debuts of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, as well as the North American debut of the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid. But all these versions of other, mostly available cars, plus the lack of new concept cars, reinforced the feeling that there was a relative lack of all-new sheet metal at this show.

2011 Infiniti QX56 (© Photo: Seth Wenig, AP Photo)

That could be a measure of the show simply being too close to Geneva this year, a reflection of the often-mentioned dire state of the industry in 2009, or it may be a sign that North America simply can't support as many "international" auto shows, as the Chicago show organizers found out recently.

New York is still the largest and most affluent city in pre-NAFTA North America, however, so even in this traffic-clogged metropolis, there were some all-new luxury-lined giants unveiled to the public here. Hyundai launched the U.S. version of its new Equus luxury sedan, a longer, more opulent version of the Genesis slated to take on the Lexus LS, while BMW showed off the Alpina B7 xDrive, an all-wheel drive high-performance version of its 7 Series. The revised 2011 BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz R-Class and equally new Infiniti QX56 all feature three-row interiors, twin rear-seat DVD players and more electronic toys than you'd find in a corner at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Feeling Ford's electric buzz

Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development at Ford, left and president and CEO of Ford Alan Mulally, pose with the new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (© Photo: Seth Wenig, AP Photo)

The CES is exactly where us media folk felt like we were attending while at Ford's press conference, presided over by CEO Alan Mulally - keynote speaker for the last two CES shows - as well as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Redmond, Washington via satellite link-up. They announced a "cloud" type internet service designed to help electric car drivers manage the cost of charging up their electric car, based on Microsoft's previously released Hohm "smart home" service.

Mulally suggested that potential electric vehicle owners should realize their car could potentially double the amount of energy consumed by their home, and will become the largest single hit on one's electricity bill. So the Hohm system will be designed to lower these costs by communicating with the grid on the best time to recharge, taking into account the customer's schedule and the demands on the grid. Ford will be the first car company to use it, as it will work with Ford's upcoming Focus electric car, scheduled to hit the market in 2011.

That electric Focus is planned for Canada as well, but the Hohm system is not available outside the U.S. Microsoft is working on Canadian, European and Asian versions of it, said Microsoft Hohm manager Troy Baterberry at the show, but there's no timetable for its expansion. Because the system takes into account local utility rates at peak times, local traffic and weather patterns, Microsoft said it simply hasn't collected the needed data for areas outside the U.S. yet, though the firm could theoretically leverage the current U.S. info for other markets.

So like GPS navigation, satellite radio and traffic-avoiding GPS functions that took a few more years to develop north of the boarder, a similar fate may await electric vehicle infrastructure upgrades like Hohm in Canada.

Scroll upScroll down