For me it started in 1960, while negotiating our suburban Columbus, Georgia neighborhood on a rebuilt, single speed bicycle. My childhood friend and I would ride endlessly, constantly testing one another’s knowledge of cars, memorizing the various makes, models and model years. Little did I realize this exercise would lead to a lifetime fascination with automobiles, perhaps, on some subconscious level, figuring into my decision to work around cars professionally. I still am fascinated by cars even though this part of American life has changed dramatically.
Sharon and I just returned from the Kansas City Auto show, where various manufacturers showcased a good number of their latest offerings in an attempt to whet the appetite of the buying and admiring public. There were a few surprises this year, mostly centered around the tremendous evolution in technology that is happening as I write this piece. We have yet to attend an auto show that we didn’t enjoy, however; this show could be described as rather vanilla, most likely the result of two considerations. First, the dominance of Japanese and European auto makers, and secondly, the blurring of lines in terms of model years. When I first realized that cars were fascinating, car people waited until the magic fall season for the new model year arrivals, a happening that was religious in regularity. It was a level playing field, and the unveiling was greatly simplified by the dominance of Detroit manufactured iron, the logistics of delivery easily managed. At this years show, you are looking at 2016, 2016 and 1/2, 2017 and 2018 models, some in the form of prototypes to be in the showrooms sometime this spring and summer. It is hard to compare one segment against another segment of this industry when change is on the way in some unscheduled fashion. The representatives spent as much time talking about what was coming as they did about the car you were ogling.
We have driven Toyotas, primarily, for the past 20 or so years. My “buy American” friends have seized virtually every opportunity to slap me around as a result of this preference. To add flavor to our stable over the years, we have driven a couple of BMWs, a Corvette and a turbo Mini Cooper convertible. The Corvette, a 2004 model, was ferocious and would stick in a corner like no other car I have owned, including the overrated BMW Z4, which was silky smooth and beautifully finished. The Mini- Cooper, thought to be inherently unreliable, was an absolute hoot to drive, and performed flawlessly. My friends would suggest, correctly, that American manufactured iron has improved dramatically over the years, presumably as a result of foreign competition. They are correct. While Detroit has upped it’s game considerably, the foreign manufacturers have not been sitting on their duffs, howling at the moon. If you are skeptical, take the time to look at the sumptuous interior of an Audi and quickly drift over to Cadillac and peruse it’s fit and finish……but I am not here to open a debate, just report on our experiences and observations!
Ford and Chevrolet dominated the center of the exhibition hall. For company, a few Lincolns and Buicks were thrown into the mix, with vehicles that clearly reflect Detroit’s desire to compete with the foreign nameplates in terms of opulence. Chrysler was represented, but underwhelming and was not enjoying much traffic. The Japanese manufacturers were everywhere and enjoying significant traffic, with BMW holding sway over the technology oriented buyer. Audi, Consumer Report’s overall highest rated nameplate this year, was there with vehicles that invoked a drooling response from those that focus on sumptuous interiors and performance as reflected in a sleek little two seater production model, powered by a 600+ HP, V-10 and bearing a MSRP just north of 200K. For me, a rock chip on this street legal formula 1, would precipitate a coronary. That being said, it was fun to look at! Chevrolet brought in a couple of Corvettes, in paint schemes that were not the best that Chevrolet has, that attracted a lot of traffic. Corvettes always do, and even if painted olive drab, are beautiful beasts that reek of testerone and smile fractured faces.
If you are a car person, these shows are akin to a boat and sport show for water lovers. They provide an opportunity for folks to sit in, ogle and touch the latest (sort of) machinery in today’s world. Although there was just a smattering of pick-up trucks on display, I needed validation of my recent decision to jump from the Toyota Tundra to a monster Ram 2500, Cummins powered behemoth, a decision that was made only after carefully evaluating the options available for the torque requirements inherent to pulling a RV. Ram was a no show in the diesel, 2500 segment. The new Tundras were on display, as was the all new Honda Ridgeline, both absolutely gorgeous. My concern at this point is the persistent rumor that Toyota is considering a 3/4 ton, diesel powered pick-up for the North American market. Please don’t, Toyota. I love my Ram, and expect great things from the big Cummins……..I just don’t want to be faced with the prospect of going to the next car show and sitting in a big, diesel Tundra.
Being car crazy ain’t easy…but it is one hell of a lot of fun!