Something really new at the car show
When I was a kid, my father would often take me to the NY car show. There I would join thousands of other fathers and sons (it really is mostly a male scene) climbing in and out of the latest that Detroit, Japan and Germany (among others) had to offer.
I have continued this tradition with my own sons - we alternate between the Philadelphia and New York car shows most years. This year we took a ride to Yankee territory to wander the vast Jacob Javitz Convention Center, which was filled with hundreds of shiny new cars, some on rotating platforms, some suspended in the air, and almost all surrounded by huge LED video screens displaying the best Adobe After Effects and video shot from multiple low-angle cameras can offer (remember that Eminem Chrysler Superbowl ad? Imagine it playing over and over and over on a 30-foot screen all day long).
The last time we went to the NY show, a couple of years ago, I was somewhat underwhelmed. I didn't find any of the new styles very different from what was already clogging the streets a few blocks away, and with the exception of a few hybrid cars, most still were all about the gasoline engine - basically the same technology Henry Ford was peddling back in the 1920's, with some more bells and whistles.
This year was different.
Front and center were the electric cars, the zero-emissions vehicles, concepts for luxury 'smart cars' designed to whisk you around the city in style without adding to the carbon footprint.
Almost every car maker, from Ford to Saab, had some alternative-energy vehicle in concept, or in the case of Chevrolet and Nissan actual electric cars you could go out and buy today. Unlike failed electric cars of the past, these actually are not under-powered, can be partially charged as fast as a 1/2 hour, and (in the case of the Chevrolet Volt) have a back-up gas engine so you will never be caught without any juice.
Due to the high efficiency of these new electric engines, they require much less energy to power than a gas engine - so even though they still draw some carbon footprint from electric suppliers, it is much less than a gas engine.
These are not (yet) long-distance touring cars - but for commuters and those making short runs around town - the technology, consumer interest and the political will has finally caught up with the electric dream. Many of the SUV's that were the centerpiece of the show a few years ago were relegated to the basement show area this year, and I overheard many visitors talking about MPG and emissions even over the luxury brands.
In this country we can talk a lot about mass transit, but we are still basically a country of automobiles. New auto technology won't cure every problem associated with private transit - overcrowded highways, suburban sprawl, safety and environmental issues - but at least we are starting to look ahead to the next big thing. And that thing is not more chrome or GPS or a built-in entertainment system.
It's bigger and far more exciting than that.