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Friday, April 9, 2010

Hot Wheels in the City

Writer/Author Mike Lauterborn attended the 2010 New York International Auto Show April 7th. This is his capture of all the sights and sounds as well as the pulse of the people attending and representing the event...

The Jacob Javits Center at 35th Street and 11th Avenue was the hot destination this week as car enthusiasts from all over the world came together to stroll the show levels, hop in and out of cars and trucks, participate in interactive experiences, auto shop and generally just get immersed in All Things Auto.

A first stop for the writer was the State Farm Insurance display on the main level at which one enters their personal 411 into a touchscreen computer, gets a unique bar code on a smart card and sees what prize the bar code merits. The top gift was an iPod, of which six were being given away daily. Wouldn't you know that the woman in front of Lauterborn got one vs. the Road Atlas he nabbed? Not a bad atlas mind you, with some facts and trivia, but more "helicopter" view than "hyper local" views, so not tremendously helpful. One could also get their pic taken for later online retrieval.

The very Terminator-like steely road machines of the Confederate Motorcycles Company was a next stop. Talk about wildly cool. These so-far-out-of-the-box bikes command attention, both here on the show floor but no doubt on the road as well. Back in 1978, its founders hatched a new way of looking at motorcycles, a view that does not allow for compromise and gives them a forum to provide "honest, American Way industrial and mechanical design." These machines serve up "the road, the journey, with no fluff, no contrivance" with "look-you-dead-and-unflinching-in-the-eye quality." Their philosophies really extend beyond their craft Lauterborn found, as illustrated by one of their Company Truths, "Passion Fuels Manufacturing" defined thusly: If you are passionate to the point of being completely consumed with what you do, you will create pure things that are completely, wholly tough and beautiful." And another about honesty: Honesty to yourself and to what you create is the very nature of being alive. In general, the company's whole foundation is The Art of Rebellion". A good mantra for these times in which people seem to have settled for complacency. Let's not be sheep people!

On Toyota's lot, a sporty, candy apple red SUV, being pitched by chrome-domed congenial sales guy Evan, caught Lauterborn's eye next. The media's whipping boy of late, Toyota has really been thrashed, but taken many measures to correct the public's diminished perception of the long time Japanese automaker. For one, it appointed a seasoned Czar of Communications to fend off attacks and reassert the company's place in the market. It has addressed its manufacturing issues and is accommodating all recalls related to its sticking accelerator pedals. And it continues to produce a clever, durable product like said SUV, an FJ Cruiser: solid, attractive dash; suicide doors that open backwards for easier back seat access; a Hummer look without a Hummer price or similar environmental issues; and nice sleek lines making it look like a fun, happening ride.

Stepping through the Lexus area and wondering if the plural of Lexus is Lexi, Lauterborn stumbled upon the very astute Dana, a young Indian woman attending the show with two pals. Though barely legal driving age, Dana embodies what it means to be a car enthusiast. Her top three vehicle preferences at the show: the Nissan 370Z, Infiniti G37 X Coupe and Lexus IS 250.

The U.S. Army had a small arsenal of impressive vehicles on display -- eye candy to lure potential recruits. Naturally, there was the trademark Humvee, Army-style with an armor-plated shell, skylight and harness for a rooftop gunner, bulletproof windows and dashboard circuitry like you'd find in a jumbo jet. Lauterborn felt the need to get a cheap thrill and climbed behind the wheel to mug for a photo, but he was mindful that brave men of the armed forces are out on the front lines in these things for real to protect our candy asses and God-given right to barbecue and watch football on Sundays.

Lauterborn knows Benz, and Benz SUVs, and even commercial Benz trucks, but could not have imagined Mercedes had a vehicle like the Sprinter in its ammunition depot. This 20-passenger Goliath was a party on wheels as far as the writer was concerned -- and he pitched that very idea to the attending reps there. Give him a vehicle for a couple weeks, he proposed, let him round up 19 of his closest friends, send him to a domestic-based Formula One or Nascar race (e.g. Talladega) and let him loose to write about this mini road trip to gain some added exposure for the vehicle. Lauterborn's waiting on your call Stephanie.

Benz continued to wow the writer as he pressed on. He wasn't the only one. When he stepped up to a Benz truck, it was impressing a gaggle of teens as well. Together, the writer and Natalka, Chris and Eugene staged a few "ghetto" shots with the trio taking turns effecting madcap "shotgun" poses hanging out of the vehicle.

Adjacent Big Daddy's Racing Motorsports Midway seemed to be attracting a lot of attention so Lauterborn wandered over, plunked down a couple of bills and tried his hand at remote racing a car around a mini track.

Dependable brand Honda tugged at the writer's attentions then. A new model called the Crosstour was particularly interesting. Smooth and sporty with a hatchback, this vehicle seemed to be very visionary.

At beleagured GM, Lauterborn entertained the reps there with a tale about John Steinbeck and how the great American author collaborated with the company back in 1960 to obtain a vehicle with which he accomplished his round-the-country "Travels with Charley" voyage (Lauterborn imitated the journey in 2003 but in a Ford E-150 Hi-Top Conversion Van).

The writer then spied a golf cart on steroids, perhaps an urban traffic solution, with lots of show attendees climbing in and out but mostly scratching their heads trying to figure out what the thing was and its maker.

Further on, "a lady in red" demo'ed a RAM pick-up truck -- serious utility but with room to tip in a family. In other words, you can pack in your plywoood and your Aunt Polly.

A classic cars collector had a number of notable vehicle stars of TV and big screen fame, among them a custom jobbie that transported the Beatle-esque quartet The Monkees.

Lauterborn made an interesting connection at the Army Football set-up. Instead of promoting a car brand, booth rep Maria was talking up tailgaiting and game attendance at the West Point Military Academy in West Point, NY. Lauterborn had personally experienced this brand of tailgating and it was highly impressive. The duo hatched a germ of a plan to collaborate over a West Point vs. Air Force football game scheduled for Nov. 6th.

At the Chevy exhibit, Rosy the Rep was ready with revelatory ruminations about the ride and response of the collective cars on display here, her coal-like Cuban eyes lighting up the show hall and come-hither smile begging inquiry. A Naperville, Chicago native and all-around general promotional event model, Rosy, and The Writer (sounds like a movie), discussed greater collaborations of a spirited nature, pun intended.

Steamy. Smoking. Hot. Sleek. No... we're not talking about another promo model here, but the Nissan Z, one of the aforementioned "Dana's Top Three." Boy, she wasn't kidding, in Lauterborn's opinion. Consumers circled her, peering in, wanting to get behind the wheel. But the auto was there as a Tease... some black eye candy... a Bon Bon in a pretty wrapper, but under lock and key.

A Real Babe. A Hottie. A Stunner. And what a great rear end. C'mon now, your mind's drifting into the gutter again. Lauterborn's referring about Dana's #2, the Infiniti G37 X Coupe. Let the picture do the talking because you really can't give words to this Work of Art.

Speaking of hotties, a few steps more and Lauterborn found himself in the company of two German honeys -- tops off, laid out on the floor, looking hungry. He speaks of course of the SLS AMG series of Mercedes Benzes -- a consumer version that harkens back to the 50s Gullwing-style silver Benz with red interior, and a racing-style GT3 version for the track. Ach du Lieber!

And if these racy frauleins didn't get your heart pumping, Kate and Anne, the 24-year-old Fiat Twins with their dual overhead cams and ample chassis, were available for cardio-enhancement -- and photos!

Lauterborn imagined a person's heart would be popping from their chest at this point as one strolled down the lane to Maserati... then, BOOM, it would explode as you see the Spyder, nestled in its web, threatening to strike. It's one hairy beast with ferocious fangs.

So, now, one's heart has exploded and they're a bloody mess, but they still need to visit a few more highlight exhibits. A Rolls would not normally take your heartbeat down a peg but, strangely, the powder blue exterior of the automaker's flagship Ghost model has a calming effect. Then, of course, there's that regal look of the "RR" logo on the grill. Pure unadulterated class without all the trumpeting.

Lauterborn continued his automotive safari and was suddenly stalking a Jaguar, which slinked out of the underbrush and snarled in his direction... Then, like a wily jackrabbit, a Mini Cooper Countryman darted out in front of him. The writer chased the critter into a corner where a Venezualan rep guided him on the creature's features. He also fell into the company of the two E's -- Evelina, 22, and Eugene, 24 -- Russian born show visitors who now reside in Long Island. The three agreed that the car was a great value, roomy, practical and stylish.

Jersey was in the House (or at least in the trunk) when the writer reached Scion's spread. Specifically, a posse of five young Garden Staters including (as pictured) Ivana, Stephanie, Tatiana, Adam and Vanessa, were cramming into the back compartment of a red Scion XD. Lauterborn queried Adam on his opinion of the vehicle: he thought the brand, though young-thinking, was still too new so the bugs hadn't been worked out, and he thought Honda was a better choice and fit in his budget.

Cadillac had a varied attendance with both urban gangsters posing with the sleek black Escalade and Men of a Certain Age eyeballing the sedans. Pleasant floor rep Karen thought there was equal appeal for the cars all around. One devotee to the line showed off a Cadillac tattoo he'd tagged on a bicep, much to the delight of Caddy marketing personnel onsite who courted him around the automaker's footprint.

Last but not least on Lauterborn's Hit List was Volvo and it seemed an appropriate carmaker with which to finish -- one last "guilty pleasure" explained promo models Sam, 23, and Natalie, 26, identified as the "Naughty Volvo" Girls with relation to the brand's fun-to-drive positioning, the slogan seemed to say it all.

Cars. Models. Interactivity. It'd been a full day. Time to hit the road.