Monday, March 30, 2009

The Annual Traveling Auto Museum

There was an uneasy silence at the Minnesota Convention Center this weekend. That's because it was the culminating weekend of the annual auto show, and everyone in attendance, exhibitors and visitors alike, walked around displaying the quieter stages of grief.

Gone were the boisterous side rooms featuring blinged out Escalades.
Hummer simply had a few models sitting on the floor, not like years gone by when the cantilevered models and rugged display-topographies exuded a wall of muskiness.
In fact the whole GM presence was anemic. Most of their displays were car only, and disbursed far apart from each other to make the space look as if it's filled, like entry-level hair plugs.
The Saturn anchor/presenter thanked an empty expanse of carpet for its attention. Chevrolet bleated its best about the number of its old school combustion-only engines were actually new school ethanol-able engines.
Saddest was the human dynamic. Past years, you could feel the buying process in the room. Brochures were gathered. Serious, engaging questions were asked of the company reps. This year, it was more a feeling of combing through the wreckage of some beautiful multi-billion dollar disaster, cataloging what could be useful in the future and what is now just a rueful memory.
The smiles from the company reps were as brilliant white as ever, but you could almost hear them hissing through their bared teeth a pained "I know... I know..."
Hyundai - a brand in ascendancy, one that not only has the economy coming to it, but that is also doing something about it - owned the day with aggressive messaging all around the show. One floor decal with a visual of footprints advertised their Assurance+ program. 'The most support your feet have had in a long time' it said.
And in one small corner of the vast wasteland, a dozen collector's cars. Here was the most interesting find of the entire night. Two electric cars, one from the early twentieth century, and the other a 1960 Henney Kilowatt, capable of 60mph and a range of 60 miles on a single charge. That's fifty years ago. What happened since?
To re-capture our lust, cars have a lot of progressing to do.

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