I went to the San Francisco International Auto Show this weekend. Unencumbered by any research, interviews or statistics, here are a few random thoughts:
1. Wandering around the concourses, taking in hundreds of cars that more or less look exactly the same — give or take a few oldies and oddities — it just seems like there are too many makes, models and players in this game. Are there really enough people out there to buy enough of these bland cars to keep all the automakers in business?
2. Remember back, oh, a few months ago when cars with decent mileage were all the rage? Remember all the giddy talk of weening ourselves off foreign oil? Aside from the hybrids, Smart cars, and a few small exceptions, the show was all about pickup and power.
3. Saab should just fold. You could not look at one of their cars and differentiate it from any other brand. The spokeswoman seemed depressed and unconvincingly said, "The company has two perspective buyers. We'll have new owners soon." Volvo is also getting dangerously close to anonymity. What's happened to the once-distinctive European carmakers? Could it be that they are owned by the Americans now?
4. Even if you don't like the look, you have to hand it to Cadillac. Their sharp-angled design stands out, even though it seems like you might cut yourself if you get too close.
Don't believe me? Listen to Joe Lorio of The New York Times:
Even if you knew nothing about European wagons, one look at the CTS Sport Wagon would dispel any notion that this is the second coming of the Country Squire. There’s nothing retro to it. Even more so than the CTS sedan, the wagon is a showcase for Cadillac’s faceted, angular design.Take the liftgate, for instance. Instead of a flat plane, it comes to a point in the middle. And check out the bladelike taillamps, which extend from the bumper all the way to the roof. Particularly unusual for a wagon are the ultraslim rear-quarter windows and extra-wide rear pillars. They make it look as if Cadillac’s designers were afraid to let their wagon look like a wagon — and in fact, they were.
5. One of the loneliest guys at the auto show was the Buick Lacrosse spokesman. He kept pitching while he paced the rotating dais he shared with Buick's hope for the future, but nobody was listening. Where was everybody? Huddled around the Camaros and Corvettes.
Traci experiences what it's like to drive something other than a 1990 Camry or a 2002 Elantra.
Ah, I'd LOVE to go to one of the big auto shows! I share your opinion of the anonymity of so many car brands. They look alike, feel alike, sound alike - there's nothing to distinguish them. But remember, in America it's bland that sells. (Viz: American Idol last year.)
The speed with which this nation abandoned fuel efficiency as The New Top Priority also amazed me. I recently talked to a friend who sells used cars and asked if there's a booming market for gas-sippers; nope, he said, it's all pickups and SUVs. I still firmly believe the only thing that will drive up average MPG in America is government establishing a floor on gas prices - say $4.50 a gallon - but that'll only happen after every member of Congress voluntarily gets a lobotomy.
As for the distinct European brands, they still exist - they just aren't sold here. Fiat, Peugeot, Renault, Citroen (yes, I know those last three are French, but...), even GM's European cars tend to look a little more distinct than their American lineup. It's ironic that the (marginally) most distinct American car line, Pontiac, got the axe in favor of keeping Buick, which appeals to senior citizens and the Chinese.
As much as I'd enjoy driving a asphalt-burning, tire-spinning, gas-guzzling road racer, I'm still perfectly happy with my Golf turbodiesel. Great mileage, great practicality, fun to drive.