My son Andrew and I went to New York City this past Saturday for our annual trip to the New York International Auto Show. Andrew has been a car buff since a very young age, but now that he’s older, he combines that enthusiasm with a very sophisticated sensibility about automobile design, marketing, business strategy, and performance. It’s an education to accompany him throughout the entire exhibition; in fact, I’m more than happy to take my cues directly from him about what I should and shouldn’t like, or should and shouldn’t be impressed by.
Sleek, great lines…I can’t wait to bring one of these home
We also use the opportunity to explore Manhattan and, in a little bit of a switch, he gets to look up to me. To a fifteen year-old growing up in a small town in Vermont, New York City is a stimulating, strange planet of sophistication, temptations and…well, life. My own career has given me an education in the more interesting delights of the island, and the fact that I know where to get a great milkshake in Hell’s Kitchen makes me in his eyes, well…less of a dweeb. At least temporarily.
Some observations from an afternoon of people watching and walking about:
One. The vast, vast majority of consumers don’t seem to be the least bit interested in an automobile’s performance. People are less attracted by good engineering, instead perferring to be exclusively mesmerized by a vehicle’s creature comforts. Not surprisingly, manufacturers have picked up on this, and the auto show was consistently characterized (in my view) by an odd emphasis on marketing cars as mobile living rooms or entertainment centers. I saw flat panel televisions that drop out of the roof and pivot in all directions; center-stack audio, video and environment controls that rival in sophistication many primary flight displays in modern jets; and, in a concept vehicle from Nissan, a rear seat that was essentially a plush, curved sofa. Is anybody planning on paying attention to the road? And do we really need minivans a fourteenth century baron would consider an outstanding home for his wife and their fourteen children?
Two. This is an impressive vehicle, both aesthetically and in promised performance. Boy, Hyundai has come a long way. My wife’s first car was a Hyundai she paid $4,995 for brand new; if you held it up to the light, you could almost see through it.
Three. Honda had a blonde at the show. Don’t worry, honey; she looked like a slut.
Four. The environmental and “green” movements have jumped the shark — or are about to. “Green” has become almost a parody of marketing hype — an “industry of cool.” One manufacturer’s presentation included an almost carnival barker-like description of how the interior burled wood trim came from old furniture scraps and the carpet is made entirely from banana silk fibers rather than — gasp! — petroleum. No word on how these vehicles can be produced economically (and without depleting the earth’s banana reserves) so the slack-jawed dude from New Jersey standing there in his shiny track suit and his gold chains can afford one, but this company has a soul, man, and, hey, now you can buy one too.
A Tale of Two Cathedrals
So we walked up to the Apple store on Fifth Avenue. There was a line to approach the clear glass cube that serves as the above-ground entry to the smoky plexiglass stairway where you descend to join a mob of worshippers, all reverently seeking the hope, peace and a better life where a trinity of design, information and entertainment all converge in a stunning facsimile of perfection.
A few blocks south sits St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It, too, is a “retail” presence of a movement that offers hope, peace and a better life. There was no line outside.