New York auto show 2012 review by Ben Oliver

Published: 05 April 2012

New York is not a city in love with the automobile. The titans of Wall Street may have the money to buy Ferraris and Lamborghinis but you rarely see them on the street: if the city's appalling roads didn't break them, its appalling driving would. But maybe that's why New York's 112 year-old 'auto show' is still so popular.

It serves a catchment area bigger than the Detroit or LA shows and over a million people will visit over its ten days to see something other than battered yellow cabs.

So what will they see? Not the new Jaguar F-Type. I felt a certain national pride as I watched Coventry steal the New York show with a car it hadn't brought: the mere announcement of the F-Type name and the confirmation that it would be built was the biggest news from the show's first day and a clear sign of the excitement and expectation that surrounds the new sports car.

So what was at the 2012 New York auto show?

American motor shows will become more relevant to global buyers as the US Big Three shift their line-ups towards smaller, more efficient cars that will sell in every market. But there weren't many of these at New York this year.

There were a lot of new cars - 30 global debuts, the organisers say. But this year at least, most of those were cars important here in the US, like the Nissan Altima, America's second best-selling car, but of little interest to the rest of the world unless you're renting one at a US airport.

Beyond the bland sedans, there may not have been many new cars of interest to car-nuts wherever they live, but the variety was insane. We always try to spot a theme at motor shows, but I defy you to find the link between the 1100bhp Shelby 1000 S/C, Infiniti's version of the Leaf electric car, and the Terrafugia Transition flying car, fresh from its first test flight.

The Dodge Viper causes a stir

The new SRT Viper with its 8.4-litre V10 was a clear sign that America's car industry is getting its mojo back, even if the styling is little underwhelming in the steel. It was launched on the day the March sales figures were announced: it was the best month in nearly five years and indicates likely annual US-market sales of over 14 million, 40% up on the darkest days of the recession.

Fisker will be doubly pleased. The California-based start-up unveiled its new Atlantic extended-range EV at a party in the Meatpacking District the night before the show. It is predictably gorgeous, echoing the proportions of the bigger Karma but with a more practical rear cabin and boot, and the next-gen Fisker powertrain with a small BMW four-pot engine.

Fisker needs strong markets in which to sell them at around $55,000, or at least £45,000 by the time it comes to the UK. But it also needs financial confidence to raise over $300m to build the Atlantic if it doesn't get the balance of the half-billion dollar low-cost Federal loan it was counting on.

Not forgetting the yellow New York cab...

For a New York launch a cab ride from Wall Street makes sense. And the car all New Yorkers wanted to see was the next generation of that famous yellow cab, based on the Nissan NV200 van. From summer next year, this is the cab the New York taxi fleets will have to buy to replace their ageing Crown Vics.

It features a clearer intercom system which cab drivers requested to encourage better tips, a USB charging point for your phone and a very welcome odour-resistant cabin. It looked very smart, pristine and polished under motor show lights. They won't stay that way for long.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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