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Sorry for the delayed coverage of this year’s show but there was a flurry of auto show activity in our neighborhood all at once. So that you and I don’t get auto showed out, I like to mix things up with my “Real World Road Tests,” road trips, interviews and surprises like the Mars Rover feature.

This extended season’s auto shows included the awesome SEMA Show in Las Vegas and the very disappointing Los Angeles International Auto Show. The San Diego International Auto Show was billed as our largest ever. Not only that, but Jim Fornaca, Auto Show Chairman from Frank Toyota/Hyundai, said that with over 525,000 square feet of floor space on one level it was one of the largest such shows in the country. I believe him.

To help ensure its continued annual success (and that of the local auto dealers who work hard to put it together and run it), the big show “WHERE THE CARS ARE THE STARS” rolled into our downtown convention center (pun intended) with plenty of fanfare. The local TV stations hyped it for days beforehand with dedicated, in-depth broadcasts. I only wish that they had chosen people who live and breathe automobiles to do the on-camera stuff.

Ford GT prototype – NOT a new Mustang!

I am pretty sure that one of them actually introduced the approximately $150,000 MSRP Ford GT supercar as a new Mustang. Ouch! Maybe next year they’ll look beyond their staffers for people who are at least a little more knowledgeable about automobiles. This county has plenty of such people.

Relaxing, tasteful auto show atmosphere

The car show format is well suited to letting us know what there is to choose from out there. Presenting the wide variety of cars (and trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles) in a pleasant, pressure-free environment motivates people to go take a look.

Since I’ve lived here for many years, it stands to reason that I’ve closely followed the progress of the San Diego International Auto Show – long before I even thought about writing AutoMatters. In that time I’ve witnessed many changes.

Chevrolet Cheyenne concept truck

This year’s San Diego International Auto Show was very easy to navigate. Everything was spread out over one huge expanse of convention center floor space. However, ease of navigation is not necessarily the only thing that matters in a car show. Personally I missed the sense of adventure that I experienced in past years that came from exploring the various rooms and levels. It is probably out of necessity as much as anything else, but LA has that and so does the SEMA show.

Engine cutaway

Rooms can be used to establish themes, create moods and enhance variety. Individual rooms might be used to house exotic sports cars (like the annual Porsche exhibit at the LA show), automotive specialty products for show and sale, trucks, SUVs and other featured manufacturers’ offerings.

SpongeBob SquarePants for the kids                                                                   Speed Racer Mach 5                      

It seemed to me that by combining all of the exhibits on one huge floor, they ended up flowing into each other and diluting each other’s impact. Where this was most evident to me was with the specialty, non-auto manufacturer vendor area on one side of the show floor. As I recall, in past years this group of interesting exhibits was on an upper floor of our convention center. One of the things I really enjoy about attending the LA show is the huge vendor area, which is located in the basement (in Kentia Hall, I think). As a benefit to show organizers, a large vendor area can also be a big money maker – if my purchasing habits and the crowds at other such auto shows are indications. I’d like to see the San Diego show management significantly enlarge the vendor area next year, using the LA show or even the SEMA show as an example of what to strive for. I’m not at all sure that putting everything on one big floor was an overall improvement.

Remotely controlled, fan-propelled, light-weight Jeep flying over the hall

Another thing that I did not particularly favor was moving the show date to late December/early January. Our show used to be a little later in the year. I was ready for another car show by then and so were others whom I speak with from time to time.

As was the case between the 2004 Greater LA Auto Show and its conflict with the granddaddy Detroit show, holding the San Diego show in this time period further dilutes the supply of in-demand vehicles, introductions, breathtaking displays and auto industry people (from “talent” to present the automobiles, to high level auto industry spokespeople). I just can’t see any way that our relatively small San Diego show can win out in a head-to-head competition against the combined Los Angeles and Detroit shows. Furthermore, having the two Southern California shows overlap runs the risk of potential attendees getting auto-showed out. Instead of attending both shows this year, I think people may have been more likely to pick one and just skip the other. I strongly urge the show’s organizers to consider a return to our former dates, but still remain flexible with them so as not to conflict with possibly changing schedules of other competing auto shows. I realize that this flexibility might add to the organizational challenges but the freshness of the show’s content should improve dramatically.

Second generation Toyota Prius with “HYBRID SYNERGY DRIVE”

One of the big hits among show-goers was the brand new, second generation Toyota Prius. Prior to this car GM brought the all-electric, two-seater EV1 to market. Then came the Insight, Honda’s take on the two-seater green car theme but with a more practical, hybrid powertrain. Not to be outdone, Toyota upped the stakes with the first generation Prius hybrid – a tiny four-door sedan with strange styling. Honda came closest to a practical family car with a hybrid Civic sedan but Toyota wins the honors for bringing us a roomy, four-door, sedan with plenty of cargo space – thanks to its hatchback design, and what Toyota calls “HYBRID SYNERGY DRIVE” with the second generation Prius.

How popular is this car? I’ve been trying to get an extended test drive in one for weeks so that I can perform a “Real World Road Test” but the cars are in such demand that I can’t get one. I can’t tell you what it is like to drive and live with one but I can tell you that it is a very efficient, green, economical car. With Toyota’s well-deserved reputation for quality I suspect that it will also be reliable.

What’s next on the hybrid horizon? Well, Ford has been promising us a hybrid version of their nicely sized Escape SUV for some time now. Also, Toyota has just announced their own hybrid SUV – the Lexus RX400h. It will be quite luxurious, with a choice of front wheel drive or all-wheel-drive, and with plenty of torque from its electric assist, especially in the all wheel-drive-version, this SUV will add something new for hybrids: high performance. I predict that this new Lexus will be a phenomenal success and very much in demand. If you want one I strongly suggest that you contact a Lexus dealer now.

GM concept car

As for General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, don’t count them out. I know that Mercedes is well on the way in the development process of fuel cell vehicles and diesel technology may be a viable interim solution. I drove a great BMW diesel that was brought over here for evaluation at Willow Springs recently. With the way gasoline prices are spiking, these changes cannot come soon enough. We need them now. It is truly an interesting time in the car business.

2004 Mazda3

Well, that’s about all for now. There was plenty to see at the 2004 San Diego International Auto Show. I look forward to next year’s. Perhaps they’ll consider my suggestions to make it even better.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to Enjoy the archives and more at Drive safely and do join me again next time.


Copyright © 2004, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #86r2 AutoMatters

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