The 2007 New England International Auto Show

Nissan GT-R on display at the 2007 New England International Auto SHow

Yesterday, a group of CarGurus personnel attended the press preview for the 2007 New England International Auto Show. For those of you who haven’t gone to a press preview, that means an event where the cars perhaps outnumber the people. And since this was the first time it was held in the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, it almost reminded me of a sci-fi movie.

In this one, earth is inhabited by machines, and humans are few and far between. The machines all roll on perfectly clean, mostly large tires, have flawlessly waxed bodies, and are of a higher intelligence level than the zombie-like humans who are left – otherwise, why would the humans go around wide-eyed, paying the greatest of respects to these machines, photographing them from every conceivable angle, and listening to other humans spout mostly nonsensical words of adulation (aka marketing talk) about the machines, while the machines just sit and stare blankly until a journalist pays her/his respects with a flash and gets acknowledged with a headlight or taillight wink?

You, the general automotive enthusiast public, however, will have a very different experience. Pouring through those glass doors at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, attendees will outnumber the machines. You will vie for chances to touch, sit in, and play with the controls of the machines. You will let your excitement flash when you see, in the “flesh,” the fabulous new Nissan GT-R supercar – yes, it came to Boston direct from Tokyo (and it’s a right-hand drive version)! This car is probably one of the fastest machines in the great hall, but it can be driven by anyone, anyplace, anytime. As Nissan likes to boast, try that with your Z06 in a Boston snowstorm. After all, the GT-R has all-wheel drive.

And, yes, the 2008 Corvette Z06 is also there, along with its movie-star buddy, the new Camaro – in the same great yellow zinger makeup it wore in the movie “Transformers.” And Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger fans will also be excited, as the latest editions of your heroes are also waiting for you.

Moving around in that cavernous hall (you may want to wear hiking shoes and bring water) you might or might not recognize the Japanese “muscle car” that can show its taillights to most American nostalgia burners either at the drag strip or through the twisties – and this one isn’t the GT-R, which is much further up the Mt. Olympus of performance. This car is a four-door sedan, built by a Japanese manufacturer of luxury sedans that can go head-to-head with the best Teutonic sports sedans. V8-powered, with an eight-speed “automatic” transmission that can outshift a Ferrari (those are also in attendance), and more beautiful than any metal sculpture has the right to be, this Japanese “muscle car” costs a hell of a lot less and gets a hell of a lot better gas mileage than Italy’s finest.

It’s the Lexus IS F! Why not drive in full comfort as you blow off almost everything outside the sub-4-second 0-to-60 level of supercars? The IS F has 416 horsepower and a race-tuned suspension with Lexus comfort and quality – amazing.

Subaru is also there with its new WRX STi, along with a full-fledged Subie rally car. Its “dark” rival, the EVO X, unfortunately, didn’t show. But BMW has the new V8 M3 on site – a natural rival to the brand-new Lexus IS F. Figuring out which to buy will be a hard choice for those who can afford one.

Those with less need for speed and more cargo to carry can check the great MINI Cooper Clubman – those rear mini-barn doors are neat. And they are neighbors in the great hall to the beautiful – almost Italian in its fluid lines – Audi S5 and the incredible Audi R8.

Are you a Saab fan? Check out the limited-edition 2008 Saab Turbo X. You won’t have to sit through the droning corporate adulation we journalists did just to see it. (Or the even worse corporate-speak presented at the journalists’ luncheon – what we writers must do to eat!)

So be happy – you’ll be among fellow enthusiasts, and that’s what really makes a car show, not acres of open space with more cars than people. Those machines need us!

– Albert A. Dalia

U.S. Government Sponsors Automated Automotive Race

As a young adult straddling the line between Generations X and Y, it feels strange to read how scholars and authors from years past envisioned the effect of technology on our society in the first decade of the millennium. Personally, I’m still waiting for the transforming robots, floating cities, and an inexpensive cure for just about every serious disease known to man. However, while technology may not move as quickly as some of us would like, a unique auto race sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense reminds us that self-driving vehicles may replace their human-driven counterparts sooner than we think.

Since 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has sponsored a driverless road race called the Urban Challenge. Teams from around the world compete to design an “autonomous ground vehicle” that can successfully navigate a simulated urban environment under specific rules without the help of a driver or a remote control. These cars depend on sensors and other built-in mechanisms to maneuver.

This year’s Urban Challenge took place in Victorville, CA on November 3 and featured 11 finalists who had to conquer 60 miles of potholes, downed power lines, rocks, and other obstacles in under 6 hours while following California traffic rules. A team from Carnegie Mellon University finished first and claimed the top prize of $2 million. Their entry averaged 14 mph during their championship run, finishing nearly 20 minutes ahead of the second place team from Stanford. An entry from Virginia Tech finished third.

In the big picture, the Urban Challenge shows that autonomous ground vehicles can save lives in times of war by taking soldiers off the battlefield. This technology could also pay huge dividends when it comes to rescue missions and damage control in the event of natural disasters. Regardless, money talks and the more DARPA offers for events like the Urban Challenge, the more likely we’ll see advanced versions of these groundbreaking new vehicles going into the line of fire in the near future.

– posted by Taeho Lim

Tahoe Hybrid Named Green Car of the Year

The 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid SUV has been tapped as the 2008 Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The Tahoe Hybrid won out over a field of five cars that included the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, the Mazda Tribute Hybrid, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and the Saturn Aura Hybrid.

The selection of an SUV as the Green Car of the Year holds a certain significance, since it’s an indication that even SUVs can be fuel efficient, say representatives of the Green Car Journal, which organized the competition. Going on sale early in 2008, the Tahoe Hybrid will be available in either two- or four-wheel-drive configurations. EPA-estimated miles per gallon are 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway for the two-wheel-drive trims, and 20 mpg for both city and highway driving for the four-wheel-drive trims.

The Tahoe Hybrid achieves that mileage thanks to a 6.0-liter, two-mode hybrid engine. In the first mode, designed for low-speed or light-load driving, the Tahoe Hybrid operates in three ways: on electric power, gas engine power, or a combination of the two. This enables the Tahoe Hybrid to operate for extended periods of time with the gas engine shut off. However, the gas engine is available when extra power is needed, and kicks in automatically and seamlessly. In the second mode, used primarily at highway speeds, the V8 gas engine operates in either four-cylinder or eight-cylinder mode with electric assist to ensure low fuel consumption.

In addition, the Tahoe Hybrid features a lowered suspension and body enhancements, such as a streamlined hood, designed to help improve the SUV’s aerodynamics. The hood and rear liftgate are made of lightweight materials to keep the vehicle’s weight down, and the tires are specially designed to provide lower resistance on the road.

The Tahoe Hybrid was selected by a committee that included automotive great Carroll Shelby, late-night talk show host Jay Leno, and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, adding to its cache as Green Car of the Year. It’s another indication that the green movement is truly taking hold in the automotive industry.

Here Come the Auto Shows: L.A.’s Up First

Frankfurt and Tokyo were the appetizers, but here comes the main course — the Los Angeles Auto Show, which kicks off on Friday, Nov. 16 and winds up on Sunday, Nov. 15. More than 40 auto debuts are scheduled during the show, including the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, the redesigned 2008 Toyota Sequoia, and the 2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt (above).

The new Bullitt, which is a particularly intriguing debut, will feature a slightly souped-up V8 engine, a specially tuned exhaust, and Dark Highland Metallic exterior paint that mimics the car driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 cop-and-chase film “Bullitt.” The new Bullitt will mimic the original Mustang GT 390 in a number of other ways as well. Like the original car, the 2008 version will be stripped of its exterior badges, scoops, and spoilers, with the exception of the a “Bullitt” graphic on the rear trunklid. Even the chrome pony on the new black-mesh grille will be absent, as it was on the original car.

The BMW 1-Series coupes and convertible will receive their official U.S. unveiling in L.A., as will the Bentley Continental GT Speed (see “What Would George Washington Drive?” below). Other cars scheduled for their U.S. debuts include the Lamborghini Reventon, the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, the Jaguar XF, and the Mini Clubman, a cool little number based on the popular Mini, with a longer wheelbase and a vertically split tailgate. A number of concept cars are also scheduled to be unveiled, including the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and the Audi A1 subcompact.

Finally, the Green Car of the Year will be announced at the L.A. Auto Show on Nov. 15th. Reportedly, the nominees have been narrowed to five vehicles. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out which car will be declared the winner. Stay tuned for more info on all the unveilings at the L.A. Auto Show.

Now You Can Drive In Peace

So it’s midnight, you’re on the road, and you have no idea where you are. You look for a map, but frantic searches in the glove compartment and trunk yield nothing. You ask Scotty from the Starship Enterprise to beam you over some directions, but he’s apparently in sick bay. So what do you do? Pull into the local gas station and print out directions from Google.

Starting next month, gas pumps made by North Carolina-based manufacturer Gilbarco Veeder-Root will have a small computer screen where you can Google your directions via touchscreen, then print them out. Initially, you’ll find 3,500 of these machines across the nation , but expect this idea to expand if you and your fellow drivers like the idea enough. While the maps come ad-free, retailers will offer coupons through the service.

Personally, I like the idea. I’ve taken a number of road trips where I got lost in my destination city and had to ask for directions from gas attendants who didn’t speak English. And when it comes to people more stubborn than me, gas-pump Googling should present a welcome last resort that relieves stress on-demand.

– posted by Taeho Lim