As rites of passage go, this one is all wrong.
Yes, I took my son to the New York International Auto Show on Monday, as my dad did before me (and as his dad probably would have done before him, if the shtetl Jews of Williamsburg had coveted Buicks not blintzes).
“Wow, dad, it’s so cool!” my 9-year-old spawn said about 100 times during the course of the day at the Javits Center: he said it when he saw an LED-covered Lexus; when he caressed a Swedish-made Koenigsegg, with its distinctive single wiper; when he played with the electric reclining driver’s seat on a Mercedes Benz GLE Coupe, which can be adjusted eight ways; when he saw a Jaguar racecar hanging vertically; when he participated in a simulated drag race in a muscular Dodge Charger; and when he got to sit behind the wheel of a GMC Yukon Denali (ironically named after two ecosystems that will be destroyed by the GMC Yukon Denali).
Cool? Try cruel.
Yes, my car-loving son went to the show looking for thrills. But I – a cyclist who, yes, still believes, against all propaganda from the White House, that global warming is a threat to our way of life – went looking for some reassurance that the automobile-political complex hadn’t reverted back to its central faith that the gasoline will never run out, the exhaust that spews out of the twin elliptical tailpipes won’t choke us to death, and that everything is going to be fun, fun, fun because no one is going to take our T-birds away.
So my son said, “Cool.” And I thought: “Worst dad in the world,” as I guiltily passed on the love of cars to another generation.
Sure, there are a few nods to environmentalism at the auto show: An electric car crammed in among a murder of sports cars, or some guy from Subaru giving about four seconds of lip-service to the company’s efforts to recycle its manufacturing materials. But mostly, the auto show is one big tribute to the internal combustion engine.
I get it, it’s a car show, not a “save-the-planet” expo, but do automakers have to be so cruel with the irony? Best example: Honda has a turbo-charged engine that it calls “Earth Dreams,” that, despite its name, still burns petroleum and exhales toxic gases. I’m willing to bet that when Mother Gaia rests her weary head at night, she’s not dreaming of this 174-horsepower powerplant.
Worse, there’s virtually no talk about making cars safer for anyone except the operators. As I entered, two Toyota sales reps were doing a spirited presentation about the positive attributes of the new Camry, playing the roles of the hot-and-intelligent car babe and the nerdy-and-slightly-little-less-attractive car dude. The babe kept using a “come-hither” voice to tout the Camry’s performance specs, while the dude played the role of middle-aged dad to pitch the car as sensible. In their final showdown, the babe touted the “dual exhaust system” while the dude tried to get support from the crowd by championing the “dual safety cameras.” Hearing crickets, he conceded the fight. “I guess she wins again!” he said in mock offense.
A woman in a slinky dress told me that the Lexus LS500 can anticipate what the driver is thinking before he or she does. I hoped she was talking about accident prevention – you know, like a driverless car – but the mind-reading was about affluence, not assurance: all four seats, she gushed, provide automatic shiatsu massages (and here I was only worried about drivers who text! Now I have to worry about drivers who fall asleep at the wheel because the massage is soooo relaxing).
Almost all the cars tout their safety with signs heralding the vehicle’s “five star” crash test rating. Here’s the problem: those ratings only cover the driver and his or her passenger, not the seven billion of us on the outside of the car.
I almost got optimistic when I wandered over to the Jaguar booth and noticed that some of the British carmaker’s vehicles have a “perimetric alarm and immobilizer.” That sounded like some sort of warning system to alert the driver when he is about to veer into the bike lane rather than slow down to avoid a turning car on Smith Street, plowing right into me and leaving me bloody on the pavement (which happened, by the way).
So I asked the only company rep who wasn’t wearing a tight-fitting dress what a “perimetric alarm and immobilizer” was – it turns out, it’s a keyless locking system that makes it really hard to steal the car.
Oh, by the way, it goes from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.
“Cool,” my son said.
The NY International Auto Show continues through April 23. For info, visit http://www.autoshowny.com.