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Hot concepts, hybrids delight at auto show

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Forty-three manufacturers are flaunting their latest cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans - nearly 1,000 vehicles in all, with price tags ranging from under $10,000 to over $500,000. New models share floor space with concept cars and exotic species you rarely see on the streets. Cadillac, Kia, Mercedes, General Motors, Ford, Hyundai and Mazda are among the manufacturers debuting dozens of new vehicles. The Whitestone-based Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which organizes the show each year, expects as many as 1.2 million visitors to attend.The vehicles and their elaborate displays fill 846,000 square feet of the convention center. Endless video footage flitting across two-story flat-screen monitors and the dance music in the air contribute to a full-blown multimedia environment. Interactive touch-screen computers and driving simulators dramatize many automakers' displays. "Every exhibit is screaming, 'Look at me! Look at me!'" said one manufacturer's sales representative. While the props are a spectacle in themselves, she added, "the vehicles are obviously the centerpiece of what we try to highlight."Most of the vehicles are new 2005 and 2006 models. The Dodge Charger is reborn as a four-door coupe. Its most powerful model has a huge 425-horsepower engine, making it a sedan with the soul of its muscle car ancestors from the 1960s and '70s. Then there's Mercedes' sleek sports car, the 617-horsepower SLR McLaren. Its shark-like gills and gull-wing doors will certainly turn heads, but at $450,000, most visitors won't be driving one home. On a more practical note, Honda enters the truck market with its 2006 Ridgeline, and Subaru introduces its B9 Tribeca, another small SUV.Hybrid-electric vehicles are a growing presence at the show. Toyota brought along an interesting cut-away Highlander, which demonstrates the flow of electricity and gas through the vehicle during different driving phases. Lexus bills its new RX 400h SUV as the world's first luxury hybrid vehicle. It beats most SUVs' gas mileage by achieving 30 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway, but does less than half as well as Honda's two-seat hybrid Insight, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rates the most fuel-efficient car on the road.The concept cars grab attention though they haven't yet hit production lines. Ford's SYNus is a boxy high-security SUV with shuttered, bulletproof windows and a vault style four-handled spinner to open the rear hatch. Infiniti's Kuraza is a spacious 6-door SUV with a striking combination of hard angles and curves in its silhouette. Toyota's futuristic and completely unique "i-unit personal mobility vehicle" is a one-person ride that switches from an upright wheelchair-like posture to a reclining position for highway speeds. A few experimental vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, like Nissan's X-Trail FCV model, and, improbably, a Hummer called the H2H.Exotics are always fun to ogle, and it's especially exciting to see so many in one place. Lotus' 2005 Exige and Elise models look like tiny sea creatures parked next to the Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, and even less common Spykers and Saleens.Rather than present its new models along with the rest of the automotive crowd, Jeep constructed a track just off the show's first level where visitors can test-drive new models. The track has a water basin, a 16-foot hill, rocks, moguls, logs and shrubs to simulate that off-road feeling New York drivers only experience on really big potholes. Other attractions include an Automotive Career Fair for middle- and high-school students that ran through Wednesday, and the show's Hispanic Day, Thursday, March 31. Art cars are on display March 30, Corvettes and Vipers on April 2, and new and historic Lotuses on April 3.In addition to organizing the auto show, the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association is a trade group that engages in lobbying, legal and training activities. This spring the group will open its new 40,000-square-foot Center For Automotive Education and Training on Petracca Place in Whitestone. Tickets to the auto show are $12 for adults and $4 for children. Visit www.autoshowny.com for information.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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