Automakers Drive N.E. Auto Event
Not so long ago, the New England International Auto Show was more a buffet of “leftovers” than a display of futuristic rides — but that’s quickly changing, says Clifford Atiyeh, the East Coast bureau editor of Car and Driver magazine.
“It’s definitely grown in prominence,” Atiyeh said of Boston’s annual show that pulls into the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center today and will feature more than 500 must-see vehicles.
His reasoning? The automakers — not just the dealers — are getting more involved, and the show is adding more compelling models to its lineup. For example, this year, the Aston Martin DB11 will make its East Coast debut there and the Bentley Flying Spur W12 S will be shown off for the first time in America.
Other impressive vehicles this weekend include the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Dodge Challenger GT, Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Alltrack, Hyundai Santa Fe and the Infiniti Q60 Coupe.
“I was surprised when I saw the list,” said Atiyeh, noting that the show is still far from having the industry prominence of expos in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York. But, because New England is a wealthy market that likes cars, he said, it makes sense that automakers are taking it more seriously.
And for those of us who are not auto industry insiders, the show has plenty of those shiny, sexy cars that inspire our deepest James Bond fantasies — models that most drivers can only dream about, such as Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis and Bentleys, as well as fantastic classics such as old Porsches and Rolls-Royces.
And for those looking to actually buy an affordable car, there will be the practical, old standbys such as Kia, Toyota and Mazda. The show also will be heavy on alternative-fuel vehicles, including more than 100 models that rely on electric, diesel, fuel cell and hybrid technologies.
But even in a self-proclaimed progressive city like Boston, those Prius types might not prove as big a draw as the many SUV and so-called SUV-crossover models — especially the luxury ones — at this year’s show.
“Light trucks and SUVs tend to be more of a seller than sedans and cars” in Massachusetts, said Robert O’Koniewski, executive vice president for the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, who put the buyer balance at about 60-40.
“That’s been trending the last number of years, especially as gas sits in that $2 range,” he said.
Luxury brands are big in the Bay State, too, and will be a big presence at the show, say the event’s organizers. Along with the high rents and absurd housing prices, they say, Boston has an appetite for models by BMW, Volvo, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and the like.
“They have a good marketplace for themselves,” O’Koniewski said, adding that Jaguar sales have more than doubled from 2015 to 2016 in the Bay State, and that Volvo sales are up, and so are those of Ram trucks and Land Rovers.
The show will be as much a display of the vehicles as it will of new technologies, say its producer, the Paragon Group, and owner, the Massachusetts dealers association.
“What’s really interesting is that cars are getting smarter, lighter, and more connected,” said Chris Russell, a spokesperson for Paragon. “That’s trickling down very quickly to the more affordable models.”
That means even affordable cars are starting to include the cool gadgetry once seen only in luxury models.
Some examples of the automobile wizardry to expect this year include warning systems to help prevent accidents and keep drivers in the correct lane, automatic braking systems to help drivers avoid bumping into things and people when backing up and cruising down city roads, and technology to help assist drivers in a traffic jam, keep them free of blind spots, and to keep their vehicle stable, Russell said.
But, unfortunately, while many 2017 models incorporate more autonomous-vehicle technologies than in the past, New Englanders shouldn’t expect they can hand over the wheel to a computer while cutting down Newbury Street or the Jamaicaway any time soon.
No, those driverless cars that have been making headlines lately won’t be racing their way to the auto show this weekend.
“I don’t know if we’re ever going to be there,” O’Koniewski said when talking about self-driving cars coming to Boston. That’s because, unlike other cities whose streets follow a grid, Boston’s is “more following old cow paths and horse trails,” O’Koniewski said.
The weather and infrastructure here are also obstacles to the George Jetson-style cars too, Russell added.
But Atiyeh of Car and Driver is a bit more optimistic.
“There are a lot of things that would challenge these self-driving cars,” he said, but Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are on the case, “so, we might see it here at some point.”