Keeping eye on the future

You don’t have to be a real car person to enjoy a day surrounded by new cars.

That was evident last weekend when the North American International Auto Show began its public run in Detroit’s Cobo Hall.

Thousands of people from around the world descended on the downtown conference center that sits in shadows of the General Motors world headquarters in the Renaissance Center, just along the shore of the Detroit River. By many accounts, the first day of the annual tribute to all things automotive attracted one of its largest crowds.

It doesn’t matter how you view cars – whether you’re the true aficionado, the casual car person or a person who thinks of an automobile as nothing more than simple transportation, a way to get from point A to point B, you’ll find something to like.

I’ve been a fan of auto shows since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when my father and I would make the annual trek to then-Diocesan Community Arena to take in Steubenville’s annual auto show. Not on the scale of the big shows of today, of course, the local show offered a chance to see the newest offerings in the automotive world, which at that time in our town mostly came from the Big Three.

It was exciting to see all of the latest models in the latest colors. Plus, there were many hours afterward spent with all of those brochures, reading page after page about the latest innovations that made the all new (fill in the blank) the most advanced sedan in its class.

That sense of excitement comes back every time I have a chance to spend a day with cars. Such was the case in Michigan last Saturday. You can read all you want to about the new Mustang or Ford F-150, it doesn’t compare with being able to see it in person, touch it and look inside. Same thing with the Chevrolet Camaro, the new Corvette and the Chrysler 200.

It’s somehow reassuring to know that today, as has been the case for as long as anyone can remember, the newest models have been redesigned from the ground up to provide the driver with a new sense of exhilaration.

The shows also offer a chance for manufacturers to show off what’s new and to reveal their latest concept cars. Many of those innovations of today involve electric and hybrid autos, and while the technology that goes into them is impressive in its own right, they don’t seem to have the character of the big sedans powered by internal combustion engines – fueled by either gasoline or diesel.

I’ve had the chance to experience the Chevy Volt. It’s a solid car and easy to drive, but something seems to be missing when you touch the accelerator.

The Volt and its cousin, the Cadillac ELR, were at the show. The ELR is what you’d expect from Cadillac – it’s a very luxurious coupe. But you plug it in, and it still has a small gasoline engine to supplement the electric drive system. Still, as the brochure tells us, 78 percent of drivers travel 40 miles or less on their daily commute. And, since the ELR can go 37 miles on electricity stored in its battery, the inference is that most people can go green while going to work.

It was refreshing, then, to see that the ELR sat not far from the Cadillac Elmiraj. Still considered to be a concept car, the long two-door screams luxury – and performance. It’s a car person’s car with rear-wheel drive and a 4.5-liter twin turbocharged V8 that is expected to deliver 500 horsepower.

We still are not sure when or if the Elmiraj will ever make it to production. All the model who made the presentation would say was to watch the Cadillac website for information. It’s intriguing, to say the least.

Auto shows long ago left markets our size behind, and in place of brochures, the displays of many makes are now populated with product specialists who stand by with iPad minis, eager to get some simple information from you so they can send their information your way.

Because the city and its surrounding region remain at the heart of the automobile industry, Detroit, of course, is among the elite shows in the world, but the Pittsburgh International Auto Show is pretty good. This year’s edition is scheduled to be held Feb. 14-17 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

It’s comforting to know that despite all of the changes in the auto industry, the lure of the auto show remains constant – it’s a chance to see the best of today while keeping an eye on the future.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)