Saturday, December 1, 2007

International Car Show

The 50th annual International Auto Show has been held in the Moscone Convention Center.

We not only strolled around the gleaming metal but were able to sit in many of the newest and top car models. What caught my eye were the black beast of a Lexus sedan, a convertible hard-top Jaguar and of course the Hummer aka Horatio of CSI!

The power of fashion being evident: troop vehicles customised with comfy interiors for taking the children to school and shopping. But you never know when you might need to ford a two-feet deep stream across your front garden or mount that 16-inch step. Like the ten wise virgins, it is best to be prepared.

Other models we could only gaze at from behind a cordon. Like the sleek Audi R8 - at 187 mph the fastest car Audi has produced - the Lincoln - America's Rolls Royce - or the 2008 Jaguar sedans XJ and XKR.

The doyen of Jaguar, the XJ, sat quietly on the carpet while the XKR was presented on a dais with music chosen to induce a sense of awe. But even though these cars are fabulous - the XJ has a sophisticated Bluetooth telephone system and the XKR has the most powerful brakes of any production Jag - there is one crucial difference: the XJ has the traditional sculptured silver jaguar in flight over the bonnet while the XKR has a badge of a jaguar's head fastened flat against the front grille.

That leaping Jaguar was always the symbol of aristocracy. If I had to pay that much, I wouldn't leave the showroom without that jaguar!

There were also Lotus Sport cars in lime green and bright orange - for those who dare not NOT be seen?! - and a wonderful gull-wing doored Lamborghini though slate grey would not be my colour choice.

But the show had other interesting facets: the rally cars on display, an urban car about the size of a motorbike for one person and a major feature on alternative fuels with an interactive display on the subject by Toyota.

It was an enlightenment to see how much work is being done to find alternative fuels: liquefied propane gas (LPG) that is already being used by public vehicles including the San Francisco Police Department; electric vehicles; natural gas vehicles; hybrid vehicles ie a combination of electric and gas; biodiesel,including chip-fat oil!; and hydrogen fuel cell, though this is expensive. Hybrid cars seem the most viable to date.

Alternative fuels alter the performance of a car, which is what the research is focusing on, and can be more economical. Of course this is where the marketing is more difficult: image of speed and power versus a plodding 'saving the planet'.

A brilliant technological innovation we stumbled across, though, was a computer system for providing an emergency service and directions for drivers while on the road. Called OnStar, it links you to a call centre at the push of a button by the front windscreen mirror, but also has an automatic alert system if your car is in a moderate to severe crash or airbags are used.

Advisors will also relay messages for you and can locate the car if it is stolen. No doubt it costs, but it seems a terrific safety precaution for female drivers or anyone who has to regularly travel on lonely or unfamiliar roads.

So overall it was a great show but California has limitations on emissions, which may be the reason why certain cars were conspicuous by their absence. Whatever the reason, cars like Ferrari were absent. And Aston Martin.

I had gone to the show like a homing pigeon ready to alight on the latest DB... But there was no landing in sight!

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