Notes from the New York Auto Show

On the heels of the internationally attended Geneva Motor Show, this year's New York Auto Show left some observers with a sense of déjà vu. But, it was also filled with enough surprises to capture the attention of auto industry observers.

The general media always seeks "show themes," but the New York show was hard to categorize. Among other things, it featured some interesting role reversals. Toyota, through its Lexus luxury division, introduced a new generation full-size SUV in the form of  the 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower LX 570. General Motors unexpectedly unveiled three minicars -- the Chevrolet Groove, Beat and Trax. Those minicars weren't just for show -- GM officials told us at least one of the midget offerings, perhaps the Trax small SUV, might be offered in the United States, depending on consumer reaction. And in yet another role reversal, Hyundai, long known for its inexpensive vehicles, showed a luxury model called Concept Genesis that demanded the attention of the traditional luxury brands.

One of the most closely watched events at the show was its keynote speech by Alan Mulally, the former Boeing executive hired to steer Ford Motor Company back to profitability. His four key goals for the company -- adjusting product volume to match marketplace demand, trimming the workforce, revitalizing the entire product line by 2010 and working to consolidate the supplier chain -- seemed on target. But Mulally really won the admiration of many observers by his straightforward approach and willingness to entertain tough questions. Ford also grabbed some headlines by unmasking its first 2009 production vehicle, the Ford Flex. Set to go on sale in the summer of '08, the Flex is a long, rectangular, nearly "plain-wrap" family wagon based on the Fairlane concept vehicle that drew positive reviews at the Detroit show 15 months ago.

The Flex was one of several crossovers introduced at the show. The Infiniti EX, while technically still a concept, gives a clear view of what we can expect from the upcoming production EX35, meant to battle vehicles like the sporty Acura RDX and BMW X3. Winning the ugly-duckling-to-swan award was the Subaru Tribeca crossover, which ditched its B9 sub-head and Edsel-inspired grille in favor of a very handsome new look. Taking the prize for the most radical design was the Mazda Hakaze crossover concept whose theme was inspired by shifting desert sands.

Renewed entries like the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen and Volvo V70 indicate that not every people-hauler has to be a crossover. Both models are station wagons and proud of it. And many try to write the obituary of the SUV, Jeep unveiled an all-new Liberty and an updated version of its Grand Cherokee. In additional to its minicars, General Motors offered updates to some of its largest offerings, including the Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac STS and Hummer H2 and H3. 

So the New York show offered a fascinating panoply of vehicles, accompanied by the pleasant task of hobnobbing with many of the industry's movers and shakers. And it again offered something for nearly everyone...because that's what today's auto industry does.

Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini covers the global auto industry.