Monday, December 20, 2010

A second (third, fourth, and fifth) look at Top Gear USA

My hometown of Washington, DC was stunned this past week, when Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan announced that old warhorse QB Donovan McNabb - who recently received the Dan Snyder Kiss Of Death in the form of a big contract extension - would be benched for the rest of the season. His performance over 13 weeks in a Burgundy & Gold uniform had been too inconsistent, the results on the scoreboard just didn't justify keeping the $14.7M superstar in the huddle. So, McNabb was replaced with perennial retread Rex Grossman - a Master of the Clipboard who hadn't started a NFL game in two years.

The results? Of course, the Redskins lost. Yet, while still not a winner, the change shows the shadow of some promise. Grossman, hardly the go-to guy in any coach's playbook, tossed four TDs in the midst of being sacked 5 times, and threw for more than 300 yards. For a loser, he had a career day.

Which brings me to Top Gear USA. Five episodes into its first season, the coach - if there is one for this show - would be smart to send in a spy to check out Mike Shanahan's playbook. The three stars of the show are still woefully irritating, and it looks as if there's no relief in sight.

There has been some of the promise I mentioned a minute ago - at least a shadow thereof: Tonight's episode was a Yankee carbon copy of a Top Gear UK challenge from about four years ago. The guys each spend some chump change on a car from GM's not so glorious past, run each of them through a series of challenges designed to highlight the rigors of decades of wear and tear, and then... well, at least the US show tonight declared a winner. (Top Gear's real secret: If you must go to the length of declaring which car won, then you've underserved your audience on the way to that end.)

To call this an improvement over the handful of previous episodes, is about like saying "well you know, she had one less genital wart than she had last week." A step in the right direction is not an end unto itself - it's a step.

In taking a early 70s vintage Olds Cutlass, a mid-80s Pontiac Fiero 2M6, and a freakin' huge mid-90s Buick Roadmaster to the Eaton Proving Grounds, we knew what we'd see - that the older cars no longer have good parking brakes. Then we got to see the cars run a brutal course with a colander suspended above the driver's head, dropping raw egg as the eggs broke (or in Rot Wood's case, didn't break).

The News... really wasn't. It was over almost as soon as it began, and was really forgettable. Want proof? I can't remember a damn thing anyone said. The "Big Star in a Small Car," this week being Tony Hawk, was easily the most boring Tony Hawk interview he's ever done. "So, like, you drive cars too, right?" was the general gist of the segment.

If the producers of TG USA want to improve the series by several leaps and bounds, it's time to take on the Shanahan Method: Turn the host's chairs into a weekly Gong Show. If a host sucks after a week or two - and it's not that hard to tell who's got it and who doesn't - hit the "Reject" button and get some fresh blood up there. I guarantee you that within, say, 3 weeks, we'd have a MUCH better show than we've seen so far.

Had the most irritating cast member had at least come away with his face plastered in egg, maybe the show wouldn't have... No, it still would've sucked. Perhaps not as badly as it did, but there's no escaping the trunkload of suck that is TG USA.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Top Gear USA Is All That*…

[* as long as "All That" means "not so much"]

Having sat through two viewings of the long-awaited Stateside version of Top Gear, I can now bring forth everything that’s right with the new show: The test track map is shown in a lower corner of the screen while a vehicle (be it a Viper ACR or a Suzuki SX4) is on the circuit. It’s an idea that’s been around in countless video games for the better part of the last 20 years, and now it’s part of Top Gear. No longer will new viewers have to watch and wonder “gee, what part of the track is that car rounding,” because The Map brings the detail to you in hi-def.

Once we’re past The Map, however, the innovation drops off and we’re left with three talentless bores who clearly think they’re funny, and spend the entire hour trying to convince the audience just how funny they think they are.

First up: For noted Speed Channel NASCAR guy Rutledge Wood, the toughest hurdle was obviously making it through more than 15 minutes without sharing just how funny it is when his baby poops. Wood is a consummate pro, however, and instead shows off his most brilliant skill: Wearing a plaid button-down shirt, which clashes with everything else in sight. This is a work of sheer genius, as it comes close at times to distracting viewers from the most awful visual on the show: His head. Rutledge Wood’s head, while clearly the largest air-filled object inside the empty hangar on which TG US is shot, is also the most annoying and least useful. Cheers to the disgraceful plaid shirt for doing its best to tear our eyes away from it.

While Wood spends most of the episode fighting back the urge to tell baby poop jokes (no, really, read any interview with him since he went to work at Speed), Tanner Foust wastes no time in showing the viewer that he was born to be on Top Gear… as the Stig. Anyone who’s seen Foust on his own show, Speed’s “Supercars Exposed,” is well-acquainted with his trademark delivery – droning, vanilla, monotone, juvenile. While he is certainly a skilled driver (“you’re the Brian Boitano of drifting,” quipped a co-host), his abundance of skill is entirely concentrated on the wheel, gearshift, and pedals.

Or flappy-paddles, as the case may be.

Once he opens his mouth, however, the party is over. Maybe his agent – if he has one – objected to Foust being cast in a role with anonymous ID and no spoken lines. Maybe Foust himself is convinced he’s just dazzling on-camera. No doubt, someone’s told him this at some point, because he keeps showing up. But when Foust begins to speak, all that seems to come out is the wince-worthy whining of the kid whose daddy had all the money, bought all the cool cars, and let him drive them to school. People like him because he’s attached to something cool; not because the cool extends to him.

I hate to say this, because I’m certain Tanner Foust is a really fantastic guy. I bet he’s very smart, probably polite, maybe even helps the neighbor lady take out her garbage on Tuesdays… But on-screen, he’s the privileged brat kid you’d love to beat up – if you weren’t so busy staring at his dad’s Lambo.

The oddball in the trio (yes, I’m reaching with that term) is Adam Ferrara. While arguably less outright annoying than Wood or Foust, he’s clearly the one with the best on-screen presence – an asset that comes through quite clearly as he powers a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera at breakneck speed… in a straight line out in the desert.

When the producers set out to create an Americanized Top Gear, they first took a look at Nielsen Ratings and decided to eliminate “things Americans don’t care for.” Clever writing was at the top of the kill-it list, as Top 20 ratings routinely show that American audiences have no stomach for witty banter or intelligent themes. Thus, there is no News segment, and instead of “A Star In A Reasonably-Priced Car,” we get the much easier to understand “Big Star, Small Car.”

Apollo 11 astronaut and great American historical figure Buzz Aldrin, the second human who ever set foot on the moon, was the first to have a go at the test track. Yes, he certainly was.

The test track itself seems to have very little of the impressive sight-lines (nor the parked Boeing 747) of the original show's Lotus-engineered circuit, though it does boast a substantial number of curves in varying radii and directions. The “small car” (called such because ‘reasonably priced’ must be a negative connotation to those of us in the Colonies) takes to these curves… well, like a small car. At least it's not some electric/hybrid glorified golf cart.

Final Analysis: This was a premiere. Few shows ever peak on their first night out, and it’s clear that there’s enormous room for improvement and refinement in Top Gear USA. It would be silly to permanently write-off a show with such a huge potential audience, desperate for a real-deal homegrown US-based car program, and this one may yet show some promise.

Sure, the camera work and editing was nothing like what fans of Top Gear have come to expect over the years, but that’s excusable. Any fan of the original show can look past that, for a week or two.

And yes, the music was ill-scored and ill-timed (the drum sequence from The Doors’ “The End” used to introduce a 2008 Dodge Viper SRT-10? S’cuse?), but any producer worth his salt can make the show sound better.

The hosts share about as much natural charisma as the used tires that make up the barriers on the test track, but nothing a little re-casting can’t fix. (Free hint to the producers: Put a helmet and white firesuit on Tanner, and park him where he belongs.)

Top Gear USA is, to be honest, a show that brings much promise: The promise that many Americans want to like it, will probably swallow hard and say “it’s not that bad,” and then check the calendar to see when the REAL Top Gear returns (that’s some time in January 2011).

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Thousand Miles in A Thousand Words.

“Strange how the night moves,
with Autumn closing in…” -- Bob Seger

Braselton, GA

With a return to its rightful place as the season-ending Last Big Bash for the American Le Mans Series, this year’s Petit Le Mans powered by MAZDA 2 was a fantastic end to the 2010 sports car racing series.

One year ago, Petit Le Mans was a wash-out, quite literally. The anticipation of Audi vs. Peugeot taking on the hills, valleys, and twists of Road Atlanta had all of the excitement of Ali vs. Frazier on wheels. Of course, epic floods turned parts of the track into swimming holes and fishing camps, cutting short the action and delivering to Peugeot what could best be described as a split decision.

The sports car world didn’t get to see a proper rematch until the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in June, in which the Audi teams fielded a somewhat slower but much more reliable R15+ against the quicker and quirkier Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. For a couple of years now, it’s been no secret that Peugeot has the speed, but Audi has the experience and reliability down to basic math.

Still, with this year’s Le Mans 24 decided more by mechanical failure than by 86,400 seconds of racing, and with last year’s Petit cut short by floods, the stage was set for Ali vs. Frazier II. Peugeot was back. Audi was back. The fight of the year was expected.

This year’s Petit Le Mans lived up to all of the billing.

By now all of the results have been posted, the fan videos are all over YouTube, and it’s history in the books that Peugeot took a 1-2 finish while Audi scored a 3rd place podium finish. The results, however, skip several crucial points that a 15-second analysis on the Speed Report might have missed:

If anyone had any doubts before, Peugeot is for real. The 2009 Le Mans 24 was won arguably by as much luck as played into their loss at the same race this year, but last weekend’s Petit Le Mans showed that in heads-up competition with Audi, Peugeot have gotten the car sorted-out and dialed-in, and the entire team is focused.

Audi, for all of the rumors and hand-wringing over the future of their program in North America, still have the game to beat. Had Dindo Capello not been forced to slow for a lap and pit due to a wardrobe malfunction (the cushion in his helmet worked loose, nudging the fireproof balaclava over his eyes and obscuring his sight), it’s a safe bet that the race would have come down to a last-lap duel, and the win would’ve been anybody’s guess.

The series regulars in LMP2 and GT2 classes were fantastic battles. Faced with a competitive disadvantage for most of the 2010 season to tighten up the class, the Patron Highcroft Racing team scored its second straight series title. While last year was a true head to head fight against fellow Acura team of de Ferran Racing for the crown, this year saw intense competition from both the CytoSport Porsche RS as well as the Dyson Racing Mazda Lolas.

As is often the case in GT (or GT2 for Petit), the season-ending race provided fantastic action and an exciting finish worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer flick – if Bruckheimer were to ever do a movie about real race cars. An endurance race decided by fuel mileage on the very last lap? Outstanding. While Risi Competizione’s Toni Vilander saw his great run turn into vapor on the last lap in the team’s last race with the Ferrari F430, Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin won by the racer’s classic definition of luck: Preparation at the point of opportunity. A thin margin of racer’s luck, too, as Gavin’s C6.R ran dry of E85 as he pulled into the pits after the race.

I haven’t seen the TV numbers, but attendance this year seemed stronger than ever. Entire families, and more young children running around in the infield and posing for pictures next to million-dollar race cars, were everywhere to be seen. Is it possible that while most other racing series in the US have been struggling in bad economic times with declining ticket sales, and TV ratings on a roller coaster, that the ALMS is still broadening its appeal and gathering more fans month by month and year by year?

This seems to be the case.

Spec racer series, where cars are differentiated more by decals than by bodywork, just don’t seem to pack ‘em in like they used to. Fans love variety, and when racing fans in the stands, on the paddock, or watching TV can see a curvaceous GT car that they might actually afford some day, the appeal is undeniable. And while Prototypes certainly aren’t street-going vehicles (outside of Long Beach, anyway), it’s still hard to confuse an R15+ with a 908 HDi, or the curves of a Lola, or a Porsche RS Spyder with a HPD ARX-01c. If variety is the spice of life, the American Le Mans Series brings everything from sage to saffron to habaneros, while some other series keep repackaging salt and pepper.

The American Le Mans Series has continued in 2010 to use the moniker “Global Leader in Green Racing,” and Petit Le Mans provided further validation for the series’ claim. The podium was all-diesel, the GT2 winners won with the last gasp of E85 petrol in the tank, Dyson Racing’s Mazda was highly competitive on Bio-Butanol, and we also saw the debut of Porsche’s much-anticipated 911 GT3 Hybrid. How’s that fuel injection research working out over in NASCAR?

Speaking with many of the fans in attendance, there was widespread agreement that new automotive technologies need to be proven on the race track – specifically in endurance racing – before being considered worthy of customers’ confidence (and money) on the street. While the 911 GT3 Hybrid was not scored by IMSA for the race, it ran great and finished well ahead of quite a few petrol-only entries.

Lastly, a tip of the hat to the American Le Mans Series for returning the season-ender to Road Atlanta, and to Road Atlanta’s staff for making racing’s Fall Classic such a must-be-there. Petit Le Mans has grown over the years into such a great race, it just seems a perfect book-end to match the season’s kick-off at Sebring. Make no mistake: Only Sebring will ever be Sebring, but as of 2010, only Petit Le Mans is Petit Le Mans.

That’s it for now – I’ll see you at the next pit stop.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good times, Bad times, you know I’ve had my share…

Sebring, FL –

Last week, while the rest of the country was no doubt busy arguing with itself over the future of health care, a small historic town in Central Florida was busy getting its race on.

Saturday’s running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida is now in the books; a triumph for Team Peugeot Total, a continuation of turbo-diesel dominance in endurance racing, and a highlight reel that most of the teams featured would love to make disappear. On the way to the checkered flag at the storied 3.7-mile circuit, an abundance of weird calls, unprecedented mistakes, and flat out rotten luck defined the race.

It’s hard to point to any one item, but this year’s Sebring had a different groove to it – as if there was something missing. Something we had all grown accustomed to, something expected, something that makes sportscar racing great. It wasn’t just all the new LMP Challenge cars and GT Challenge Porsches; there was something new that just didn’t feel right:

In their first absence in many years, Audi helped shape Sebring for 2010.

After last year’s hard luck at the Le Mans 24 Hours and rain-shortened Petit Le Mans, Sebring seemed destined to be the point at which Audi would return to form and give relative upstart Peugeot a serious run. As it turned out, Audi was forced to skip Sebring because the R15 TDI racer had to undergo rhinoplasty to sort out its much-protested nose.

With Audi out of the picture, Team Peugeot was the odds-on favorite and they did not disappoint. In a run reminiscent of the last few years of Corvette Racing in the now-defunct GT1 class, Peugeot ran as if they had the class to themselves – working together to put the rest of the field behind them, and occasionally finding the chance to race against each other. Minus another Le Mans-winning turbo-diesel entry in the field, it was Peugeot’s race to lose, and they did a superb job not losing it.

Not to say that Peugeot was the only entry in P1 worth a look – the stunning Aston Martin Racing Lola, done up in traditional Gulf livery (though with Lowe’s as a primary sponsor, which looked a bit odd on the car) was fast throughout the race. All that kept the Aston from running up front, it seemed, was a diesel mill.

While Peugeot merely needed to show up and avoid trouble to effectively guarantee a win in P1, the highly competitive GT2 class (under ACO rules for Sebring and Petit Le Mans this year) was anybody’s guess. Prior to the race, expectations were high for a late-race re-match between Corvette Racing and the Flying Lizard Porsche team – the rival groups had fought like Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in the latter part of 2009, culminating in a finish-line crash in the season-ender at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca between the Lizards’ Joerg Bergmeister and Corvette Ace Jan Magnussen that sent the latter hard into the outside wall -- but last Saturday, between a renegade wheel from another Porsche taking out Bergmeister’s Flying Lizard, and a first-time ever disastrous miscue in the pits for Corvette racing, both teams were out of contention before the sun retreated into the Western sky.

If the laser-guided attack tire wasn’t enough to ruin the day for the #45 Porsche, driver Joerg Bergmeister was forced to wait for approximately six years before the pits opened, making it all but certain that the second half of the race would be left to the BMW entries from Rahal Letterman Racing to chase down the perennially-fast Risi Competizione Ferrari.

Corvette’s pit-lane shunt between the #3 and #4 car was something nobody had ever seen -- much less dreamed a possibility. It is also something, we can all be certain, that we will never see again from the multiple-championship winning group.

Marc Lieb brought the #45 Flying Lizard Porsche to the finish a mere one lap down from the podium-sitting BMWs, and just two laps off the class-winning Ferrari. The Corvettes, which lost much time due to mechanical and crash issues, still worked out a finish barely 10 laps off the class leader.

Drivers from both teams claim there’s no bad blood between the two, lingering from last year. We’ll see how nicely they get along over the remaining 9 races in 2010.

This year, the American Le Mans Series is sporting a new look, having signed Tequila Patron as Series Sponsor. Patron’s involvement in ALMS over the last several years has been building in size and scope, and they’re an excellent fit. Patron’s name and colors adorn all ALMS banners, as well as a number of entries in the field.

One such entry, the newly minted Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 430 GT, was more notable for its frightening Car-B-Que adventure late in the race. Driver/Owner Scott Speed escaped injury, but the 150 MPH inferno down the Ulmann Straight into the Sunset Bend, destroyed the car and ended any hopes of Speed continuing the success he enjoyed while driving the Patron-sponsored Highcroft Racing prototype in years past.

Highcroft themselves had an early lead, this year going back to their former class in P2. Drivers David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud, and hired endurance ace Marino Franchitti – all once former competitors for Acura, now make up the lone entry for Honda Performance Development. While Honda reps at the track spoke briefly of the name change from Acura to HPD as being done for “marketing concerns,” it seems obvious that with the demise of the Acura NSX, there isn’t anything in the Acura lineup to correlate to motorsports – hence the HPD moniker.

That said, Highcroft’s strong run early in the race was marred by electrical problems which set the team back more laps than they could recover, and the Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder driven by Sascha Maassen, Klaus Graf, and American driver Greg Pickett wasted no time in nabbing the team’s first class win.

The isobutanol/ethanol powered Mazda/Lola of Dyson Racing was fast, but suffered mechanical glitches and was out of contention in the daylight hours. The BP-sponsored Mazda is one of the latest in a number of alternative-fueled entries that are keeping the American Le Mans Series both vital and relevant when it comes to proving new technologies on the track, in the heat of battle. While other series are just recently divorced from leaded gasoline – and now considering the giant leap of getting rid of carburetors in favor of the modern idea of fuel injection, the ALMS is now several years into showcasing a Battle of the Propulsion Technologies with diesel, cellulosic ethanol, and isobutanol all competing with conventional petroleum-derived fuel to help shape how our vehicles will be powered in the near future. Not “some day,” but now and just around the corner.

Casting aside debates between the Gores and the Limbaughs, a few realities have made themselves abundantly clear in the last few years. Chief among these: That petroleum-based fuel carries too many liabilities (be they environmental, political, or both), and that the internal-combustion engine is not going to wither and die off, to be replaced by expensive and environmentally unfriendly batteries.

Want to see where we’re headed for tomorrow’s fuel? Go to an ALMS race.

Joining Patron among the new changes to the American Le Mans Series, we now have two spec-racer Challenge series for 2010: LMP Challenge and GT Challenge. Both are designed, if we’re honest, to increase the car count and keep the grid from looking like the Indy F1 race in 2005. With economic times still dire, the cost of racing at the top-shelf level aren’t exactly in retreat. The two Challenge classes certain did add to the action and excitement, as well as the number of full-course cautions.

I can’t mention caution periods without a comment on how they were handled. When it takes three laps and spare change under caution before the safety car takes to the circuit, something’s not working right. Bergmeister was forced to spend enough time waiting at the entrance to pit road, he could’ve watched Truth in 24 from beginning to end. In this age of gigahertz electronics and instant-everything, it makes no sense that the pits are closed for so long as to directly affect the outcome of the race itself. Safety is and should be the paramount concern of those calling the shots. Providing racers with the opportunity to race and win, should at least be in the top five of those concerns.

Lastly: “You know why there’s no Toyotas here, right? Because you need brakes if you’re gonna’ survive the hairpin…” -- overheard on the paddock.

That, my friends, is a sign of the times.

That’s it for now – I’ll see you at the next pit stop.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

[Car notes, Sebring Wednesday, 2010]

Car notes: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sebring, FL –

I arrived trackside at 7-something this morning, following a rather leisurely cruise down from Denver, NC. In years past, I’ve had everything from torrential downpours and tornado warnings to dense fog on the way down, but this time it wasn’t the elements making it an interesting ride.

This time, it was my dash gauges.

The gauge cluster in my green car has been a little flakey for a few months now, so I’m used to the spotty occasion when either the fuel gauge slowly drops down to E (and then slowly recovers, as if having popped a Viagra) or when the speedo will sometimes blink-out, but come back after a mile or two.

From Charlotte all the way down to Sebring, the speedometer was dead. Not a peep, not a twitch. For those of you who skipped class during Car Stuff 101, when the speedometer on a modern car dies, it stops counting miles on the odometer as well. I’m now missing over 630 miles that should otherwise be showing – and my celebration of turning over an indicated 196,000 miles will be somewhat delayed.

In other exciting news, while visiting my dad in Denver, I noticed my tires – what’s left of them, anyway – are now suitable for use on a playground swing set, but not on a passenger car. My Falkens have served me well, but with the alignment both front and rear being more than a little bit, er, "off," and with a LOT of negative camber at both ends, let's just say it's hell on a highway drive.

Since I had some time to kill, I decided “well, I’ve got at least an hour of free time, I’ve got tools, and I’ve got flat tarmac, why not...” so I set about the business of rotating the tires. The rears were in fairly better shape than the fronts, so I got out the jackstands and the lug wrench, and got to work.

Lug nuts on the driver’s front were torqued to approximately 5 silverback gorillas worth of force, which meant I not only pulled something in my right forearm breaking them loose (a minor but persistent nagging ouch), I also bent the lug wrench. The large black cross-style one I’ve used for 10 years, now has a noticeable twist at the ¾” head. Drat.

34 minutes later, I had better tread up front, and had also discovered that on the left rear where there are supposed to be brake pads, there is a rather nice gap with only air to fill it. It doesn't appear the pads have worn all the way down -- it just looks like there's nothing there. Oh cock.

With all of that committed to my notes for repair when I arrive home (new dash cluster, check. New brakes, check. New... er, some other stuff too, double-check), I made the trip just fine. Years of driving the same car teaches you that 2800 RPM in 5th gear equals 70 MPH, which is the speed limit for most of the trip. The math got a bit more fuzzy when I got to I-4 through Orlando, where it dropped to 50 (keep pace with traffic), and the constantly fluctuating 55-60-45 do-see-do on Rt. 27 (ibid), but in the end none of Florida’s Finest seemed too interested in making me late for work.

So at last, I’m at the track. It might be all of 54F and overcast here, but it beats a sunny day in DC any time. The only racecars in DC are in the Smithsonian. Down here, they LIVE!

More pointless nonsense (and possibly some interesting shit) as time, alertness, and dedication to my writing craft permit – in that order.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Washington Auto Show, 2010

Washington, DC –

The Washington Auto Show returned to the City of Political Fallout this week, with a mission more ingrained than ever before: Look busy, the bosses are watching. The DC show isn’t about big splashy introductions or horsepower, but rather a chance (or penance) for those involved in the US market to tell the policy wonks in town just how upstanding and environmentally conscious and “pro-active” (a phrase I’d love to see go the way of Saturn) they really are.

This year, however, isn’t the same as every other.

With Toyota in the midst of its biggest PR nightmare ever, and with GM and Chrysler still on the hook for a few dollars to the Feds, it seemed most of the big players were keeping a low profile and giving the impression “sorry, we’re keeping our heads down and, oh this is a car show? We’re GREEN!

GM, which for years had rented the “up front” space near the main doors of the Center, this time moved rearward and offered a scaled-down display featuring – among other cars – a 2009 Cobalt. The new Regal was on display, as was the Cadillac Converj concept and the “what on Earth is that supposed to be” GMC Granite shoebox on wheels, but the standout at GM, if there was one, had to be the 2011 Chevy Aveo. GM brought one, and put it behind the rope. It’s not ready to be touched yet, you see. The same treatment was afforded the new Cruze, which really should’ve been open-for-business on the floor.
From DC Auto Show 2010

To prove that GM isn’t just about odd shoebox concepts and rebadged Opel sedans, a squadron of Camaros (including the Transformers’ own Bumblebee) and Corvettes (Z06, ZR1, and Grand Sport) took up the half of the display and gave the kids something to dream about.
From DC Auto Show 2010

Chrysler, also in the midst of trying to re-tool and pay back loans from Uncle Sam, could offer little in the way of new sheet metal – of its own, anyway. So, beside the existing production lineup and one-off rides on display, were a pair of attention-getting Fiat 500s. In only a few minutes of speaking with a Chrysler rep on the floor, the sheer volume of people walking over to ask “when will the 500 be on sale” was huge. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t “now” but rather “in a little while…”

While Chrysler is waiting out most of this year for fresh sheet metal and new engine bits to come down the line, the recent earthquake devastation in Haiti prompted them to donate a 300C for Haitian relief efforts. On display was the 300C, having been signed by most of Hollywood after the Golden Globe awards. Chrysler’s new CEO, Olivier Francois was on hand to dedicate the car – which he pointed out had been his own ride – and share the podium with officials from the American Red Cross and Leake Car Auction.
From DC Auto Show 2010

From DC Auto Show 2010

I had the chance to get Olivier Francois alone for a few minutes - he was looking for a place to have a smoke, so I escorted him out front for a spell. I got to pick his brain just a little bit, both on his impressions of America (and DC) as well as his vision for where he wants to take Chrysler. Without going into too much detail, he certainly has vision, and if -- this is a might IF -- but if things pan out as planned, we should have some astonishing new cars under the Pentastar in years to come.

Indeed, it seemed the group that really wanted to put on a show and enthusiastically tell people about its new and upcoming products was Ford. As you enter the Convention Center, the first plot of floor space you see is draped all in blue, and all manner of Fords – their whole Domestic lineup – is situated in such a way as to greet you and say “welcome – this is OUR house, and the rest are just here to take notes.” It’s no joke. Displays of Mustangs (including on on its side, the better to admire the glass roof), Taurus, Focus and the new Fiesta were out in front, while its big trucks were on display just off the main walk – passenger cars are the new thing, it seems, after two decades of SUV craziness.
From DC Auto Show 2010

Alan Mulally flew in to kick off the show, and gave the assembled media an enthusiastic yet brief speech, emphasizing Ford’s turnaround in the marketplace and how the company has adapted in the toughest of times. Mulally is the image of a man who was born to do exactly what he’s doing right now, and his appearance at the DC show was a welcome change from the typical boilerplate policy-based nonsense we’re so used to hearing.
From DC Auto Show 2010

While Ford made the most of the spotlight, one absolutely major company was doing its best to stay out of the glare.

Toyota, once the darling of the media – and of numerous Senators from the South – placed a number of production cars on the floor and tried its best not to answer any questions about the production shutdowns, recalls, lawsuits, and outright hammering the company is taking as a result of three years of sudden acceleration problems in a variety of its vehicles.

If the recall fiasco wasn’t enough, factory workers from Toyota’s NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA had been flown in to protest Toyota’s planned closing of the facility. NUMMI is a UAW plant, and Toyota has wanted out of that deal for years – regardless of the number of workers put out on the street.

So, with reporters inside the Center questioning Toyota about its bungling of a defect that has led to an increasing number of crashes, injuries, deaths, and lawsuits, and with workers outside handing out literature saying “Toyota is trying to shut down our plant and create even more unemployment,” the former media darling is now chasing its tail trying to find the right answers and lay low, VERY low, until the storm passes.

No wonder they didn’t bother bringing out the LF-A.

That’s it for now – I’ll see you at Sebring.