Small Apple: New York Auto Show back with fewer exhibits, more startups, EV test track

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 15, 2022

New York — The New York Auto Show is back in the Big Apple. Though this year’s show more resembles a Big Cherry: smaller but with plenty of color.

There will be fewer manufacturers and vehicle debuts, but a rush of electric vehicle startups and a 250,000-square foot indoor test track on which to test them and their battery-powered peers. Canceled the last two years due to pandemic concerns, Gotham’s largest public event by attendance is navigating — not just a return to post-COVID normal — but major changes in how vehicles are powered and how manufacturers are unveiling them.

Vietnam’s Vinfast debuted at the Los Angeles media show and hopes to make a splash in New York. The electric-car company has been aggressive about the U.S. market, with plans for a North Carolina production facility and an IPO to finance it.

In 2019, the last show before the pandemic, there were some 20 new North American car and concept reveals, including significant models from Mercedes and Cadillac. This year, Merc and Caddy won’t even be at the show as luxury automakers (including BMW, Porsche and Audi) are focusing their marketing dollars elsewhere. Fewer than 10 new vehicle intros are expected at this week’s April 13-14 media days with headliners as likely to come from startups like Deus as from mainstream automakers like Kia.

Yet organizers say that public interest is strong given customers flush with cash and the buzz surrounding a flood of new autos. Organizers say the city’s lifting of mask and vaccine on businesses last month also helps.

“There has definitely been a shift in auto show debuts,” said the president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, Mark Scheinberg, who runs the country’s oldest auto show. “But the New York show is still a major consumer event. It’s an opportunity for people to come shop for new vehicles shown under one roof. Our advance ticket sales are neck-and-neck with 2019.”

In addition to the EV test track, there will be outdoor test tracks for dirt-kickers like the Jeep Wrangler.

With all the brand no-shows, New York presents an opportunity for startups trying to ride the wave of EV-mania.

Startup automaker Fisker stole the media show in Los Angeles, and Vietnam’s Vinfast hopes to do the same in New York. The electric-car company has been aggressive about the U.S. market, with plans for a North Carolina production facility and an IPO to finance it.

“It’s a chance for automakers like Vinfast to show a new product in front of a lot of people and media,” said Scheinberg. “They get respect showing alongside established auto manufacturers.”

Vinfast has promised four affordable SUVs for us Yankees called the VF6, VF7, VF8 and VF9. The compact VF6 was shown in Los Angeles, and the VF8 is expected to be on display in New York.

Southern California startup INDI EV will also join the big boys for a news conference on Wednesday to show off its first car, the INDI One — and to announce the opening of pre-orders. Starting at $45,000, the compact SUV is targeted at the Mustang Mach-E, VW ID.4 and Tesla Model Y.

Taking a page from the latter, INDI EV says that its INDI One will be a smartphone on wheels with a powerful, onboard computer to run a “portfolio of game engine technology, content development, global publishing, mobile platforms, SIM cards, hardware, and Virtual Reality products.”

If the INDI One promises a new era of processing power, then the Deus Vayanne promises good ol’ supercar power. The Austrian-based firm has partnered with the respected Italdesign shop and Williams Advanced Engineering, an offshoot of the famed Formula One team that has helped engineer Formula E electric race cars. Expect a low-slung missile with electrifying speed.

Once a showcase for luxury automakers preening for deep Wall Street pockets, New York’s loss of big hitters like Mercedes, BMW, Maserati, Buick, Acura and Cadillac hurts.

Mainstream manufactures will have will have a few major reveals of their own. Chrysler will a design concept for its first Airflow EV. Kia will unveil updates of its Niro and the wildly-popular three-row Telluride SUV, while Korean sibling Hyundai will show off a refreshed Palisade ute.

As if to emphasize the shift away from auto show reveals, GMC will not have an exhibit at the show and will tease its new Canyon pickup virtually this Thursday. Lincoln will have a floor display, but did a virtual tease of its first electric car ahead of the show on Monday.

Once a showcase for luxury automakers preening for deep Wall Street pockets, Gotham’s loss of big hitters like Mercedes, BMW, Maserati, Buick, Acura and Cadillac hurts. Other notable MIAs are Honda and Mazda, which once had prominent floor displays.

“There’s been so much uncertainty relative to COVID that automakers have struggled over how much to commit to auto shows,” said IHS Markit auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “But there is a risk of disappointing consumers by not showing up. If buyers don’t see see their brand, then they might forget about you. For example, Mazda has a new CX-50 that will not be there, and Honda’s new HR-V will not be there.”

Consumers will have a chance to touch vehicles that they have only read about in Internet debuts: vehicles like the retro, electric VW ID.Buzz minivan, hulking Chevy Silverado and Ford Lightning EV pickups, wee Alfa Romeo Tonale SUV and insane Toyota GR Corolla hot hatch.

Showgoers won’t be limited to touching either.

The combination of fewer stands and a 90,000-square-foot expansion of the Javits Convention Center on the Hudson River leaves room for a 250,000-square-foot test track — nearly a quarter of the show space — for visitors to test drive EVs.

“They don’t have any emissions, so we can have them inside,” Scheinberg said with a smile. “There has been such a huge change in the products that are out there since before the pandemic. The world is seeing a seismic shift and electrification has just blossomed.”

The push in battery-powered cars comes as the federal government is forcing automakers to produce electric drivetrains. Automakers take hope from Tesla, which has blossomed as an EV-only brand — though EVs only made up 4.5% of U.S. sales in 2021, with Teslas purchased in California the largest group. Scheinberg says the New York show has pushed electrification for years with little impact, but he says this year feels different.

“All buyers saw in Super Bowl ads was EVs,” he said. “Now every manufacturer is in the game. That’s what has been missing.”

EVs available to ride include the Chevrolet Bolt, the INDI One, Kia EV6, Nissan Leaf, VinFast VF8, VW ID.4 EV, and Volvo XC 40 Recharge.

In addition to the EV test track, there will be outdoor test tracks for dirt-kickers like the Jeep Wrangler. Ford and Hyundai will have their own electric test tracks as part of their floor stands. Ford will likely offer rides in the Mustang Mach-E and Lightning. Hyundai has its new Ioniq 5 to show off.

Ford’s stand will also showcase the Ford GT supercar — still one of the most stunning chariots on the floor seven years after its introduction — in a new wardrobe. The 2022 Ford GT Holman Moody Heritage Edition pays tribute to Ford’s sweep of the podium at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. The GT will be on display next to the original 1966 Holman Moody Ford GT40 MK II race car.

More eye candy will be on display in New York’s signature exotic car “bull ring,” where fans can ogle six-figure Lamborghinis, Porsches, Bugattis and other unobtainables. Not to be outdone, Lincoln will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a little bling. Alongside its new Navigator SUV will be Elvis Presley’s iconic 1956 Continental Mark II.

“We thought initial ticket sales might be soft,” said Scheinberg. “But the public senses it’s time to get out and do things again. Our research shows that 72% of show attendees are in the market for a car.”

The New York Auto Show will open its doors to the public April 15-24 after press days, April 13-14.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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