REPORT FROM THE AUTO SHOW

As Hispanics marched outside the Dallas Convention Center yesterday, thousands more Dallasites were inside, gawking at all the shiny new vehicles. It was the last day of the 2006 Dallas Auto Show, and I was there in capitulation to the urgings of my 11-year-old son, the Heir to The Slaughter Fortune. For some reason, The Heir can only manage an 87 average in science, yet he is able to accurately identify more than 200 different car models and makes, including engine size and 0-to-60 performance specs. After two hours at this grand affair, I feel I am “up to speed” on all things automotive. For those who care, keep reading.

1. Most of us are accustomed to wandering into the Auto Building at Fair Park during the October Texas State Fair. This show is very similar except that it is larger (in every way) and gives you a sneak peek at the coming year’s cars. Perhaps because of the historic event going on just blocks away, it was not crowded and it was easy to move around and see everything in a relatively short period of time.

2. The crowd is overwhelmingly male, as you might imagine. The female contingent consisted of (1) long-suffering wives who were mere bag holders and Coke-fetchers for their engine-ogling, obsessed husbands; (2) wives who were in the market for a new car and so exhibited genuine interest; (3) younger girls proving they were “good sports” to their boyfriends; and (4) women who were there to market their own new features. This group clearly underestimated the visual appeal of highly polished chrome on the male psyche and did not appear to be having much success.

3. Notwithstanding the foregoing, as attorneys like to say, there were some amusing sights among the paid spokemodels who ascend the rotating platforms, stand beside the cars, and deliver their salespitch in the ultra-confident singsong that can only be described as “trade show performance speak.” Maybe it had been a long week, but most of the young women were slouched in pouty-lipped insouciance, only engaging customers when approached by someone who insisted upon an answer. All were heavily made up, flat-bellied, and high-heeled. A Cadillac spokesmodel flubbed her lines three times, then had a headset malfunction, but kept plowing ahead like a jaunty Miss America contestant determined to win the crown.

3a. The Heir and I encountered a huge throng at the Lamborghini area. The cars were amazing, yes, but so was the young semi-blonde model strutting among them. Tanned and confident, she was showing off her own sporty chassis, which had enjoyed a significant amount of front end enhancement. Since Lamborghini would not allow mere mortals to actually touch the cars, men were lining the silver pipe fence, craning over for a better look and doing a poor job of masking whether thier desire was to photograph the new Murcielago or the show pony standing next to it.

4. EVERYONE brought their cameras. Evidently one of the highlights of the Auto Show is to have your picture taken in the front seat of a sports car you could never dream of owning. Men are also taking pictures of engines, steering wheels, fancy rims, front grills, even exhaust pipes. Don’t ask me why.

5. There were some pretty cool “concept” cars on display. These are racy-looking test models developed by the car manufacturers but not fully built out (just an exterior and interior design, no engine or real operating system). The ones that impressed were the ultra-sleek Camaro from Chevy (four stars from The Heir); the Chrysler Imperial, a throwback to Art Deco elegance (one lady called it a “1940s movie star car”); and the enormous road-hogging Ford SuperChief luxury SUV/Pick-up truck.

6. Soccer moms take note: tired of watching Lexus LX and GX and Cadillac Escalade sell zillions of luxury SUVs, Mercedes is finally coming out with a full-size SUV (bigger than their current mid-size M Class) in 2007. I must say it looks pretty nice, and it will be priced around $55,000.

7. The 2007 Envoy Denali looked pretty nice, great interior, with lots of nice features. But the best overall deal of the new SUVs looks to be the ’07 Subaru Tribeca. They have finally abandoned all design nerdiness and now have a great look plus tons of features like navigation systems etc. for around $33,000.

8. The biggest draw of the Auto Show is getting behind the wheel of as many vehicles as possible. This makes for great theater, watching people load in and out of cars. I have roughly 200 pictures of The Heir lounging in huge bucket seats, pushing every button, twisting every knob, madly turning the steering wheel as if he were in the final lap at Le Mans. In most of the photos, his little head is barely clearing the steering wheel.

9. Is America getting fatter? Um, well, all I can say is that I saw three different people get into cars and find themselves stuck. Only the assistance of large, muscled security guards extracted them.

10. THE COOLEST NEW CAR IS … the Saturn Sky. A nifty little convertible, you would never guess in a million years that this sports car is made by Saturn. Great lines, excellent specs, a cool retractable roof that slips into the trunk with the touch of a button. All for $23,490. The Heir gives it five stars. His review “This car is a beast!”

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