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2015 Greater Kansas City International Auto Show

I’ve heard alcoholics refer to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night.”  And that’s how a lot of car enthusiasts think of new car auto shows. But what cannot be denied is the extraordinary effort of timing and coordination to bring all that machinery together at one time in one place. The 2015 Kansas City International Auto Show ran from Wednesday to Sunday, March 4 to March 8.  For the 22nd year, the show took place at the Bartle Hall Convention Center.            I attended the show on the Thursday afternoon accompanied by another self-proclaimed car expert who I’ll refer to as the Grumpy Old Man. If I seem jaded, imagine how the Grumpy Old Man, who has been in the car business for nearly fifty years, must be.            Our tour around Bartle Hall began with the Alfa Romeo 4C (in “Launch Edition” red), the vehicle by which this storied nameplate is to be reintroduced to the American market. It is often repeated on the BBC series Top Gear that you’re not a real car guy until you’ve owned an Alfa. I guess my creds will remain in question. At $70k, the 4C, I’m going to say, stands for “4th car” for someone with already half a million invested in transportation.            We moved on to the new midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups. 19 feet long doesn’t seem very “midsize” to me. Even the smallest, most compact pickup on the market today, the regular cab Toyota Tacoma, is roughly the same size as the then-fullsize 1994 Ford F-150 I used to own. But back then pickups were used to just haul cargo. Now they must also carry a person’s lifestyle image, which can be a very heavy item indeed.            At a time when very affordable cars have LED headlights, backup cameras, and heated leather seats, it’s hard to be a near luxury brand. The Grumpy Old Man and I were already through the Buick exhibit before we paid any attention. A Volvo rep acknowledge that a vintage 122 Amazon and a 210 Duett attracted more attention than any of their current lineup. A Lexus spokesperson talked more about the “signature spindle mesh” grille made of interlocking “L”s (for Lexus, get it?) than the car’s 467-hp 5.0 V8. After a decade (like it or not) of the distinctive “Art and Science” design theme, new Cadillacs are all looking pretty Chevy-like. Acura grilles are at last not as scythe-like as they have been for the past several years. And who at Infiniti thought it was a good idea to rename every model a “Q.”            At the BMW exhibit, I pointed out to the Grumpy Old Man that the $137,450 BMW i8 plug-in hybrid supercar was probably the most significant vehicle at the entire show.            “It is a V8 or a V12?” he asked.            “Actually, it’s a three cylinder.” I explained that its turbocharged engine and electric motor put out a combined 357 horsepower, good for 0-60 in 4.2 second and 155 mph while returning the equivalent of 76 mpg, and that there’s nothing else like it this side of an $850k Porsche 918. But I could tell by his expression that he had stopped listening after “three cylinder.”            At the Volkswagen exhibit, a black New Beetle Cabriolet with wheels that resembled old hubcaps and trim rings caught his eye with its clean, retro look. “I like that,” the Grumpy Old Man said, “not that I’d ever drive one,” he assured me. Which then begs the question, who would? The buzz is that millennials, with easy access to socializing with peers via cyber rather than transportation means, aren’t as horsepower crazy as older generations. And, despite all the infotainment systems and hands-free internet connectivity I was hearing about, I wasn’t seeing many young people at the show.            I contacted Larry Carl, chief executive officer of the KC Automobile Dealers Association and producer of the auto show, to see if they were tracking the ages of attendees.  No, but he provided me with the information they did track. 70% were college educated, 60% were male, and 39% earn over $100k a year. The individual suggested by those statistics may be a potential Alfa Romeo purchaser, but less likely a millennial. One young person I met at the show was definitely a car enthusiast. Chinmay Pote was there representing the SAE program at the University of Central Missouri where he is finishing up a degree in Automotive Technology Management. Already hired for a position with Ford Motor Company following graduation, Chinmay hopes to help shape the future of transportation back home in Bangalore, India. Maybe liking cars is a cooler thing if growing up not surrounded by them.            Another place one might expect to find young people was at the Ford Performance Simulator, sort of like the ultimate game of Gran Turismo. Michael, one of the attendants, told me the simulator was built by a firm called Manneton, incorporated all the latest technology, and costs about $50,000. The Grumpy Old Man had no interest, but I tried it. I should have known better. Driving simulators always make me look like a terrible driver. I’ve yet to experience one that really feels like driving. Sight, sound, and spinning around is not enough. Without feeling a connection between the accelerator pedal and the push in the seat or the grip of the tires and response through the steering wheel, those tactile sensory inputs, I can’t stay on the video road. I’ll stick to real cars.            Larry Carl told me that auto show attendance for 2015 was up 4% over 2014. One reason may have been the Big Car Giveaway. Each day of the auto show, and twice on Saturday and Sunday, a car was given away to someone in attendance who had registered to win.  Friday, the car was a Mercedes-Benz CLA250, which I would have happily accepted.  Instead I was there on Thursday when the giveaway car was a Chrysler 200.  Um… no thank you.     As a classic car collector, the Grumpy Old Man took note of several vintage cars on display, perhaps a little sad that he hadn’t been invited this year to exhibit any of his own cars like he had been in the past. A yellow 1934 Chrysler Airflow and a black 1936 Cord 810, both revolutionary designs in their day and impeccably restored, were stop-you-in-your-tracks impressive. Also standing out at the booth for the Art of the Car Concours were a 1937 Studebaker President coupe, a 1950 Hudson Hornet, and a 1958 AC Aceca.            But the Grumpy Old Man’s favorite car, if judged strictly by how long he lingered, must have been the SRT Charger “Hellcat.” The 707-hp, supercharged 6.2 liter Hemi power plant will push the car to a top speed of 204 mph. But the interest he showed may have had as much to do with the pretty product spokesperson as it did with the vehicle.            So maybe the KC Auto Show does pull out of the woodwork people who don’t show much interest in cars the rest of the time. Even alcoholics celebrate the New Year.   All photos courtesy of the Kansas City International Auto Show

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