WASHINGTON DC —
There is something undeniable about being on the floor of a massive convention center, surrounded by brand new automobiles from makers around the world. Everything invites you to look, to touch...and hopefully, to buy.
At the Washington Auto Show dozens of manufacturers display their cars and trucks under bright spot lights to make them glisten and glow, with beautiful women next to the new models on rotating platforms and well dressed sales reps who can't smile enough.
From Acura to Volvo and everything in between, there are hundreds of shiny new models on display offering an array of economy and luxury, sedans, trucks and more.
Today's automakers know they need to bring economy and quality to their products more than ever. Governments are forcing automakers to meet strict mileage standards, and customers are also asking for better fuel economy. Combine these two forces and you get more streamlined vehicles to the point you might not be able to tell the difference among a Hyundai Sonata, a Honda Accord or a BMW Sedan...assuming you squint.
Darrell Nichols runs an auto detail shop and comes to the show every year. "There's only so much that designers can do with today's design," he says. "Once you design a car that is sleek and smooth, how many different takes can you make on the sleek and smooth."
Darrell and his wife noticed how much technology is playing a role in the auto designs. He says, "each year the displays in the hybrid tech vehicles is getting larger and larger."
Chevy has its Volt, Ford's hybrid Fusion has seven models to choose from, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf can go 15 percent further on a single charge. With the growing demand for fuel economy, many of the automakers now feature their hybrid designs.
Technology is everywhere on display. Automobile manufacturers are offering more of what is called "driver assist systems" including vision aids, warning and alert systems and more sophisticated active controls.
For example, back up cameras are becoming more common in cars, with some models even offering night vision infrared cameras. Blind spot systems are in demand. Advanced cruise control technology can automatically slow down your car if it's approching too closely to the car in front.
There is a long list of these technologies that are extras in some vehicles, but over time may become standard. As Christine Nichols points out, "if you wanted air conditioning you paid extra for it in the past, if you wanted a radio it was extra." Today, you can add to that list power windows, air bags, disc brakes, sound systems, cruise control and more, standard features in almost any car today.
From Hyundais to Hondas to Mazdas to Fords they all offer similar features.
Others we spoke with said buyers today are looking for, even expect to see features they had in full size cars to be in smaller vehicles. They want the creature comforts while getting fuel efficiency. That can sometimes become a challenge, at least when it comes to anyone sitting in the back.
Dan Rese and his wife Maria live in Maryland and plan to buy an SUV within six months. "More and more, only the front seat offers the comfort," says Dan. "Today's automakers seem so worried about the price that they are cutting corners in leg room for passengers."
The most obvious aspect of the auto show is how fast sophisticated technology is being incorporated into vehicles. But the challenge to be more economical without compensating the power people demand is also blurring the designs of automobiles.
GMC designs and Cadillac might be some of the obvious exceptions. GMC vehicles, at least their trucks and SUVs are more boxy in style, while Cadillac with its sharper and edgy designs distinguish its product.