Image Credits: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg / Getty Images
“The auto show is dead.”
That’s a refrain heard often by folks who cover the automotive industry. It’s true that these trade shows no longer mean two days of press conferences, sprawling new vehicle lineups from nearly every car company and extravagant offsite events. It’s also true that auto shows were downsizing even before the global pandemic so that automakers could spend less money and get more press attention for standalone car reveals or digital debuts.
But the auto show isn’t dead the way E3 is basically dead in the gaming industry. And the 2023 New York International Auto Show this week was proof of that. It was a far cry from the days when reporters, industry figures and car shoppers would see wild concept vehicles, surprise debuts and over-the-top events. It’s still important as a snapshot in time to spot trends, technologies and new products that will define how we’ll get around over the next few years.
Electric vehicles, trucks, SUVs and EV charging were hallmarks of this year’s New York International Auto Show, and the message is clear: The auto industry is racing toward zero-emission vehicles, but it won’t sacrifice the big, plush, expensive vehicles consumers love (and spend huge sums of money on) in the process.
This auto show also felt like a reality check on some fronts. After years of failed promises around “self-driving cars” — at least on the consumer front — automakers who had something to say in New York had less to say about autonomy and more about electrification, fast charging and software features.
Car companies aren’t giving up the race toward advanced autonomy. But they all seem more sober in how they describe their paths forward. In the meantime, expect advanced automated driving assistance and smart cruise control to get better, but nobody here was talking about sending your car out as a personal robotaxi to generate passive income. Considering this event is where Jaguar showed off its Waymo i-Pace test car in 2018, that says a lot.
But auto shows like this one still have tremendous value for car shoppers, many of whom haven’t been able to find what they want amid the chip shortage and are eager to learn more without the pressure of being at a dealership.
Let’s look at some of the most notable debuts, news and exhibits from this year’s show, and what they mean for the industry as a whole.
The big debuts are literally big
The two major new car debuts in New York weren’t just electric vehicles, they were big electric vehicles.
The Ram 1500 Rev made its debut in production form in New York this week. While the final result is a bit watered down from the sleek concept car shown at CES, Ram’s first EV offering is still packed with screens, 350 kW fast charging and features like bi-directional charging. That’s a fancy way of saying the truck can power other gadgets or put electricity back into the grid, making it essentially a battery on wheels; expect that to be a very big deal in EVs to come.
Also, this is a big truck, like any Ram 1500. (And probably just as fun to drive around New York’s crowded streets.) Ram didn’t go subtle with this one. As TechCrunch transportation editor Kirsten Korosec pointed out, the top Ram 1500 Rev packs a gigantic 229 kWh battery pack, more than twice the size of the biggest Tesla battery. Ram says that should enable some 500 miles of range, but we’ll see what the EPA has to say about that figure.
The Kia EV9 is one of that brand’s biggest debuts ever — literally. Building on the smash success of the gasoline Kia Telluride crossover, this takes the familiar platform we’ve seen in the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 to three-row form for large and “multi-generational” families.
In-person, it’s not as tall as I expected, but it is a fairly large crossover; think Toyota Highlander here. It should be a big hit for buyers who want to break up with gasoline but have a lot of stuff, and people, to move around.
Lots of software talk
Nobody likes the term “software-defined vehicle.” But as clunky as that is, it’s the truth. Tomorrow’s electric and electrified cars could likely be more defined by software features, personalization options, in-car apps and streaming entertainment than driving dynamics.
So that’s what automakers were talking about at the 2023 New York International Auto Show. It’s not just about the size of the screen anymore; it’s about what it does for you.
The Ram 1500 Rev’s multiple screens and tech-forward infotainment system were highlights of that presentation, as was Hyundai’s addition of Tesla-style over-the-air updates. Even the rugged 2024 Jeep Wrangler is no Luddite; its Uconnect 5 system has 62 built-in off-road trail guides now. And that number jumps to 3,000 trail guides if you upgrade to the subscription version.
Expect to see a lot more of that in the coming years. Automakers are making a huge bet on subscription feature revenue, whether buyers like it or not.
Hyundai’s striking sedans (and screaming deals)
Another EV debut came from Kia’s corporate cousin Hyundai (the brands share basically all of the same hardware and software), and it shows that big-deal cars don’t have to be big. The 2024 Hyundai Kona Electric looks extremely promising, with striking looks, compact dimensions and a Hyundai-projected range of 260 miles.
Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but considering the last Kona Electric started at $33,550, this could be quite the bargain over the often-expensive Ioniq 5. It also offers two gasoline engines, one with a turbo and 195 horsepower, if going EV isn’t your jam yet.
Similarly, this will be the first time many consumers see the new Hyundai Ioniq 6 sedan in the flesh (aluminum, I guess?). I hadn’t seen it in person yet, either, but I guarantee it will catch your eye. Inspired by classic “streamliners,” this sedan eschews the angles of the Ioniq 5 crossover for an ultra-sleek look. Sedan sales may be a fraction of what they once were, but if they’re going out they’re doing so in style.
It’s an EV show now
Javits Center attendees will see new and upcoming EV offerings from basically every manufacturer, proving just how big this electric onslaught is going to be.
A few that caught my eye include the new Nissan Ariya, which is already on the streets; the forthcoming Chevrolet Equinox EV, which could be a potent Tesla rival if it delivers on its $30,000 price tag; the Ford F-150 Lightning and its delightful frunk; a display showing the bare chassis of the Volkswagen ID.4; and many others, including the Volkswagen ID.Buzz. (Also, why is that not on sale already? We’ve seen it for years now, let people buy it already!)
If you’ve been dying to check out an EV in person, you’ll get your chance in New York.
It’s a truck and SUV show now, too
We often equate “efficiency” with “small.” But as I wrote yesterday, automakers won’t be sacrificing size with their EV pushes — and they’ll finance that with truck, crossover and SUV sales.
Even as they go green, bigger and more rugged vehicles had the spotlight in New York. Nissan, Ford, Chevy, Toyota and more showed off their people-haulers and work-focused vehicles, with all the outdoorsy accouterments that come with that. Check out the giant pseudo-national park display Subaru built on the show floor if you need further proof of that.
The future of cars may be greener, but it certainly won’t be compact. And a bit of a shame; given that this is the New York Auto Show, I would’ve liked to have seen some more city-friendly options from the automakers here, but that’s just not where the business seems to be going. How many of the cars on display here would you want to parallel park in Brooklyn?
Genesis gets in on the “SUV coupe” thing
Speaking of, the SUV boom has led automakers in recent years to push the boundaries of what an SUV even is. One byproduct of this has been the SUV coupe, which doesn’t mean coupe in the two-door sense but does (uh, sort of) in that the vehicles have a lower roof and a more sloping, coupe-like profile. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all do this with gusto.
Now we can add Hyundai’s nascent luxury division to that list: Meet the Genesis GV80 Coupe Concept, which debuted at this auto show and is a “concept” in name only. It’s headed for production and it definitely looks that way. Hyundai offered few details about it this week, but if Car and Driver is right and it only offers the GV80’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, I’d expect it to start a little higher than that car’s $62,950 base price.
I do love that shade of orange. Here’s hoping that makes it to production and that people actually buy it.
No wild concept cars this time
I’ve been covering this business long enough to remember when auto shows meant car companies would roll some mind-blowing, never-before-seen concept car onstage to a collective gasp of all present. (And how publications would frantically compete to get leaked photos of those concepts before their official debuts.)
That wasn’t the case in New York; the biggest surprise was probably that GV80 Coupe. The Ram, Kia and Hyundai Kona had all been shown off in press releases in the past few weeks. This probably means little to most consumers, but it does show the diminished role of auto shows as news events these days. Car companies would rather do their own standalone events (and often online too, which is considerably cheaper) than share space or attention with their competitors.
EV education is in
One thing that struck me was the sheer number of EV demos onsite, and indoors to boot. Hyundai has a mini-test track so people could experience its Ioniq cars; Ford is offering ride-alongs in the Mustang Mach-E; and a small course in the basement level lets visitors take a spin in EVs from BMW, Chevrolet, Kia, Nissan and Volkswagen.
Obviously, it’s much easier to do this inside since EVs operate with zero tailpipe emissions. (Carbon monoxide poisoning is only fun the first time it happens; ask me how I know this.) Additionally, Toyota is doing a test drive course just outside the Javits Center, including in its electric bZ4X.
My takeaway: Car companies want you to experience these EVs. They do drive, feel and operate differently than ICE vehicles do, and auto shows like this one may be the first chance many electro-curious buyers get to see what that’s really like.
Also, the lower-level exhibits featured a number of government entities and companies like Charge NY and Autel showing off home power options and ways to use the tax incentives to sweeten the deal. Buying an EV isn’t quite like buying an ICE vehicle; it means adjusting your habits, expectations, tactics and equipment to keep the car running. If you have questions on how to do all of that, you may well be able to get them answered in one place here.
Bonus Round: The JDM Concours d’Elegance
Finally, if you need a break from EV charging, kilowatt-hours and software-defined vehicles and just want to bask in some old-school nostalgia, head to the basement.
There you will find the JDM Concours d’Elegance, which is a curated display of some very unique vintage Japanese performance cars from decades past; many of them never sold in America. It was a nice surprise to stumble onto, and it should be a good trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up on Gran Turismo — or their kids.