New England Auto Show

Boston Convention Center, late November 2007
[Images are linked to larger ones.]
Having received a discount chit for our local Autoshow in the recent AAA
newsletter, I decided to combine the Altwheels debrief earlier the same
morning with a visit to the Convention Center.

Those who have wandered my main index probably know that there's a bunch of
theatre and production tech information up ahead of the Prius stuff.  It's
another hat I wear.  No wonder, then, that when I arrived at the BCEC, I
immediately observed that they'd flown quite a bit of truss.  Lighting for car
shows is all about sparklies -- small, intense sources of light mounted far
enough away that the points are reflected all over the cars.  In this case,
apparently parcans were considered small enough -- especially with a forest
of them about 25 feet in the air.

The Audi booth had six of these -- ETC HMI pars -- creating a brilliant, cold,
unearthly glow on a white sedan on a pedestal.  Standard ETC-par housing, with
a ballast attached.  I hadn't actually seen these in the wild yet, being a
relatively new product, but they're very bright and efficient as you might
expect but with a color temperature to raise the hackles of any video boffin.

Color Kinetics colorblasts or something related, running in self-cycling mode
to uplight some signage above the clear plexi they were sitting under.  You
can see the hall ceiling reflected in it.

Oh right, this was supposed to be about the car show.  Well, they definitely
appeared to be having one; in fact it filled all three bays of the "airplane
hangar".  But since it was only Friday afternoon, attendee traffic was fairly
light.  Out front they were bracing for the bigger crowds that evening.  This
[i.e. its larger version] is a rather mediocre stitch-together of two shots
from on top of the escalators at the main entrance end of the hall, with a
bunch of cheating to try and fix up the angles.  Some of the cars near the
middle got interestingly mangled in the process.  The GIMP "curvebend" filter
could use a little work, I suppose.

There were very few "weird" or prototype/concept vehicles at this show, where
there had apparently been many more at the Detroit, LA, and NY shows.  Here
is one of them; a concept family minivan of some sort from Ford.  [I thought
"airstream" is those retro silver camping trailers??]  The pop-out rear view
camera "wings" are cute, but it's difficult to think that they would suffice
from a safety standpoint when one considers that for them to work, a bunch of
electronics all has to be functioning correctly whereas a simple passive
mirror, despite its larger aerodynamic footprint, is less likely to fail.
The windshield tapers up to a sort of "keyhole slot" on top of the roof
before ending.

Notably absent was the Chevy Volt prototype, for example, which I was hoping
to see.  Apparently the few empty-shell concept demos were out at shows in
other parts of the country.  Still, I made sure to point out to the GM booth
personnel that out of the relatively few towns that are *buried* in Priuses by
now and rather enthusiastic about electric transport in general, Boston is high
on the list and to not even make a nod to that is really screwing the pooch.

Bentley seems to be bringing new vehicles to the U.S. market; a local
organization billing itself as "Bentley Boston" was exhibiting these sedans.
Sedans likely in the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" class, but a
presence here nonetheless.

This is just so very wrong on so many levels I can't even really go into it.

I asked one of the booth babes what kind of customer buys Escalades to begin
with.  Her first answer?  "All the Detroit Pistons drive them them!"  Then she
went into some excuse about "families with kids", usual story.  *sigh*...

So, what sort of vehicle would we expect to have a fairly complete set of
bellypans and little airflow canards at the front lip, in what appears to
be a pretty good stab at aerodynamic underbody design?

Surprise, it's one of the Porsche SUV offerings, the Cayenne or similar.

The AAA booth had a couple of racecar simulators.  It's cute how they mount
woofers firing straight into the seat [arrows], to give the player that
"rumbly" experience.

The south end of a drag machine.  About as non-stock as you can get.  The tail
lights aren't even real, they're just painted onto the fiberglass body shell.

For some reason the autoshow people had cordoned off an area for a stunt
motorcycle act.  Various ramps and platforms fold out off a trailer, and the
rider jumps the bike onto and over various parts of the setup.  I don't see how
it related to the autoshow in the slightest, but was fun to watch for a bit.

The bikes used for this are *very* specialized, and of course as light and
maneuverable as possible.  Dances with knobbies.

Positively the best exhibit at the whole show was here, waaaay in the back
of the hall.  A full-size semi tractor/trailer was brought in, and set up
with full-scale highway lanes taped out on the carpeting around it to place
other vehicles into and illustrate the "no zones" where a truck driver
cannot see other vehicles directly or in mirrors.  This should be required
and test-proven knowledge for ANY driver, since people get so complacent
about trucks on the highways.  For example, the red SUV is completely out of
sight, and where the truck driver can see that lane and along the trailer
begins more or less at the cones [if he leans forward a little].  What if a
truck in the right lane sees an emergency situation and has to evade it into
what he thinks is a clear left lane?  Crunch.  Drivers rely on event history --
if they see a car proceed into the blind spot they expect it to emerge out the
other end in a reasonable time and in the meantime, will hopefully remember
it's in there.  That is not an infallible process.  Bottom line, sure, one has
to transit those regions sometimes but in general, stay the hell OUT of them.
(was from "", supplanted by FMCSA blind-spots page)

The other thing that was neat on the display was the aero treatment on the
trailer.  They are just relatively thin panels that hang down to fill the big
gap under the trailer.  Some trucking companies are saving huge bucks by adding
these and boat-tails on the back to their trailers, as well as fairly full aero
around the front of the trucks too.  The "super single" drive and trailer tires
instead of the traditional duallies help decrease rolling resistance, although
drivers seem to opine that they're a little more squirrely on the road.

A modern semi sports an awesome set of gauges and controls.  Exhaust gas
*temperature*, yet, along with every pressure reading you could possibly
be concerned with.  And a "blink running lights" control on the directional
stalk for doing that little "thanks" wink on the highway.  Why do so many car
drivers say that even something as simple as an oil pressure gauge is too much
to look at?  Ridiculous; the human mind is amply capable of assimilating much
more information about running conditions, and here's proof for what a little
training lets someone encompass.  More proof is simply had from anyone who can
watch CNN without going insane, which has far departed from a simple "one guy,
one news story" presentation.  My own car is pretty well-instrumented at this
point and I keep thinking it could have a few more relevant readouts -- this
doesn't confuse *me* on the road or make me less safe -- quite the opposite
in fact.

From up here, the visibility problem becomes pretty obvious.  Now, the trucking
industry is making great strides to improve safety and help shrink the no-zones
in principle, adding various kinds of wide-field convex mirrors and proximity-
sensing radar units at the front and sides of tractors.  The little bump in
the middle of the dash here is the readout from the "Vorad" unit, made by
Eaton, which connects to transponders mounted in the front bumper and above
the right-side fuel tank to sense nearby vehicles.

But all this can't 100% guard against other drivers being boneheads.  Two side
mirrors with convexes and the Vorad is still a lot to sweep one's eyes across
while responding to a quick-decision emergency guidance situation.  I had a
good long half-hour conversation with one of the truckers staffing this
exhibit, who is an active professional OTR when he's not doing these shows
and sees it all out on the roads day after day.  I think he was really
gratified to find a four-wheel driver who actually tries to understand the
issues truckers face and adapt, and asks for the same sort of consideration in
return.  Trucks need to leave FOUR seconds of following distance at highway
speeds, he said, anything less is unsafe.  One of my biggest questions, of
course, was what does one do about the cowboys who don't play by the rules
and tailgate cars and drive these rigs aggressively?  I got the impression
that not only is calling them into their dispatchers a good idea, calling the
appropriate state police for extreme cases is also encouraged.  When a trucker
puts cars into HIS OWN front no-zone and threatens them with an 80,000 pound
blunt weapon at close range, that's totally unacceptable.  And yet it happens
every day, every second, and everywhere.

And you'd think that without having the seventeen air bags that seem to rule
buyers' choices in passenger cars these days, any trucker would take a much
more keen interest in not running into things in the first place.

Anyway, I had fun crawling all over the truck and just getting to examine a
*clean* one one up close so I could see what some of the parts are.  Here we
see that modern truck tires run at quite high pressures, and you won't find
any of these fellas thinking they need to run their tires soft for some
mythical "extra traction".  That would be nonsense for trucks just like it's
nonsense for cars.

But overall, the auto show was just not that interesting.  Mostly it seemed
to be a show-floor spread of all the makers' 2008 models, with this same common
theme running through it -- zoom zoom, still about speed and power, beat the
other guy to the next light, etc.  Same old crap in newer, more aggressively-
angular packaging -- nothing really innovative, and still clinging to that
"families with kids need the land yacht with 4 DVD players" myth and huge
towing capacity in vehicles that spend 90% of their time transporting some
yup and his briefcase to work.  That token mouthing-off that the Big 2.5 are
doing about hybrids is really disappointing.  What are they crowing about, a
10% or 15% fuel economy increase?  It's not even coming close to meeting the
challenge that we *really* need to tackle.  They should be thinking "go Toyota
one or two better", not this sad not-quite-catchup game.

Not that Toyota is necessarily squeaky-clean either, because with as many
Priuses and Camry hybrids they brought along, their booth people had barely
even heard of the Estima.

_H* 071203