NMA E-Newsletter #212: Is the Thrill Really Gone?

It’s car show season, and that prompted a few NMA members to share with us some of their car show experiences, past and present. We found their observations compelling and wanted to pass them on to you.
From Casey Raskob, New York:
I don’t know where the glitter went. The NY Auto Show is still a happening, but there are no longer the sacks of glossy brochures that would be fodder for the next week of TV watching. The people watching is great….serious moms looking at minivans, fan boys touching the objects of desire, whatever they may be, and for me, things I don’t see in the real world, like the Lexus IS-F, or McLaren Mercedes. NY usually has some cool concept cars and they will debut…something.
I get a kick out of watching folks swarm the Mercedes and BMW exhibits, followed by Caddy. Most of these folks have no hope of ownership, but for that brief second, there is joy and lots of photos.
I can’t go to the vendors…it makes me too sad, and do I need endless micro wipes, or a neon “Z28” sticker? No, I don’t. No real tuners, no real car stuff…just junk mostly, save a few model vendors. You can’t really modify cars anymore, unless you go geek, and that won’t sell in a mass market situation.
The loss of enthusiasm is that cars are now appliances—you used to need some smarts to keep one running, tuned, etc. But not anymore-and we all know the skill of driving is lost on most. Most cars are CamCord blandmobiles. Any style or interest requires money, hence the crowds in the lux car exhibits. I’ve always found the fact that the least mobbed cars at an auto show are the most sold, and the most mobbed cars are the least sold.
From Henry Stowe, Texas:
Back in April, 1989, I went to the Fort Worth Auto Show to promote the NMA (formerly Citizens for Rational Traffic Laws). My girlfriend and I rented a booth for about $30 a day for two days. We handed out flyers, literature, conversed with people and in between times went to view the numerous displays at the show. We had a pretty good time, picking up brochures, trinkets and gag gifts from the various carmaker booths.
I recently attended the Houston Auto Show with my current girlfriend and her son. After paying $10 to get into the show, we entered the convention center where the cars were on display. We looked at the cars and then went to the information center for each brand. At approximately half of them, there was nobody to be found.

The other half of the booths had someone working them that barely knew a car had four wheels, much less anything about what they were promoting. Finding model brochures for the cars was impossible as no one gave them out anymore. Instead, if you were lucky, you got a one-sheet flyer from the attendant showing a picture of the car with a price. Gee, how informative can you get?
Looking at the vendors was even sadder. The longest line at the side vendors was for the magic car wax that invariably is sold at car shows. The other vendors were selling blood pressure kits and license plates. Signs of the times, I guess. I remember the days when NMA memberships and scale model vehicles were sold at the side stands. By comparison, 1989 looked like happy times.
It is sad to see that the country has collectively lost its enthusiasm for motorized transport. It isn’t surprising, though. After all we put up with the 55-mph speed limit for 21 years and now put up with the TSA assaulting our elderly and searching our luggage. I wonder how much longer we have to enjoy the automotive freedoms we won for ourselves over the years.
I don’t think that I will be attending another car show here in Houston any time soon. I hope it isn’t like that everywhere. Please tell me that things are different elsewhere.

We’d like to know what you think. Have cars devolved into appliances? Have Americans lost their enthusiasm for all things auto-related, or will interest rebound when the economy does? Send us your thoughts at[email protected]. We’ll reprint some in a follow-up newsletter.

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