By Dan Meade
Provided by WorldNow
At the 2009 New York International Auto show, the mood was one of arising from the depths of the recession. In 2010 signs of recovery were everywhere and companies were laying out their plans for the future. This year, you could see those plans starting to come to fruition as nearly every new model was more fuel efficient, sleeker and more stylized than the previous one.
Cars were presented as being smarter in their use of fuel, sexier in their appearance and designed to make the driver and passengers feel more comfortable and at home, surrounded in technology and luxury. Here is a look at what Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet have done to stay abreast of, if not ahead of, the competition.
Carlos Tavares, Chairman of Nissan Americas, was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies this year and he spent nearly the entire time talking about the LEAF, Nissan's all-electric sedan that is just starting to appear on North American roads. He was open and candid when discussing the delays Nissan has had in producing and delivering the zero-emission car, but he also presented how, when and where the vehicles will be distributed on American shores.
Tavares painted the LEAF as the crux of Nissan's goals of sustainability, local production and the "Value of Zero," the tagline of one of their new ad campaigns. In the case of the LEAF, that value is having a car with a range of over 100 miles on a full charge (after taking about eight hours to re-charge on a 220-240V power supply). In the video of customer reactions that Tavares showed, one even boasted about how he didn't even know the current price of gas. That alone is quite a nice value in an age when gas costs above $4 a gallon.
Rather than focusing on mass-production and domination of the entire industry, Tavares' Nissan was presented as being a forward-looking company concerned about the environment and being a part of the communities where its products are sold. For example, Nissan is moving production of its Rouge from Japan to Tennessee with the Infiniti JX and the LEAF are also expected to be built in Tennessee. Combined, this will increase the amount of Nissan cars built in the US by half. All told, they expect to increase their current localization rate from 69 percent to 85 percent by 2015, both saving on transportation costs and making the communities where the cars are sold stronger. If you weren't paying close attention, you may have thought Tavares was a farmer talking about the slow-food movement… and perhaps that sort of analogy influenced Nissan into naming their first gas-free car the "LEAF."
On the domestic front, the Ford delegation was all about presenting a big show, or rather, was all about presenting the 2013 Taurus SHO.
After touting how Ford leads twelve segments in fuel economy and has put new, or upgraded, power-trains throughout their entire line of vehicles -- all of which is a part of an ongoing effort to overhaul Ford's entire line of vehicles -- the presentation got down to business.
Mark Fields, President of the Americas, and Derrick Kuzak, a group vice president of Global Product Development, made the 2013 Taurus, complete with 237 horsepower and 31 mpg highway, the heart of their press conference (both figures are estimates). The Taurus features a choice of two EcoBoost engines and has technological flourishes such as a push-button start, a heated steering wheel and a rear view camera.
Then, with members of the "Taurus SHO Club" fan club in attendance, Ford debuted the upscale version of the Taurus, the Taurus SHO. The SHO was designed with what Fields called "unfiltered feedback" from fans and media alike and is meant to preserve the "understated yet the sporty elegance that the original SHO  was known for and… to make a unique style statement." The elegance is partly comprised of a sport-inspired grill, ebony black side-view mirror, and duel chrome-tipped exhaust. The 2013 SHO also touts a twin-turbocharged engine with an estimated 365 horsepower, leather-trimmed seats and an advanced electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system.
Separating itself from the rest of the competition, General Motors took over the new North Pavilion of the Javits Convention Center and dressed it up as if it were a pavilion from the World's Fair. Standing guard outside of the entrance stood Bumblebee from Transformers: Dark of the Moon and his alter-ego, the Corvette. Once inside, the Chevy Volt and a pair of EN-V personal transporter-pods represented the future of the company. Leading up to the blazing neon Chevy logo that served as the altar in this cathedral of GM were, lined on either side of the aisle, all the Cadillacs, Camaros, Buicks and GMC Trucks that you could possibly hope to one day drive.
Mark Reuss, the president of General Motors North America in this Chevrolet's centennial year, began the proceeding with a montage of Chevy's past before moving into its future, symbolized by the new Malibu. With a design influenced by the Camaro and a frame nearly as aerodynamic as the Volt, the new Malibu was built to lure in new customers with its "upscale look with a sporty attitude."
Two features of note in the new Malibu are its active shutter system that enhances aerodynamic performance by redirecting airflow around the front of the vehicle and its radio display. The radio display is a touch screen that lifts up to reveal an extra six-inch storage space, which is a nice way to update the car's radio system for the iPod generation.
Or, for those who "want excellent fuel economy without the added cost and complexity of a full hybrid system," Reuss also had the Malibu Eco to offer. Expected in mid-2012, the Malibu Eco will boast an estimated 38 mpg highway and GM's new eAssist package which will help limit fuel consumption.
Reuss ended his remarks by saying that "next year [the] Malibu and the Spark mini-car join our all-new family of expressive, fuel-efficient cars here in the U.S."
That statement could easily sum up the entire 2011 NYIAS. The cars were more fuel efficient, and were designed to look nearly as good as they run. From all indications, the automakers no longer fear falling victim to the recession, they now only fear that you will buy the equally sleek and efficient cars offered by their competition.
Dan Meade is the Auto editor for WorldNow and has been covering the New York International Auto Show since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter here.