Deep Behind Enemy Lines

That's how it felt at times to be at the Philly Car Show. Sure, there was the hybrid Lexus. And the Prius, though it was relegated to the far edge of Toyota's display. Plus a few yellow gas caps, and a green "exotic" made by local high school students. But overall, the show made continued promise of a back to the low-mileage future. As if to underscore that 1950s point of view, young "spokeswomen" stood on the edges of the display turntables, reciting their lines in tight pony-tails. Some of the most fuel efficient vehicles on display, ironically, were the antique or "classic" models in a basement room. A crowd favorite there seemed to be a pair from the old Volvo P series (pictured below), one of which, as a sign proclaimed, had apparently set the Guinness Book record for most miles put on a single vehicle. The old P1800 got an average 25 mpg. Those where the days when Volvos earned their chops. Before the "supersize-me" engines became standard issue.

Early on we stumbled into the Hip-Hop section, filled with small, highly decorated sedans - the entire room was immersed in ear splitting music. (See tail-winged Scion from this grouping, shown in top photo.) At this point, the parallel of highly decal- or "tear"-laden car bodies and tattooed human bodies, both featuring equally elaborate scroll and flame patterns, became obvious.

With ears still ringing, on the main floor ahead, were acres of American-designed vehicles. On the edge of each SUV-encircling throng, I walked, occasionally whispering furtively: "Cli..mate .Change." Dirty looks were all I got in response.

In what seemed to be the car industry's version of 'viral marketing,' several makers offered "free photos" of show goers. Many took the Polaroid bait home: a quintessential moment of kids frozen on the up-swing of Al Gore's climate chart, climbing over seats, adult smiling faces looking on.

Scattered amongst the American offerings were the newest "cross-over" sedans, looking like the mongrel offspring of 1960s' vintage, low-rider wagons, mated reluctantly with SUVs. These crossover hybrid proportions looked brutish and ungainly, their down-sloping rear roofs bent at the back edge to form the low-rider style rear windows, reduced rear visibility not withstanding. [Imagine the car execs at an upcoming Congressional Climate Change hearing, declaring that 'In the interest of consumer safety, we will not compromise with smaller, lighter vehicles'. Right.]

By the end of the show it was ever more apparent that the hoped-for success of the Tesla Roadster is critical. And, long departed Nicola Tesla, perhaps the person honored by the Roadster's name, may one day shock us into a more transcendent state with his namesake car.

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