Mean Green Machines

The big automakers like to talk about their environmentally-friendly cars, but this year's International Auto Show in New York is a forest of brawny trucks and fast muscle cars.

Cars, at their most basic level, get you from point A to point B. But for most Americans cars are so much more -- and the Auto Show is all about the sizzle, complete with pyrotechnics, loud music and scantly-clad models.

Ford opened its media event showing off a powerful version of the redesigned Mustang. The new Shelby GT500KR is one fast car, with a 540-horsepower engine. Ford executives made no mention of fuel economy when introducing the Mustang or any of its other cars.

Ford doesn't yet have an estimate on how many miles per gallon the car will get and it really doesn't seem concerned. "The fuel economy just does not matter to the people who buy it," said a Ford spokesman.

Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, called it "the most powerful Mustang we've ever made."

But Ford's real focus at the auto show is its new Flex, a large 7-passenger "crossover" vehicle. It's a mix of SUV and minivan that looks like a Mini-Cooper on steroids. The struggling automaker says Flex is designed for the "modern American family" and for people who believe "It's about the journey, not the destination."

The Flex comes with an optional refrigerator, 2,300-song jukebox and a television screen in the back for the kids.

Across the convention hall, General Motors was pitching three small concept cars that it hopes can reinvigorate its Chevrolet brand.

The new cars, dubbed "the triplets" -- Chevrolet did have three identical-looking blond women on hand for the event -- are aimed at the urban market. The company, best known these days for its trucks, said it wants to prove that small cars can fun and cool.

The Trax, Beat and Groove were introduced with a group of urban-looking dancers. Chevy called the Trax a "modern grunge" car and said it was "for people with a lifestyle embedded in the X Games."

The descriptions appeared to be lost on the crowd of mostly middle-aged men in suits.

To figure out which, if any, of the triplets makes it to production, Chevy is asking Americans to vote online for their favorite. Journalists gathered for the unveiling were each offered a canvas bag with three bright foam balls. At the end, the crowd was asked to vote for their favorite car by throwing one of the corresponding colored balls.

It made for a colorful image, but the reporters seemed more excited about the lunchtime sushi bar at Infiniti's media event.

While Chevy's big press event featured new, small cars -- the show is populated with large trucks, many with the slogan "live green go yellow," a nod to the ability of the trucks to run on E85, a mix of ethanol and gasoline. But these pseudo-green cars still burn significantly more gas than "the triplet" concept cars upstairs. For instance, the Avalanche gets 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.

While there was plenty of hype at the show, some of the concept cars featured may never make it onto the road.

A reminder of this fact can be found at the LeMay car museum's display at the auto show. On display there is one such concept car: the 1992 GM ultralight. It was supposed to get 45 mpg in the city and 81 mpg on the highway. It never came to market.

The Auto Show at New York's Javits Center runs from April 6 to April 15.

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