Vancouver International Auto Show 2011 buzzes with electricity

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On Friday night I went for a quick tour of this year’s Vancouver International Auto Show, on until April 3, hosted for the first time at the beautiful downtown Vancouver Convention Centre. While the show has been around for — believe it or not — more than 90 years in some form or another, it has made the convention centre its temporary home while BC Place undergoes surgery.

I spoke to show director Paul McGeachie beforehand, who summed up the theme this year in one sentence.

“This year, more than any year, it’s about power — whether it be electric power, hybrid power, gas power or diesel power.”

Clean, green machines

There was definitely an incredible mix of vehicle types, more than I had seen in any car shows I’ve attended. Electric and hybrids seemed to take centre stage. There is a small but striking BC Hydro display exhibiting a residential electric vehicle charging station on the main level, where a Mitsubishi i MiEV immediately caught my eye — a five-door electric hatchback that looks like the Smart Fortwo‘s curvier, more attractive cousin.

BC Hydro is another recent addition to the auto show, McGeachie said.

“Hydro has become an important partner because as the factory guys do all the electric vehicles, the questions people ask are ‘so where can I plug it in?’ ‘How’s it going to work?’ ‘How much is it going to cost?'”

The venue was a hub of activity even at 9 p.m. A diverse crowd milled about: gearhead dads with their kids, the younger tuner generation toting professional-looking cameras, girlfriends and wives glancing at their partners with can-we-go-yet eyes.

Unbeknownst to me, many visitors actually go to Vancouver’s auto show — the third largest in Canada after Montreal and Toronto — as a kind of window shopping experience.

“Over half the people that come into the show have delayed their purchase [of a vehicle] until they come to the auto show,” McGeachie said. “You can’t actually buy a car here, [but] this is the only place the consumer gets to chat to factory representatives.”

Crowd pleasers

Even though environmentally-friendly autos are the trendy newcomers to the scene, sleek and fast gas-guzzlers remain the cool kids. A large group of people were gathered around a roped-off gleaming white Lexus LFA, Lexus’ first entry into the supercar world. Boasting a 4.8-litre V-10 engine pumping out 560 horsepower, it would be rare to find someone, car enthusiast or not, who wouldn’t want to be one of the lucky 500 people able to pre-buy one last year.

Other popular spots were any areas that had souped-up rides or racecars. Some manufacturers like Honda showe
d off factory performance-enhanced vehicles like the new Honda CRZ, a sport hybrid coupe, and the 2012 Civic Si concept. Toyota had a battle-tested Formula car proudly exhibited that I would have loved to climb into.

Aside from cars, other things kept guests entertained. There were a few vendor booths scattered about selling license plate frames, T-shirts and cellphones; BMW had a neat OEM wheel wall display; I think it was Ford that even had a popular foosball table set up.

In other words, there was something for everyone at VIAS ’11, and I don’t think anyone left empty handed: most companies were giving away those environmentally-friendly tote bags that seem to be so popular nowadays. My favorite memory of the show? The young fellow who was insistent that I enter my Facebook account into his Honda-issued iPad for the chance to win a new Civic Si, to which I replied “I already have one (I really do.)”

“Fair enough,” he said.

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