Odyssey International: Masthead
  Automotive Adventures & Product Launches  

Montreal Auto Show or Bust

January 24th, 2011

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The first road trip of the year usually turns out to be a cold and sometime snowy 1,300-kilometre trek from Halifax to Montreal for media day at Le Salon international de l’Auto de Montréal. Just strap in and head west, hoping for the best in terms of road and weather conditions.

This year was different though because my wife, Lisa Calvi, and I had a little real-world auto show of our own en route. For me, it began with an early morning, five-hour run from Halifax to Fredericton in a crisp white Mazda5 with a sporty 6-speed manual transmission.

I like shifting gears and was delighted to do so in a minivan. Manually changing gears with a real clutch petal is getting to be a rarity in the world of 6-speed automatics, paddle shifts, sport shifts or whatever marketing gurus have dreamed to call automatic transmissions that I inevitably end up leaving in ‘drive’ anyway.

In Fredericton I swapped the Mazda for a KIA Forte5-Door hatchback and headed back to Moncton. Yes, I was backtracking but only for a couple of hours and the weather and roads were clear.

In Moncton I switched the KIA for a 2011 Jetta TDI Clean Diesel, the all-new midsized Volkswagen with a dual-clutch 6-speed automatic and super efficient four-cylinder turbo diesel. With a highway fuel economy rating of 4.4 L/100 km, I didn’t plan on making many friends at fuel stations.

I rendezvoused with Lisa at the Silver Fox Irving Big Stop just west of Moncton, parking the Jetta beside the other car we would do the long haul to the big town in, a new Chevrolet Cruze, equipped with a gasoline-powered 1.4L turbo.

Inside, over bowls of steaming homemade turkey soup, we checked the weather on my iPhone and made a plan to alternate cars every few hours.

Twenty-four hours later, after a bout with bone-chilling temperatures, a stretch of freezing rain and an overnight stop in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, we pulled two grubby, salt-encrusted cars up to Montreal’s swanky W Hotel, a block away from Le Palais des congrès, where all the glitter, gloss and technology of the Montreal Auto Show awaited.

Media day at the show started with a breakfast where a posse of journalists and industry influencers were welcomed and given their march orders for the day. Then the pack of scribes, pundits and spokespeople were paraded through the show, stopping at 24 manufacturer displays where eager automotive executives gave short presentations on new products and marketing initiatives, often revealing new models in innovative ways.

Our first stop was the General Motors display where the new Chevy Orlando and the Chevy Aveo’s replacement, the Sonic, were revealed. Photographers jockeyed for photographs of the Volt, North American Car of the Year, while scribes surrounded GM Canada’s VP Sales & Marketing, Marc Comeau, peppering him with questions about the slew of new GM vehicles.

I checked out the shiny Chevy Cruze on display that looked a lot different than our filthy road warrior parked in the basement of the W Hotel down the street.

Through the day, the gaggle of media was lead through the ‘Performance Zone’, a hall of custom cars and trucks, to presentations by the exotics like Rolls Royce and Lamborghini as well as bread and butter makes like Mazda, Ford and Volkswagen.

Some manufacturers presented straight-up info on what was new in their portfolio. Others like Hyundai had some fun when they ‘hatched’ the new Accent out of a giant egg amid talk of ‘fluidic sculpture’ and stellar growth. A ‘polar bear’ helped out with the unveiling of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and I got a bad case of car fever over Porsche’s fastest 911 ever, the GT2 RS, a fever that was quickly doused by the not-so-racy $285,000 price tag.

The last presentation was at Chrysler where Canadian President Reid Bigland eloquently spoke off-the-cuff about their new products, their best-in-class selling vehicles and the nifty new Fiat 500 that made everyone smile. He was upbeat. He was convincing about the turnaround that not long ago many thought would never happen at Chrysler.

At the end of the day, my head was spinning with the luster, statistics, pomp and ceremony of the day. I considered the presentations that seemed to hold the media’s attention the most. Small cars like the prototype of Honda’s new Civic Si along with Hyundai and VW products for sure, but not so much with the luxury staples like BMW, Audi, Lexus and the exotics. The most interest seemed to be in the Detroit Three - GM, Ford and Chrysler.

That night, Lisa pointed out that while we were having fun being videotaped at the Desjardins kiosk, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) had announced the three final contenders for the 2011 Canadian Car of the Year.

“It’s our salty road warriors the Chevy Cruze and the VW Jetta TDI along with Ford’s new Fiesta,” she said.

“Hmmm, where are the Asian brands?” I replied thinking that things are indeed a-changin’ in the wonderful, complex and competitive world of the automobile.

And after driving two of the finalists to the Montreal Auto Show, all Lisa and I needed to do was find a Ford Fiesta to get us back to Halifax to round out our own real-world auto show.

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