On the Fringe: The Weirder Side of the 2018 New York International Auto Show

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Mar 30, 2018

NEW YORK—I’m on the mean streets of Manhattan, dodging taxis and delivery trucks, at the wheel of an Arcimoto. Well, at the handlebars. The Arcimoto is a three-wheeled electric vehicle, with much borrowed from plug-in cycles, but it’s got a roof and—if you pay extra—doors, various racks and even a trunk.

Mark Frohnmayer, a former video game developer, is now tackling our commuting problems with the electric Arcimoto--built in Oregon. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The company, based in picturesque Eugene, Oregon, has delivered exactly two Arcimotos so far but, as startups often do, it envisions production of 10,000 a year, priced at just $11,900. The base model has 70-mile range, but a 130-mile, 20-kilowatt-hour battery is an option (for $3,000 more). Showing at the New York International Auto Show is a bold step, but Arcimoto saved money by holding its event in the basement, on the second day.

The plastic-bodied Arcimoto is pretty easy to use. Twist the right grip and it goes. There’s a bike-type hand brake (operating on regenerated power) and a foot pedal. It stops. It’s amazing to think it’s highway-capable, and 80 mph is possible. In the absence of the even-cheaper Elio, which may never get  off the ground, the Arcimoto should sell pretty well as a commuter/station car.

The author before taking the Arcimoto onto the Manhattan streets. Is it a car or a motorcycle? (Jim Motavalli photo)

What else did I see at the big auto show? Alfa Romeo has some new Nero Edizione blackout trim packages for the Giulia and Stelvio. Everyone is going dark these days, including Rolls-Royce (which offers Black Badge editions).

Both the Stelvio and Giulia can now be had in blackout packages. It's a trend. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Rimac has a great deal of wow factor in its all-new carbon-fiber C2 model, which trumps the previous Concept One in every conceivable way. It’s a lightweight electric car that is capable of zero to 60 in 1.85 seconds (you read that right) and 300 miles on a charge, and even offers an autonomous mode. Not bad for a carmaker based in Croatia.

That's $2.1 million of Rimac C2 electric car right there. (Jim Motavalli photo)

According to sales manager Kreso Coric, the car will sell for a whopping $2.1 million, and just 150 will be produced between 2020 and 2024. Rimac is known as an engineering company, and has provided technology to Aston Martin, Koenigsegg and Jaguar Land Rover. It’s C2 is not vaporware.

Coric cited a study that said the absolute zero to 60 limit is probably 1.4 seconds. Any faster, and you run up against the grip limits of street-legal tires. So we’re not going to go much further than the C2.

The Super8 RoadM8. Roadmate, get it? Count the 8s. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Super8 is a budget hotel chain, and normally would have no business exhibiting at an auto show, but this year they decided to get into the concept game. It's a stretch, but the powers that be over there decided that they could represent their $100 million hotel room makeover with attributes on a custom Jeep called the RoadM8. It sported a lot of decorative 8s, upholstery that echoes the new bedding, and a mini fridge and coffeemaker to point out that, well, there's one of each in every room. 

Spokesmodels? They're still around, but now they're product specialists. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I was fascinated by a Toyota fuel-cell minivan, with the prosaic name "Fine-Comfort Ride." It seemed to point the way forward for minivan styling. The interior is an obvious nod to autonomous driving, with front seats that swivel back. But as I've consistently warned, that way points to car sickness, or mal a minivan.

A very cool Toyota minivan has fuel-cell power and swiveling front seats. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Some trends I noticed in New York:

  • Tomorrow’s cars won’t have keys. They’ll be opened by smart phones or, in the case of the Rimac, facial recognition software.
  • Premium brands are offering concierge services. Lincoln customers can book service pickup and delivery, with loaner cars in between. Toyota share cars will be pre-warmed and tuned to your favorite radio stations. Lincoln is piloting a drive-your-car service so a personal driver can take over if you’d rather not get behind the wheel (or have had a few drinks). They’ll even pick up your car and get it washed.
  • Everyone wants to give me socks. Within the last three months, I’ve been given five pairs. Are socks having a moment? If so, it’s welcome, because I have all the baseball hats and water bottles I’ll ever need. And you never have too many pairs of socks.
  • Nearly every automaker is thinking about China—and sometimes that means designing global models with Chinese consumers in mind. Meanwhile, Chinese brands are trying to break into international sales, with GAC Motor/Trumpchi in the lead. Will they be selling here by 2019? That’s the plan.

Here's a closer look at the Arcimoto on video:

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