Washington Auto Show Brings Automotive Excitement to the Nation’s Capital

For a gallery of some of the vehicles featured at the Washington Auto Show, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The Washington Auto Show, held from January 26 to February 4 this year, is sure to have something for every automotive enthusiast. Whether you are in the market for a new car or merely looking to see the newest models and observe the trends in the market, the auto show is an exciting place. While not as big as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) held in Detroit or the large international shows like those held in Geneva or Tokyo, the Washington Auto Show still hosts an array of the world’s largest automakers. Since it is held in the nation’s capital, this show has further importance for federal policies and regulations that may affect the auto industry: self-driving cars, electric vehicles, and NAFTA chief among those.

January 25 marked the show’s “Industry/Media Day,” featuring a number of automaker press conferences. Several automakers showed off new or updated models to crowds of eager media and auto industry professionals.

Jeep’s 2018 Wrangler made perhaps the biggest impression. The 2018 Wrangler will have the option of a V-6 engine (that carries over from the old model) or a new 2.0L I-4 turbo engine. The 2018 Wrangler will start at $26,995 for the two-door “Sport” model, or $40,995 and upwards for the range-topping “Rubicon.”

The biggest story with the Wrangler, however, was the way Jeep has managed to keep the traditional features that Jeep buyers want while improving them even further. For example, the Wrangler’s removable front windshield is considered among Jeep loyalists to be a critical part of the vehicle’s identity. This new model’s windshield can be removed by loosening only four bolts – down from the 28 bolts needed for the old model. Removing the vehicle’s soft-top used to be a long and frustrating affair, requiring two people and involving a myriad of zippers. The new model’s soft-top can be removed by one person and in a much shorter time using an innovative new groove system that enables the top to be slid off easily.

Toyota unveiled a new concept vehicle using hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the F-CR (which stands for “Fine-Comfort Ride”). “Unveiled” may be the wrong word – Toyota representatives at the event said this was the first time the concept had been shown “on the East Coast.” Regardless, this is an important concept vehicle. Toyota sells the Mirai, one of a handful of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to ever be made commercially available, and the company is considered a leader in what may be a promising alternative to EVs, one that still provides clean driving without some of the drawbacks of EVs (like long recharge times). Toyota claims a three-minute recharge time for the F-CR (as opposed to around a half-hour for Tesla’s supercharger and multiple hours for conventional home charging).

Toyota’s involvement with alternative fuel vehicles goes beyond hydrogen fuel-cells; the Toyota spokesperson at the press conference noted Toyota’s goals to have all of their model line either an EV or the option of an electric drivetrain by 2025 and to sell 5.5 million EVs per year by 2030. The spokesperson also noted Toyota’s intention to sponsor fast-charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure across the U.S.

Bill Wehrum, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, gave mid-day remarks before the lunch break. Wehrum noted that the EPA’s 2018 midterm review of light trucks and SUVs is due by April 1, 2018. He also told the assembled audience about improvements in fuel economy across the industry. Industry-wide fuel economy improved 0.1 mpg over last year, and has increased 22 percent since 2004. SUVs, which today have a 41 percent market share, have seen a total of 1.1 mpg in improvement since the previous year (the largest improvement by vehicle type). When asked what his view was on California’s greenhouse gas waiver and its generally stricter requirements than the rest of the U.S., Wehrum responded that it would be the best outcome to have one national program, rather than several different regimens. Wehrum also noted during his remarks that the “government shouldn’t decide what car people drive.”

The Auto Show has two levels of manufacturer displays; they are home to almost every major automaker with the notable exceptions of Cadillac, Mercedes, and Tesla. Other GM brands (Chevrolet, GMC, Buick) were present, so GM may have made a business decision to only promote select GM products at the show. Interestingly, there was a display of classic Cadillacs (a 1978 and a 1959 Eldorado) but no official displays of modern-day models. Tesla’s absence might be chalked up to its non-traditional status as a car company or the close involvement of DC-area automobile dealership associations. Tesla sells directly to the public, not using the dealer franchise networks common to other companies. Mercedes’ absence was more puzzling, especially given the strong presence of Mercedes rivals BMW, Audi, and Porsche. A marketing representative of a different major car company at the show stated they had heard Mercedes simply failed to get their bid in time for the event space.

Jaguar Land Rover made perhaps the biggest splash at the show. The company reserved a vast space at the back of the venue, behind their display models. Land Rover’s side was home to a purpose built dirt off-road course, on which attendees could drive Land Rover models or be driven by a professional Land Rover driver. Jaguar boasted a road course on concrete, on which a Jaguar professional driver drove attendees around tight corners and over an artificial bridge. This thrilling display was meant to show off Jaguar’s new E-Pace crossover SUV and Land Rover’s line of off-road capable luxury SUVs.

The day was capped off with a reception for the attendees held in the “Exotics and Luxury” hall, home to a myriad of expensive and striking supercars and luxury cars including the Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Aventador, and Rolls-Royce Phantom.

All photos used in the photo gallery taken by David Weissman, article author. Lead article photo is courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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