Image: Chevrolet ‘Trax’ concept
Chevrolet
GM plans to unveil a handful of Chevrolet global minicar concepts, including the Chevrolet ‘Trax,’ at this year’s New York auto show.
By Roland Jones Business news editor
msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2007 5:39:36 PM ET 2007-04-04T21:39:36

At a large international auto show held in a city where space is limited and only the well-off can afford the pricey garage fees, insurance rates and the inevitable parking tickets that come with owning a car, it seems appropriate that small, fuel-friendly cars would capture a big share of the limelight.

That’s likely to be the case at the 2007 New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public later this week at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, where auto-making heavyweights plan to make a splash unveiling new products that respond to car consumers’ growing desire for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, plans to unveil a handful of Chevrolet global mini car concepts, including the Chevrolet “Trax,” at this year’s show. The vehicles to be shown are based on the tiny Chevrolet Matiz and Spark that are sold in several markets, including Europe and Asia, and are in hot demand internationally due to space constraints and high gas prices.

Ever since gasoline prices jumped to $3 a gallon last year, America’s love affair with large, fuel-guzzling SUVs has soured and interest in gas-efficient subcompact cars has soared, boosted by sales of the Yaris and the Fit, two small cars introduced in the United States last year by Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda, respectively.

After GM’s 1-liter concepts, designed at its South Korean design studio, are unveiled on April 4th, car buyers can vote on which of the three will go into production in the United States at a GM Web site. The aim, according to Chevy, is to determine which car design resonates best with potential buyers.

GM is taking a serious look at bringing low-cost mini cars to the United States market capable of achieving as high as 50 miles per gallon of gas, breaking into a virtually nonexistent segment in the world’s biggest auto market, according to GM’s Group Vice President John Smith.

Slideshow: New York auto show is a blast But GM is still in very early stages of investigating the U.S. market’s appetite for smaller cars, as to date there hasn’t been much demand for mini cars in the United States because Americans, who pay relatively little for gasoline compared with drivers in other countries, prefer bigger vehicles, Smith added. GM sells a Chevrolet Aveo sub-compact car in the United States, but nothing smaller.

Mini cars are favored by big city dwellers because they are generally fuel efficient and easy to park. There are currently no mini cars for sale in the United States, although DaimlerChrysler plans to launch its two-seater Smart models in the United States in 2008.

At this year’s New York auto show, DaimlerChrysler will show for the first time in the United States a bigger 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-class sedan, which is due to hit dealerships later this year, while Daimler’s U.S. Chrysler division will unveil a Jeep-brand SUV at this year’s New York show, although the company hasn’t given any more details on its announcement.

Chrysler will also once again offer show goers the opportunity to try out “Camp Jeep,” a 45,000 square foot off-road driving area that Jeep promises will be “bigger and better than ever,” including water fording, ground clearance, articulation, traction, and maneuverability demonstrations for Jeep fans.

The Dodge Demon will be another important vehicle for Chrysler. The 2.4-liter, 172 horsepower Dodge Demon concept is a compact, affordable “roadster with an attitude” that has the same proportions as the Mazda Miata.

Ford, the third member of America’s so-called Big Three automakers, will unveil the Flex crossover at this year’s show. Based on the Fairlane concept of 2005, Ford’s Flex is a full-size crossover that replaces the automaker’s discontinued line of minivans. Ford will also show three new limited-edition models at the show: The Ford Expedition Funkmaster Flex Edition, the Shelby GT500KR and the F-150 Foose Edition.

Of course, this being The Big Apple, there’s also be a hefty slice of high-end glamour on display at the New York event, including the introduction of the Callaway C16 Cabrio, a convertible variant of the limited production C16 supercar built on the Chevrolet Corvette platform, giving driving enthusiasts the opportunity to experience ultra-high performance levels in a convertible body style.

The New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday, April 6 and runs through Sunday, April 15, is America’s oldest and best-attended auto show. The show is also gaining importance among the world’s top automakers. This year, the event boasts the largest number of new vehicle introductions in the show’s 106-year history — one from nearly every major world automaker.

The show is expected to bring more than $181 million of economic benefit to New York’s economy, according to the events organizers. The gains are expected to come from spending on lodging, entertainment, parking, eating and drinking, transportation, and retail by attendees and vendors, and from event-related expenditures by show vendors and the show’s producer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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