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The grille of the 2012 Cadillac CTS 4 at the 2011 New York International Auto. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
The grille of the 2012 Cadillac CTS 4 at the 2011 New York International Auto. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Driving It Home

Latest news from the New York auto show Add to ...

This has been axiomatic in the auto industry for 100 years or so: you can sell a young man's car to an old man, but you can't sell an old man's car to a young man.

Now add this take to car business lore: you can sell a manly car to a woman, but you can't sell a girly car to a man. That's the thinking behind the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle unveiled here this week at the New York auto show.

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As one wag put it on the show floor, this latest version of the Bug has a rampaging Y chromosome. VW calls it "the 21st century Beetle," but Klaus Bischoff, VW brand design chief, insisted on using the word "masculine" to capture the essence of the car.

The cutesy old New Beetle, with its 11-year-old design, is being replaced by something more reminiscent of Ferdinand Porsche's original car. VW officials said the designers kept a copy of that original in the design studio for inspiration.

Key design elements: longer front hood, a windshield shifted backward and given a steeper incline, a wider and lower stance, a longer body and most of all striking 10-spoke wheels up to 19 inches in diameter. Big wheels are masculine in the car business.

Make no mistake, VW wants to shed the "chick car" label that has haunted the New Beetle from the outset. Consider "Herbie the Love Bug" a relic of VW history.

It was a similar story with Scion inside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Centre in Manhattan. Toyota's so-called youth brand unveiled its next sports car in concept form for now, though a real production version is definitely coming.

The Scion FR-S has hot looks, a Subaru boxer engine, rear-wheel drive and a perfect weight balance.

Scion boss Jack Hollis, who introduced it at the show to lights and reverberating music, says his team was blown away by the "volume of buzz," including speculation about the name. He says FR-S stands for "front engine, rear-wheel-drive, sport." There is nothing feminine about the next new Scion.

As for other developments at the show, Chevrolet showed its next generation Malibu and it's a lovely refinement of the current car. Subaru's new Impreza is all about fuel economy (up as much as 30 per cent), a sleeker look on the outside and vastly improved materials and execution in the cabin.

Meanwhile, Nissan showed the next-generation Versa subcompact, vowing to take on Hyundai with it. For its part, Hyundai showed a five-door Accent subcompact with a design that draws from the themes we've already seen in the current Accent and Elantra.

Ford showed the 2013 Taurus a year before it goes on sale, telling a styling and fuel economy story for the iconic model from the Blue Oval. Chrysler announced three new versions of the 300, BMW touted electric cars, Mercedes-Benz showed an A-class concept - low-slung and very sexy - and talked about opportunities in the small car market. Yes, the A is coming to North America.

Honda officially unveiled the Civic lineup that goes on sale today, but failed to offer a concept version of the next CR-V small SUV, as expected. Indeed, the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan is presenting a major challenge to Honda and other car companies and the CR-V replacement appears to have been a casualty to a bigger crisis and calamity in Japan.

More to come on the New York show.

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