International Auto Show is still on


Unofficially, the San Francisco International Auto Show began early on Friday, at least if you stood on the sidewalk outside Moscone Center. There was a mixture of dream machines and the politically correct hybrids.

"I used to own a Jag. Then, I woke up. It's like, what am I doing to the planet, here?" said Joe Lervold, a plug-in hybrid owner.

For free on Friday, you could see Joe Lervold and plug-in hybrid that goes 100 miles its first tank of gas. Inside were the more conventional cars. There are 800 offerings from some 40 car makers, a few you've never heard of, others you would never drive, and more than a few struggling to get by.

"I think they still sell style, but also technology of the cars, the economics of the cars, and durability," said Kevin Diamond, with the San Francisco International Auto Show.

But still, the auto industry is nose to nose with a new reality when this week when the big three automakers went to Washington asking for bailouts. At a place like Ellis Brooks Chevrolet in San Francisco, it's already too late.

"It's worse than getting as divorce," said Marie Brooks, from Ellis Brooks Chevrolet.

Last week, Marie Brooks announced 56 lay-offs from a staff of 65. Next month, she will stop selling General Motors for the first time since the mid-1950's.

California was only 10 percent of the market, so Detroit did not look at it being that important.
"Is Detroit saying that, now?" said ABC7's Wayne Freedman.
Oh, I think so."

They're practically shouting it at the auto show, with more hybrids, and slowly improving gas mileage. It seems that the days of style over substance are gone, but Americans cannot afford new cars every two years, anymore. According to Mrs. Brooks, the Big three's union contracts, became too big and prosperous for these leaner times.

"They need to open their union contracts, renegotiate, and live with costs that are comparable with what the foreign cars are costing to build," said Brooks.

So, in San Francisco this week a study in contrasts. Reality, in what used to be an automotive palace. And a slow transition to the future at the auto show.

"I did this to support the movement," said Lervold.

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