Can a car show have a conscience?
Can all the buzzing around the breed of new little hivelike cars with (relatively) good gas mileage make up for the overall and inescapable gestalt of this event, the 2007 Philadelphia International Auto Show, which is that, for better or worse, Americans still have got it awfully bad for their cars and trucks?
Little glimpses of troubled consciences popped up at the Convention Center this week, as when Juan Perez, 49, took time out from posing with the cardboard cutout of the Mercury girl (the actual model will be in attendance this weekend) to consider the global picture.
"I don't see why they're still making these big cars," he said, after his wife snapped a picture on her cell phone. "What if every Chinese person would get two cars? We are only 25 percent of the population. That's something to think about."
Or maybe not.
"I don't believe in the global warming," said Jim Fawcett of Wilmington, at the wheel of a V-8 Toyota Sequoia, which would actually get slightly better gas mileage than the AstroVan he currently drives (14 m.p.g.). "It's millions of years of cycles."
Indeed, see the crowds come in from the arctic air to drool over the new-concept Camaro, not due out until 2009.
See people line up for free e-photos behind the wheel of a red Corvette, perfect for posting on their match.com Web sites.
See them run their hands seductively over the fender of a big Toyota . . . wait, that's a little white Toyota Hybrid they are cozying up to, with some jaw-dropping gas-mileage specs, back there behind the Tundras, over by the men's room.
And there, watch people try to squeeze themselves into the backseat of the new little "B-class" cars, to fit into a Fit as it were.
The question at hand: Is it possible to fall in love with a Honda Fit if you've been holding a torch for a Tundra all these years?
Is it possible to embrace this sensible kind of love, that low-to-the-ground kind of feeling, after years with the big, voluptuous lug of your SUV, the demanding type that requires constant refueling and shelling out of big bucks?
"She's been driving a Ford Explorer since 1998," said Jay Kravitz, eyeing the new small-size Volvo for his wife. "We're looking at a station wagon or a hybrid. I think the SUVs have had it."
Lots of folks were trying, really trying, to gin up a crush on a little fuel-efficient car, an easier thing to do maybe in the Scion room, what with their on-site DJs spinning Mary J. Blige.
"I'm 6 feet, 300 pounds," said Alan Appel, snug behind the wheel of a Nissan Murano, a relatively small SUV, his lanky 6-foot-2, 170-pound pal also comfy in the passenger seat. "There's plenty of room."
George Wachub, owner of a VW Touareg SUV that gets an "obscene" 15 to 16 m.p.g., hovered around the Toyota Prius Hybrid, with its whopping 60-m.p.g.-in-the-city specs. He allowed that he was considering the hybrid "as a second car" while keeping the SUV.
"I think eventually the automakers will give us both - a larger car that is fuel-efficient," said Ralph Aavik of West Chester.
For Marvin Solomon, 44, of West Oak Lane, his 6-foot-5 frame happily perched behind the wheel of a black GMC Denali, things were pretty clear. "We're some big guys," he said. "We need bigger cars."
The show offered other guilty pleasures, such as looking at Gwen Stefani's yellow Chevy Tahoe, as seen in her video "The Sweet Escape," and a Hummer owned by recently married prankster Bam Margera.
And you could always line up and watch others get allowed behind the ropes of the Bentley-Aston Martin-Maserati-Lamborghini section and wonder why that rich Main Liney kind of guy with the silk hankie never bothered to get behind the wheel of that Bentley with the $329,990 base price, and seemed content just to try out the backseat.