Take a ‘green’ drive in the basement
The basement of the Cobo Center has been reserved for Chinese automakers in recent years, but thanks to the state of the U.S. economy and slumping auto sales, cancellations by other automakers for the 2009 auto show have left a fair amount of space to be filled.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) came up with a novel idea to fill the room – creating a park (pictured above) to test drive ‘green’ hybrid vehicles.
The EcoXperience, as the MEDC has dubbed the space-filling maneuver, is an elaborately designed indoor park, with real trees and flowers, including tulips of different hues, fountains and running water – so much so that workers were repairing a leak from one of the fountains – and a paved road for testing hybrid vehicles. The smell of pine, wood chips and earth fills the air, a tranquil if somewhat surreal setup in the basement of a cavernous, concrete building like the Cobo.
There are a number of hybrid vehicles to test drive – including the Chevy Equinox, the GMC Sierra, Buick Escalade, Chevy Tahoe, or Saturn Vue – after you have signed a waiver absolving the organizers of your death in a car accident. Oh, and you have to take a breath test to make sure you haven’t been drinking heavily before you take a turn in the park.
Once out on the track, the top speed is a dizzying 7 miles per hour.
I tried the Saturn Vue, a very quiet vehicle that can apparently run on an electric battery up to a speed of 30 miles per hour. But as my guide explained – off the record as none of the guides could be quoted by name – the car’s battery was low because so many people had taken the Vue for a high-speed spin.
And the park itself?
“Because some automakers pulled out and the ones who had been booked for the basement got to move upstairs, they had to do something with the space,” the unnamed guide said. “The park certainly takes up a lot of space.”