The Cleveland Auto Show is a thing of dreams


Shreyas Banerjee/The Observer

Over 500 cars, including both modern and retro models, were displayed for car aficianados and amateurs alike at the Cleveland Auto Show.

Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

I know next to nothing about cars. Scratch that. I know absolutely nothing about cars. I couldn’t tell you what horsepower means. I can’t identify most car brands by their logo. I wouldn’t be able to identify the make and model of my own car. I don’t know the difference between a coupe and a sedan. I didn’t even know that hatchbacks existed at all as a distinct car category. All this is to say that I am in complete blissful automotive ignorance.

I’ve always justified my lack of knowledge about cars because of their very obvious negative effects on our society. Cars are, for better or worse, an essential part of American culture. While they epitomize our fixation with the idea of freedom, our obsession with them has had its consequences. Our entire infrastructure is built around our car culture, including cities like Cleveland. The fact that we have a highway running through our downtown, dividing us from the lakefront, is the consequence of decades of urban planning that has prioritized the almighty car above all other modes of transportation. Meanwhile, the public transportation systems in Cleveland and cities across the United States have continued to slowly decline due to perpetual underfunding and lack of maintenance. Bike lanes and other forms of infrastructure that prioritize non-car transport always face constant procedural hurdles while new highways are built through neighborhoods without second thought. Additionally, our continual dependence on cars also contributes to the ongoing climate crisis with their constant emissions.

Despite all my misgivings, I went to the Cleveland Auto Show earlier this week at the urging of some of my car-enthusiast friends. Held at the I-X Center near the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, with over 500 vehicles spread out over 1.2 million square feet of floor space, the event features the latest and greatest models from most of the major global car manufacturers, along with a selection of retro automobiles to gawk at. To be honest, my motivation to go to the show was not about the cars but rather because two former Cleveland Indians players, Carlos Baerga and Omar Vizquel, were signing autographs at the event. That may seem like a shallow reason to visit an auto show, but they were core anchors of our 1995 World Series lineup. A chance to get their autographs was hard to pass up.

However, coming out of the show I left without any signatures and images of cars playing in my head instead. I had been converted. My mind had been bewitched by the plethora of hot rods that entered my eyes. American capitalism had sunk its teeth into me and after leaving, I only had one thought: Cars are pretty freaking cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t understand a single thing about them. I also do not plan on becoming a gearhead who tunes into “Car Talk” regularly on NPR, watches Formula One racing and specs out my own dream models. But after seeing the sheer range of automobiles and how much care and attention goes into the design and manufacturing of each one, I have to say that I understand how people become enamored with cars.

The show itself was a sight to see, with row after row of cars lined up next to each other throughout the massive space. Though the event is not as big as it once was, it was still impressive. The sheer variety of models was something that I did not know was possible—but that speaks again more to my ignorance than anything else. However, I now understand why there are so many terms used to describe different types of cars. Walking around the convention center with some of my enthusiast friends, I could see they were rather excited about quite a number of new car innovations that were starting to show up in commercial models. There seemed to be a huge push for electric vehicles especially, with each automaker showing off their latest Tesla-killer. Notably, Tesla was not present at the event, but that wasn’t a surprise. These new EVs, being freed from a front-placed engine, seemed to have a newer and sleeker design language that captures today’s popular digital aesthetic. While some car traditionalists did not seem happy about it, I thought they all looked cool. 

Beyond the latest cars being produced, the show also featured a number of classic and luxury cars, including Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins and the like. They all looked nice and I appreciated the amount of detail put into every component of the vehicle—they certainly seemed more comfortable than my own vehicle, but they also cost millions of dollars, so I guess that makes sense. I don’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to expand further on why some of the cars were special and others were lacking, but needless to say there was much to explore and it all seemed pretty neat. Beyond that they also had some novelty cars, such as a reproduction of the Mystery Machine from “Scooby Doo” and a Volkswagen Beetle tricked out to resemble Bumblebee from the “Transformers” franchise. This was one part of the show I was able to more fully appreciate due to its pop culture appeal, but apparently they were also well-made vehicles.

Along with the vehicles, there were a number of attractions including simulated racetracks, green screen photo booths for posing with cars, a puppy show and an area for trucks to drive around in and show off their ruggedness. In years past there was apparently also a Ferris wheel, but that was missing this year—much to my disappointment. And of course there were the baseball player autographs, with various other Cleveland sports icons making appearances in the future. However, by the time I made my way towards the signing area, the line was trailing through an entire room of the massive complex. Looking at the mob of baseball fans I am usually a part of, I realized that I was okay with not joining them today. I was more than content just looking at pretty cars—a fact that would have shocked me just an hour previously.

While walking out, one of my friends asked me if I had a dream car. I still didn’t know enough about cars to identify a single model, but for the first time in my life, an image popped into my head. Despite being perhaps the most ignorant man alive regarding cars, the Cleveland Auto Show managed to make me fantasize for just a second about a perfect gear shift, a beautiful trim, comfortable leather seats and smooth handling. Now that says something.

The Cleveland Auto show is running until Sunday, March 5 at the I-X Center, with tickets costing $15. Check it out for car dreams of your own.