Automakers focusing on driving experience and social awareness at State Fair of Texas

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The State Fair of Texas is a prime event for unveiling new truck lines, like the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison being introduced by Chevy executive Sandor Piszar on Media Day at the Texas Auto Show. (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer

The State Fair of Texas is underway, and since 1913 one of the biggest draws is the Texas Auto Show. Manufacturers from all over the world descend on Dallas for the event as the Texas market is pivotal for the product.

While Marcus Umlauff, Toyota’s general manager of product planning and strategy, did take a moment to highlight the Corolla’s being named “Compact Car of the Year” at the Texas Auto Roundup; trucks and SUVs are the stars of the show at the State Fair of Texas.

For obvious reasons, customers in the Lone Star State play a larger-than-normal role in the direction of this particular segment of the auto industry.

Ford’s SUV marketing manager, Craig Patterson, illustrated the impact succinctly.

“Twenty-five percent of all Expeditions sold in the U.S. are sold in Texas,” Patterson said. “The next two states aren’t even close.”

Neil Dunlop, a PR manager for Kia Motors, introduces the Bespoke Telluride, which was designed in collaboration with Texas designer Brandon Maxwell and is expected to hit the market in 2020. (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

All automakers do their best to cater to the Texas market. As one example, Kia Motors unveiled a new Bespoke Telluride model created in collaboration with Texas-born fashion designer Brandon Maxwell that features leather accents — including hood straps — and other homages to the Lone Star State in its aesthetics. The vehicle made its debut on the fashion runway and is expected to be available in 2020.

But while top speed and trimmings were the talk of the town in the first Texas Auto, the big selling points for the 2019 models are tech improvements and social responsibility.

One by one, auto executives described the dashboards of pickup trucks in terms usually reserved for laptops. Digital apps and Wi-Fi hotspots are being built into the cabs of trucks normally touted for their off-road durability and agricultural applications.

But environmental consciousness and social responsibility are also big elements of the sales pitches for the new year.

“Everything that’s bigger is better in Texas,” said Jim Morrison, head of Ram brand for FCA-North America, touting the cargo capacity of his pickup trucks. But he then went on to announce improvements in gas mileage with tweaks in engine design.

Along those lines, Chrysler’s Maryann Capo, senior manager of product management for the Pacifica SUV line, highlighted the Pacifica Hybrid’s 30-mile all-electric range, for an 82 mpg equivalency, during her time with the media, throwing in the incidental economic advantages as well.

“There’s a federal tax credit of $7,500,” Capo reminded reporters. “You guys in Texas have a state tax credit of $2,500.”

Toyota, Chevrolet, and Nissan are making big pitches for their civic involvement along with their vehicle lines, seeing this as a big draw for pickup owners. Chevy’s Truck Marketing Director Sandor Piszar noted customer surveys suggesting 89 percent of their truck owners use their vehicles to help others.

Both the technical and cultural aspects of the automotive industry are on full display at the Texas Auto Show, running with the State Fair of Texas, through Oct. 28 at Fair Park in Dallas.