Concepts and Intros and Tech, Oh My!
New makes continue to fill the gaps left as high-end marques abandon the Los Angeles International Auto Show. Ferrari and Lamborghini left years ago, and Rolls Royce passed on the Show this year. But the West Hall at the Convention Center was still crammed with glistening sheet metal and plastic (and a few cars in the now-fashionable flat paint).
Euphoria? Well, Sorta
The theme that ran through the press conferences at this year’s Los Angeles International Auto Show (hereinafter referred to in the interest of brevity as the LA Auto Show) might be summed up by the title of an old show tune, “Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses.” To hear them tell it, all car companies are having trouble keeping up with demand.
Hurricane Sandy may have something to do with that, but in truth, cars are selling well. Most carmakers posted gains this year, many doing better than they have in years. So what are they doing to keep that trend going? In a word, “product.”
You’ll excuse me if I didn’t get all excited over a new Toyota RAV4 (although it still deserves a look in that class), but there were a few debuts that did catch my attention.
The Eyes! The Eyes! Audi started a trend with their LED running lights, but Acura takes it to a whole new level with LED headlights – lots of them! I don’t have the stats but a representative claims BMW 5-series dimensions outside with 7-series room inside. The inset shows they could be right.
“A New Breed of Cat!” That’s how Jaguar introduced the XK-E fifty-one years ago. They have not introduced a new sports car since. That oversight is remedied with the new XK-F (“F-Type,” if you’re British). Jaguar abandoned the E-type’s Le Mans-bred inline six years ago, and the new car sports a V6 and a couple of supercharged V8s. It also breaks with Jaguar tradition by not showing so much as a splinter of wood in the interior (inset). Nice stitching though.
The most competitive auto segment currently is in the heart of the market – family-size sedans. Since the introduction of the Hyundai Sonata here in January 2010 had me calling the competition “staid” by comparison, other carmakers have been racing to introduce prettier cars, with varying results. This new Mazda6 follows the trend to sleeker roof-lines and side sculpting. Tech stuff includes a turbo-diesel option and regenerative braking that stores kinetic energy in a capacitor instead of the battery.
In the US one still cannot underestimate the importance of big cars, either. Hugely important for General Motors is the new big Chevrolet, resurrecting the label “Impala.” Note that it also follows the trend to side sculpting.
I had a vested interest in attending the introduction of this car. I have a client who is overdue in replacing his current ride (the second I found for him) and we’ve been waiting for the revised Porsche Cayman. Based on the recently updated Boxster, with more power, I find it perhaps the best-looking car available, in an old-school kind of way. It’s available in April, from orders taken starting next week. This is the “S” model.
If the Cayman ($52,600 base, plus delivery) is a bit over your budget, $24,449 (including delivery) will buy you a stripper Ford Focus ST that only yields 23 horsepower to the German coupe, but trumps its 213 pound feet of torque by 57 – and it has a back seat! You don’t have to get the Tangerine Scream paint. It adds $495 to the sticker anyway.
Dodge discontinued building the brutal V-10 Viper last year. Chrysler then created a separate division, analogous to BMW’s M-division and Mercedes’ AMG, called SRT (from “Sport/Road/Track”) who designed a new one. To the relief of car nuts, civilizing the Viper did not kill its muscular character.
An Auto Show is a manufacturer’s opportunity to grab public attention, so they roll out a succession of concept cars that range from the ridiculous to the almost-ready-for-production.
Dodge Mopar concept looks like a cosmetic treatment until you raise the hood. They’ve shoehorned in a Viper 8.4 liter V-10. They claim all the parts are available through their eponymous aftermarket parts supplier.
Car guys Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno introduced the Acura NSX to Superbowl watchers last winter, and car nuts have been following development for years. So when does a concept finally become something people (rich people in this case) can buy? Stay tuned.
Rule of thumb: If a concept car appears without a “B” pillar (the one between the front and back seats) holding up the roof, you can be pretty sure you’ll never see a car in a showroom in that configuration. It’s about roll-over standards. Some form of this BMW i3 Coupe Concept will appear one day, but not like this.
Lexus continues its campaign to convince consumers that they don’t just make quiet, smooth-riding luxo-boats for the rich and aspirational. The latest attempt is the LF-CC, an aggressively-styled 2+2 Hybrid Coupe.
Honda envisions an electric sports car. The EV-Ster (Playing on Porsche’s “Boxster” name?) seems to be mainly a styling exercise, with body panels bleeding into the interior and a chartreuse driver’s seat.
The Big Omission
The big tech news from the LA Auto Show this year is the car that wasn’t there, the Tesla Model S. Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, and Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year, and if there is any justice, likely winner of the North American Car of the Year award at the Detroit Auto Show, was conspicuously absent from the LA Auto Show. This is especially egregious as this is where it should get it’s rightful crown – The Green Car of the Year Award. It wasn’t even nominated!
The LA Auto Show was awash in hybrids and electric cars. I drove an example of this Ford Focus Electric at the AltCar Expo, and it’s another modern car whose electric motivation is noticed primarily for the absence of noise and vibration. In other words, it drives like a car.
Instead of the all-electric Tesla Model S, the high-buck, high-tech end of the green car range was held by Fisker’s extended-range electric EVer. When the batteries run low, a GM-sourced four-cylinder gasoline-powered engine charges them. Interior features luscious leathers, reclaimed woods.
The exhibitors always come up with something new to catch your eye. It’s what keeps us coming back. Here are a couple highlights.
With little new to show, for their press introductions (not the public show) Lincoln opted to mine a vein of historical heritage. Harking back to the days of rumble seats and radiator mascots, this 1932 LeBaron Roadster’s 448 cubic inch engine alone weighed 1070 pounds.
Into the optimism of the Fifties, Lincoln introduced its most ambitious “personal” car. Virtually hand-built, these elegant coupes in 1956-1957 carried little of the chrome and styling excesses of the day, and they’re considered post-war classics.
There is one new car at the Lincoln exhibit, the MKZ. (Another “Z” car! What is it that makes that letter so tempting to marketing departments?) It’s a competent enough luxury car, with the singular distinction of being the only car I know of that comes with either hybrid or straight internal combustion power, without charging a premium for the higher-mileage of a hybrid. It’s difficult to imagine many people cross-shopping it against a comparably-priced Cadillac, except on the basis of gas mileage in the hybrid version.
Last of the Exotics
Aston Martin, Like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati no longer exhibits at the LA Auto Show. Aston Martin benefits though, from the support of Galpin Motors in Van Nuys, CA. Here they show a “Year of the Dragon” special edition of the Virage Coupe.
There are so many “ifs” – if the economy continues its steady but sluggish improvement – if the European financial instability can be reined in – if wages can reverse their steady decline – that it’s impossible to forecast what we’ll see here next year. I’m confident though that there will always be plenty of shiny, colorful, interesting cars to lure you in. Anyway there are this year. Come on down!