It’s no surprise that the Los Angeles Auto Show – open through Sunday – is one of the world’s biggest celebrations of the automobile. L.A. epitomizes Americans’ love of automobiles: home of the first freeway, the Pasadena/Harbor/110, opened in 1940, it’s estimated that about 12 million cars – out of 26 million registered – travel more than 300 million miles daily in the sprawling city.
The L.A. Auto Show is the first of the international auto show season, coming at the beginning of the model year. It offers an eclectic mix of efficiency and muscle with almost 50 World and North American model debuts. One Honda executive neatly summed up its vibe at the press briefing last week, “People want something more economical and environmentally sensitive, but people’s true wants and needs haven’t changed.” In other words, speed + luxury + efficiency + technology!
Speed+ Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler are staging the battle of the muscle cars.
Ford’s new Shelby GT500 has a 5.8-liter 650 hp engine while the Mustang 5.0-liter GT has 420 hp. Chevrolet unveiled a new 580hp Camaro ZL1 convertible. Chrysler is offering its 300 Sedan with a 540 hp Hemi V-8. Dodge goes back to the future with the Super Bee Charger and Yellow Jacket Challenger, both at 470 hp.
Foreign automakers fight back with the 560 hp V-8 BMW M5 that does zero-to-124 mph in 13 seconds. It also has a head-up display a driver reads directly on the windshield. Porsche’s redesigned 911 Carrera S does zero-to-60 in about 4 seconds on 350 hp. Jaguar’s new 550 hp V-8 convertible XKR-S will be available in the U.S. for $138k to only 25 lucky drivers. The 2011 Mastretta MXT from Tecnoidea, Mexico’s only automaker, only has 260 hp but at 2,900 lbs., goes zero-to-62 in 4.9 seconds.
Luxury+ Luxury alone isn’t enough to sell automobiles, but it helps.
Infiniti showed off its new seven-passenger JX crossover. Its wood-trimmed interior is nice, but its biggest selling point is a collision-intervention system that detects objects behind the SUV and brakes automatically if the driver, when backing up, doesn’t.
There is big buzz at the Cadillac display where the new XTS is billed as the place where “art and science converge.” Both front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions come only in V-6 versions with 300 hp. The draw is the new CUE – Cadillac User Experience – an infotainment system that operates sort of like an iPhone’s and, of course, syncs with smart-phones. It even vibrates your finger to indicate when a command registers.
Lincoln continues to attempt blending its luxury reputation with higher hipness appeal to younger buyers in upgraded versions of the MKS sedan and MKT crossover. They have more power and better mileage.
Efficiency+ New models from Ford, Mazda, Honda and Fiat are generating interest in L.A.
Ford’s 2013 Escape with both 1.6 and 2.0 liter EcoBoost engines is more spacious inside and has the MyFord Touch with voice, touchscreen or steering-wheel button controls. It will compete with the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover with Skyactiv engine boasting 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway, which Mazda says is the best in its class. Another competitor in this group is the restyled Honda CR-V with a more spacious interior that boasts an easy-to-flip-down rear bench seat. In this CR-V Honda finally offers in-cabin connectivity.
The Fiat 500 was a hit – the new 500 Abarth is a juiced-up model with a 160 hp engine, stiffer suspension, wider tires and performance design features. It’s targeted to Mini Cooper S buyers.
Notably absent from the L.A. show is the huge emphasis on electrics that was obvious at last year’s L.A., Detroit, NYC, Geneva and Frankfurt shows – not to mention our own Denver Auto Show. In many cases, EVs seem to have been folded into their makers’ lines as just another option. Even the “2012 Green Car of the Year” award went to the non-electric Honda Civic Natural Gas (can be powered by Colorado-grown compressed natural gas), instead of an electric.