Los Angeles Auto Show – December 2009

There is no question that the Detroit Show in January is still seen as the premier event of its type in the USA, and most manufacturers ensure that they have significant new product to launch at the show. However, there is a second tier of US Auto Shows, in the major cities of that country, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, which also usually see the unveiling of new production and concept vehicles. A few years ago, the decision was taken to move the Los Angeles to be between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, in the hope that there would indeed be some new cars to attract a bigger crowd both of manufacturers and show-goers. The policy did sort of work, until the recent downturn in fortunes of the automotive industry, meaning that in 2009 even Detroit was quite a low-key event. I spent a whole day at the Los Angeles show, managing to attend on a weekday, and the event was pretty quiet. This was good for me, as it meant that you could get a good look at, and even could sit in cars that were it busier would have been crowded out. There were few world unveilings, but there were some, and many of the concept cars that had appeared at other shows around the world in the past few months were staging another appearance. That meant there was plenty to keep me interested for the 10 hours that I was at the event. A few manufacturers were not present, but most were, so here is a stand-by-stand report of what I saw.


Pride of place on this stand went to the new ZDX. I had a long chat with one of the stand representatives about this controversially styled cross-over. I asked what the general reaction was, and she said that opinions were indeed mixed, but most people had actually declared that they liked it. I suspect some of them were being polite! The biggest shock I had was in trying to get into the back of it. The rear roofline slope so steeply that you cannot – even when you are only my height – enter the rear seats like you would in any more normal car. You have to duck very significantly to clear the very low door top. Once inside, there is a bearable amount of headroom – certainly no worse than in an Insginia. Will the thing sell? The Acura lady said that they were not expecting it to be a volume seller, but it just might appeal to a minority who want something different.

The entire range has been hit with the ugly stick, with that very distinctive front grille evident on all models. This is the RL (Legend to Europeans) from its better side.
The more exotic brands were largely conspicuous by their absence at this year’s show (no Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati or Bentley), but there were Astons, thanks to a local dealer. A good collection of the current coupe and cabriolet models were on the stand, all parked far too close to the barriers for decent photos!

As seems to be the case at most Motor Shows outside the UK, I would say that this was the busiest stand of the whole show, with constant surges of people coming to look at the latest Audi cars. The e-Tron concept, heavily based on the R8, staged another appearance, though it had been repainted in an orange hue, which was definitely different from the red in which it was presented at Frankfurt.

Most of the other cars on the stand were in either white, or brilliant red. Both R8 cars were red. There was a spider and a V10 example of the coupe. The cars were not roped off, and the security minder had more or less a full time job in resetting the alarm on the spider as people fiddled with this open topped car. A surprising number of people seemed to feel the need to poke at the distinctive fuel cap, too.
Among the production cars, the latest S4 and S6 were among the display, and these cars really are wonderfully discrete. They are also surprisingly cheap in the US, with sticker prices in dollars roughly the same as they are marked at in UK pounds!
Although we think of the Q7 as something of a behemoth in Europe, in the US it does not appear that gargantuan. The Q5 looks almost dainty in comparison.
No sign of the new 5 Series saloon, but still plenty of interest on BMW’s stand, which just happened to be adjacent to their arch rivals from Ingolstadt. The Vision Dynamics concept car was making another appearance, and was attracting plenty of interest.

Of more interest to everyone seemed to the 5 Series GT, presented in 550i format. All the interest was in people playing with the different ways of opening the boot, which seemed to amuse many a show-goer who ended up playing with it relentlessly and declaring this to be “so cool”. I did get the chance to sit in this car – it having proved impossible at Frankfurt – and the interior is very nicely done indeed.
There was a 760i on one corner of the stand. Not sure that the black grille best suited it, but otherwise, not a bad looking car, and quite discrete when you consider just how potent it is.
Potent is also the word for the X6M, which was hiding almost unloved at the back of the stand. Next to an M3, it stood no chance of generating much interest.
BMW also had a Hybrid 7 and X6 on the stand.
The 2011 model Regal was making its first US appearance. This car will look very familiar to Europeans, as it is indeed little more than an Insignia with a different grille and some Buick touches to the styling and badging. It would seem that it will be offered in the US only as a 4 door saloon only. More of a debate is whether the proposed 4 cylinder engines will be deemed appropriate enough for an American market.

The LaCrosse model was refreshed for 2010, and although it went on sale in the summer, I have yet to see one on the roads. I was particularly interested to see the interior of this car, as my rental car at the moment is a 2009 model. Vastly different and rather less “old man’s Buick” would be the simple summary.
The Lucerne is the saloon offering that is still aimed at the traditional (elderly) Buick buyer. I drove one of these a couple of years ago, and it makes for a serene cruiser, and with the V8 engine, it can actually show a decent turn of speed.
Final model in the Buick range is the Enclave, a well received Crossover vehicle.
The new models here are the CTS Wagon and Coupe. Both have been shown before, but are now a production reality.

Not (yet) for production is the Converj Coupe concept which was making another appearance.
A vast stand area for Chevrolet, as you might expect. Surprisingly, the Volt was tucked away at the back, and although there were choreographed performances going on from time to time, it was not being promoted as hard as you would expect, for an innovative car that is now less than 12 months away from production.

The new Camaro is out on the streets of America, and does look fantastic, to my mind. There were several on the stand, including the special Jay Leno twin turbo car.
Making it production debut, in US form, is the Cruze, a car that has now been on sale in other markets for most of 2009, and so is gradually becoming more familiar to us all.
The Equinox was refreshed for the 2010 model year with a brand new design, and again, one glance at the interior of this shows evidence of considerable progress in design and quality over the outgoing model.
Plenty of the more familiar cars were also on the stand.
With Ford’s announcement of the end of Crown Vic production, there has been some debate about future police cars for the US. Chevy presented their proposed Caprice, based on the Holden Commodore.
Chevrolet’s trucks were also on the stand, with Silverado and Avalanche well represented.
Nothing new here, unless you count a new, non-ribbed bonnet on the Sebring. Making what could be among their last show appearances were the 300C (a new model may appear at Detroit) and the PT Cruiser, a car that survived the death sentence in the summer to live on for another year.

Nothing new here, either, unless you count a slightly less horrid interior for the Caliber.

The Challenger is now starting to become evident on the street. A good looking car, but with a very low-rent interior in my opinion, and a view I heard echoed by almost everyone that was anywhere near it.
There was a special display area for the Viper, a car which will cease production during 2010, with several different examples on show.
A couple of examples of the Fisker Karma were on their stand: coupe and saloon. These are elegant, but very expensive hybrids.

The Ford Motor Company had a vast stand area, with Mercury and Lincoln products tucked in the middle, and Ford badged offerings making up most of the display vehicles. One of the few completely new models at the show was the US version of the Fiesta. This will be sold as a 2011 model year car, and will be offered in 5 door hatchback and rather ungainly 4 door saloon. The front of the hatch is different in detail to the European cars, but much has been carried over, including some of the rather more vibrant colours. I only heard positive comments about this car, and even the Squeeze, Magenta and Blaze Yellow paintwork.

Also new was the 2011 Mustang, which offers a new and much more powerful (and marginally more economical) V6 engine compared with the 2010 models. There were examples of both model years on display.
The Fusion Hybrid was voted Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year 2010”. and Ford missed no opportunity to inform and remind everyone of this. I am still not convinced by the facelift that came with the 2010 models, but the car is selling very strongly, and is currently Ford’s best selling car.
The new Taurus recently went on sale. I’ve not seen them on the road yet, but this huge car looks good, and is well finished inside. A far cry from the horrors that used to bear this badging a few years ago.
The Flex, on the other hand, is starting to appear in significant numbers. I really rather like this design. Yes, it’s big, but it is well thought out. Must try one. Hertz have a load of them on fleet now.
The Edge has been around for a few years now, but is still a good looking car, and allegedly drives well.
The Terrain is the latest offering, based on the new Equinox, but with some very boxy styling. Hmm!

GMC concentrates on the larger offerings of SUV and pickup, and a full complement of these were on their stand.
The P-Nut was one of the few concept cars that had not been seen before.

New production offering is the Accord Crosstour. I am not a fan of the awkward styling but there is no denying that there is plenty of room in it, and it appears very well finished.
The CRV has had a light facelift, but the new grille does little to make it look any better.
All the other current production models were on show.
Another outing for the FCX-Clarity, Honda’s hydrogen car that is undergoing controlled trials with a limited number of users in the State.
Another of the few launches was the 2011 Sonata. This fastback design is actually a booted sedan, and will be sold only with a 4 cylinder engine, which may give Hyundai some perception challenges in the market. The grille does not do it for me, but the rest of the car is smart, and the interior is yet another step up from the outgoing car.

The Genesis is available in sedan and coupe form, and was attracting much interest on the stand.
Also brand new is the 2011 Tucson, the US version of the ix35. I was not that taken with the looks of this at Frankfurt, but it seemed more convincing here.
Plenty of the established cars were also on the stand.
The new XJ was on the stand here, both in standard and long wheelbase forms. The cars were locked, so you could only admire the stunning quality of the interior through the windows. Worryingly, few people seemed to be paying it much attention.

There were also examples of the much lauded XF and XK on the stand.
Nothing new here. A replacement for the Grand Cherokee was previewed earlier in the year, but it was the current model that was on the stand, along with examples of all the other familiar models

Sole item of interest was this concept offering.
No sign of the new Cadenza on this stand. All the attention and interest was focused on the new Forte. The sedan is a neat and well proportioned car which has done well in the recent reviews, but it is the Koup variant that was getting all the crowds. Seemingly particularly popular among the younger driver attendees, this is a very neatly styled car and only really has the Civic Coupe as a market rival.

The Soul has only just gone on sale in the US and there were a couple of production models on the stand.
The Rio appeared to have received a light retouch with new grille and lights, so perhaps a completely new model is further away than I thought.
There were lots of the new Sorento on the stand. The rear windows are a different shape to the European cars, and I feel look better. The interior is very smart and this car will doubtless do well when it goes on sale in the US in February.
Struggling to sell is the larger Borrego, which has been out for over a year, and I have never seen one on the road.
The Magentis is a neat looking car that received the Schreyer grille treatment a year ago. Doeyn of the rental fleets, still, but representing solid value for money.
Examples of each model from Land-Rover were on the stand. This Range-Rover is the uber-model Autobiography version.

Star attraction was the LF-A. Stunning to look at, as I expected. Very much a halo car for the brand.

Far from stunning to look at, in my opinion is the LF-Ch concept which was staging another appearance, following its premiere at Frankfurt. Not for me, this one.
The production HS250h was on the stand, and was being ignored by everyone whenever I was on the stand.

New production car for 2010 – though you might struggle to spot the difference – is the GX460, a very close relative of the new Toyota LandCruiser just launched in Europe.
Lexus has an extensive range of product in the US, and there were representatives of each different model. Only one of them attracted the attention of my camera, though.
With the Town Car banished to fleet sales only, the transformation of Lincoln to something more modern is now complete.

The MKS was first shown nearly 2 years ago, but remains a very rare sighting on the road, and does not seem to have penetrated the rental fleets at all.

New for 2010 is the MKT, which is based on the Ford Flex, and is simply cavernous inside.
The MKZ received a rather unfortunate facelift for 2009, with much brasher grille detracting from the previously rather clean looking car.
MKX, a close relative of the Ford Edge
The C-Concept that I saw in Chicago back in February was making another appearance.
Examples of each model from the current range were on the stand, with a couple of Evora models.

Zoom zoom zoom! Show debut for the Mazda 2, which will come to the US in mid 2010.

Plenty of examples of the latest 3, including the MPS.
I rather like the US version of the 6. Sold only as a saloon, this is different from the European cars.
Sports cars were represented by the MX5 and RX8.
My favourite Japanese brand these days.

Highlight for me was the utterly droolsome SLS AMG.

Mercedes were making much of their environmental program, and there was an area of the stand with the ML Class Hybrid, the S400 Hybrid and a fuel cell version of the current B Class.
The new E Class is now a familiar sight, and there were saloon and coupe models on the stand.
Other well established models included the GL Class.
No sign of the Grand Marquis, which is now available only to fleet customers, and with no Mercury replacement for the Sable, the range is down to just three cars: Milan, Mariner and Mountaineer. There were several examples of the former two, and a lone bright blue close relative of the Ford Explorer.

The 2 concept cars that were shown at Frankfurt featured on this stand, and were being very well received, judging by the comments I heard.

A representative selection of the current production models comprised the rest of the stand, part of which was adorned by London-esque material, such as a traditional red phone box.
This marque has been struggling in the US for some time, but it is not for want of trying. The 2010 Outlander. with its new corporate snout on it was there.

Also on show was a concept, the px-IEV, that is widely tipped to be indicative of the next generation Outlander.
The i was also on show. I just cannot see this succeeding in the US, as it is so small, At least it is a talking point.
The Galant is one of those cars which is perfectly competent, but ultimately just rather forgettable. Here is the latest model.
An example of the latest limited production model the AeroSports. Fabulous!

Saving their pennies, they were not at the show.


As in previous years, Porsche had a whole hall to themselves. On the way in, there is an example of the 718 RS Spyder that competed so successfully in the early 1960s. Beautiful!

This was my first chance to get inside a Panamera, and I have to say that it fitted me just perfectly. The (German) stand representative encouraged me to go to the dealer to drive one. Something I must do! Other examples were included in the displays around the perimeter of the hall, representing the current range.
The new Boxster Spyder is an odd looking car, especially with the tent like roof on it. Definitely a car for sunny climes, this one!
The 911 GT3RS was very popular, and who can wonder why.
A three car stand, with examples of the Phantom, Phantom Drophead and the new Ghost. This last was making its US debut.

A new 9.5 was the highlight here. Let’s hope that the continued uncertainty of the Swedish marque’s destiny gets resolved and they can get these into dealers and onto the streets.

The aberrations of the Saabaru (9.2X) and the rebadged Trailblazer (9.7X) now consgined to history, the rest of the range is simply the familiar 9.3, and there were several of these on the stand.
What can I say? Other than to apologise for the poor focusing on one of the pictures!

Yet again, Scion had their “racking” based stand, and example of all three models in their range on the ground for closer inspection. There was nothing new.

A large stand for this small Dutch maker, with 4 cars to see.

This hybrid concept car was something new. They were saying that the technology will go into a yet to be specified production car in 2012.

The rest of the stand was covered in the now universally hideous products of this once lovable Japanese marque, with the latest Legacy and Outback generating some interest. But not from me.
The new Kizashi was the most important car on this stand, and there were several to inspect. This mid-sized saloon, not currently scheduled for sale in Europe, has been well received

The new Sienna appeared here, although the stand examples were all marked “concept”. Visually similar to the outgoing model, with harder edges and the latest thinking on lights, just like all other new Toyota offerings of the past couple of years, I have to say that I think it is not a looker. The inside looks great for the second row passengers, who get fully reclinable seating.

The latest 4Runner was launched in the late summer, and is also a squared off version of the previous car. Also not to my taste.
The rest of the display comprised familiar vehicles from across the range.
The Up-lite concept was the only previously unseen item here, and it was roped off in such a way that it was hard to get decent pictures. Looks quite interesting.

Among the production cars, much was being made of the TDi engines and how clean they are. There were no new models.

Yet another outing for the S60 Concept car. I am looking forward to seeing the production version, a couple of official photos of which were revealed recently.

Centre stage on the stand was the XC60 R-design model. Very striking in bright red.
Facelifted C30 and C70s were on the front of the stand, and remain a visual un-improvement in my opinion.
As I cope with the usual show-goers tired feet, I have to conclude that whilst the 2009 Los Angeles show will not be remembered as being a Great Show, there is clear evidence that despite the troubles of the past year, the automotive industry has not given up. We will continue to see innovation – maybe on an unprecedented scale in the areas of efficiency and new motive power technology – and standards will continue to rise. For the enthusiast, as an augury, that can but be auspicious.
2009-12-06 15:57:30

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