Los Angeles Auto Show – November 2010

Although the North American International Auto Show held in January every year remains the Number One show in America, it has its challenges, not the least of which is the brutal climate which afflicts Michigan in the winter. Although a storm system was just arriving in Southern California in time for the opening to the public of the Los Angeles Show, this one has much to commend it. The show is on the doorstep of a a much larger population, in a holiday area, and it is now sufficiently distant from the Detroit Show that many manufacturers do make international and domestic product launches at the event. All the publicity suggested that the 2010 Show was going to be a good one, and having spent a whole day at the event, I can but agree. Here is a summary of what I saw, and what I thought about some of those products.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Actually, my contempt for Acura’ latest styling started when they ruined what were a range of good looking cars with their over-stylised front grille treatments and odd shapes. Even Acura must be wondering if they have overdone things, as the script that accompanied the mildly facelifted TSX referred to a softening of the front grille.

This was the first time that the TSX wagon had been seen in the US. It is of course very similar to the European Honda Accord.
Other cars from the range included the RL, the truly revolting looking TL, the MDX and RDX crossovers and the simply laughable ZDX, a car which I have never seen on the road, even though it has been on sale for quite a while. This is a four door car with headroom only for the front seat passengers. Utterly pointless.
A confident presence from Aston Martin, with examples of the current range including the supremely elegant Rapide, the V12 Vantage, DB9 and DBS cars

If there are a prize for the car that was most mauled and fingered, it would definitely go to this R8 GT. It seemed that everyone want to touch it, and I felt rather sorry for the person whose job was to keep wiping it down!

There were a couple of “regular” R8 models on the stand as well.
This was the first US showing of the new A7 model, a car which appeals to me very much (though I would prefer to wait for the forthcoming S7 model!).
Other Audis on the stand included the latest A8, the S4, S5, S5 cabrio and a TT-S Roadster. This was a busy stand at all times.
Not present.


For some reason, the new 650i Convertible launch was pulled at the last minute, so the car was not on show. The Concept version of the Coupe was there, and it was far better lit than when it appeared at Paris. This is a very elegant car indeed.

That is not a word that you would use to describe the X6M which was lurking in the back corner.
Efficient Dynamics is less of a theme for BMW USA than it is in Europe, but there were examples of the Active Hybrid cars, both as X6 and 7 series on show.
There were a couple of the new F10 5 series, both in 550i format, which is one of the most popular versions in the US market. The US does not get the new Touring, but it does get the GT and there was one of those as well.
Other cars included a 1 series coupe, an Alpina version of the 7 series, the latest X3 and facelifted X5 and a racing 3 series.
The Regal, a close relative of the European Insignia, has recently gone on sale, and there were several examples of this on show, including the GS, which many had hoped would be based on the Insiginia VXR, and were disappointed to find that it has “only” got a 2.0 turbo.

The LaCrosse was new last year, but the eAssist version premiered here, complete with a separate display showing how the hybrid technology works.
No sign of the full-sized Lucerne, but the Enclave was on show at the back of the stand.
The Urban Luxury Concept took star billing here. There was a lively discussion going on when I arrived at the stand about the practicality of the doors, which when fully open require a height clearance of well over 7 feet, but otherwise, this was an interesting looking vehicle, most definitely a Cadillac in its looks, thanks to the characteristic styling approach. Will they build it? Cadillac were not saying.

The CTS Coupe and Wagon are now both in production.
Although the European motoring press are far from convinced, the Americans love the “V” products, believing them to be superior to the BMW M5 and E63 AMG Mercedes. Statically, I am far from convinced, and I suspect that driving them would only reinforce that conclusion. Different tastes for different markets.
Although the production version of the Volt was getting the most publicity, it was the Camaro Convertible that I really wanted to see. I was a big fan of the coupe model that I drove early in the year, and I think that the removal of the roof makes the car look, if anything, even better. First sighting came from a model parked up outside under a Hot Wheels banner. Indoors, there was another one at the bottom of a giant Hot Wheels track, and a further car on a turntable. I look forward to the arrival of these in the rental fleets in 2011, and will be sure to get hold of one.

The Coupe versions of the Camaro were proving very popular, too, with three cars on show. With this car often outselling the Mustang, Chevrolet must be pleased they took the decision to build it.
Much more significant, of course, is the Volt, which goes on sale in a matter of weeks. This car is currently, and not unexpectedly, picking up awards from all the magazines, and will I am sure enjoy a lot of success. It will be interesting to see how much of that comes at the expense of the Prius.
The mid-sized Cruze has finally gone on sale in the US, many months after this World Car, hit other markets around the world.
There were plenty of familiar models, ranging from the Malibu to the more recent Equinox.
The proverbial saying is that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but Chrysler have certainly tried with the 200, a heavily facelifted version of the much derided Sebring. The new front and back look better and the interior is a revelation to what went before. Full marks for effort given the constraints that this is not (yet) an all new car.

This was probably the last show for the long serving 300C, as a replacement is scheduled to be unveiled on 23rd December.
Two brand new models on the Dodge stand, and significant revisions to almost all the others. Most impressive new car was the latest Charger. I always liked the looks of the outgoing one, and when I sampled a middle of the range model in Colorado in September, found it was quite nice to drive, so I was pleased to see that the latest car has retained the good looks, has a new engine and, most importantly a much higher quality interior. It should be a great offering in the full-size family car market now.

The Durango is also all new, and this looked far better than the old model of the same name which slipped away a couple of years ago. Also fitted with a quality interior, this model is smaller than its predecessor, but that is probably no bad thing, as that was just massive.
Dodge have announced a minor external facelift and a complete revamp of the interiors to their Avenger, Journey and Grand Caravan ranges, and the transformations are impressive. Gone is the low rent feeling, replaced with something which is at least as good as the best that Ford and GM can offer. Finally.
Old school Dodge is still present in the Caliber and this rather garish Nitro. Neither of these models is believed to have a long production life ahead of them.
The Challenger has also been updated, with the new 3,6 litre engine replacing the rather limp thing which afflicted the one I drove earlier in the year. There are changes higher up the range, too, as this 392 model showcased.
It goes without saying that I was particularly keen to visit this stand, to see what changes have been made to the 500 in readiness for its US launch, and also to hear people’s reaction to the car. Three examples of the current model were joined by a lovely Nuova 500, which was also attracting a lot of attention.

The US spec cars are subtly different from the European ones. Most obvious changes include the insertion of reflectors in the lower wheel arch surrounds, and changes to the lights. The bumpers are also slightly reprofiled. Inside, the dash has been altered so that there is a glovebox instead of the shelf, and the electric window switches are different. The seats have been changed, too, and are that bit larger for, if I dare say it, the larger-sized average American build. American models have their own unique colour palette too.There was always a hive of activity around the cars, and almost all of the comments I heard were positive, so it will be interesting to see how well the car sells.
I did get cornered by someone doing Market Research – they were on quite a lot of the stands – and after the questions about whether you worked in the trade, the next one was whether you owned a Fiat, and – accepting for simplicity of discussion that Abarth is Fiat (which is not, if you are being strictly accurate!), he was quite surprised. When I then gave an alphanumeric zip code, he understood that I was not local.

The rather elegant Karma was making another appearance. Whilst I was queued up outside the Convention Centre, I did see one out on the “road”, which had clearly been out for some sort of demonstration, but which was being loaded up into a covered trailer. The Karma is battery powered, with a small petrol motor which is used to help to regenerate the batteries. Even though we are all now used to seeing Prius and other Hybrids that make no noise when running on their batteries, it was quite an odd sensation to see this thing move off and hear nothing.

Ford had a huge stand area, and there was a lot to see. Highlight was the new Focus, which is now weeks away from going on sale. I spent quite a long time chatting to one of the stand staff, whilst she demonstrated the Sync capabilities for Audio, Sat Nav etc, which work from any of wheel and dash mounted controls, the touch screen or voice recognition. The interior of this car is leagues ahead of the current model Focus which had conveyed me to the show, but I note that the prices will be somewhat higher. Initially, there will be one engine available, a 2.0 litre 160 bhp 4 cylinder. The EcoBoost engine follows later and the ST will also arrive for 2012. There were a good mix of hatchback and sedan models on display, along with an ST, whose front end styling I still cannot like.

Second all new offering is the Explorer. I am no fan of the outgoing model, but this one looks so much better. It appears more car like, and may well trample a bit on the Flex’s sales, but with improved quality, and doubtless far better dynamics, I suspect it will do very well.
The US versions of the Fiesta went on sale a few weeks ago, and already I have started to see them out on the streets. My rather unscientific survey suggests that the saloon is outselling the hatch, but not by much, and there were examples of both on the stand.
The trademark lime green colour of the Fiesta had made its way on to the long running Escape, which soldiers on for another year before a version of the Kuga arrives in the US to replace it.
The Flex has not been the big success for Ford that was hoped for. To help matters, new variants on show here included the upscale Titanium level trim, and a model fitted with the much vaunted Ecoboost engine.
The Edge crossover underwent a mild facelift earlier in the year. I am not convinced by the new grille, and this was my first chance to see if in the flesh to see if I could change my opinion. l could not.
Mustang news was that the Boss is Back. A limited number of these cars will be built in 2011/12.
Other production Fords included the highly regarded Fusion, the latest Taurus and a lone showing for an Expedition.
The F150 truck is still selling the best selling vehicle in America, and there were plenty of these on the stand.
In case that was not big enough, there was this F350 and an ambulance based on the F450.
The Transit Connect has been on sale for a couple of years and has sold quite well, despite its diminutive proportions. New is the Family oriented model, with windows and rear seats.
As one of the four remaining GM brands, GMC assumes a greater significance than perhaps used to be the case, and consequently had quite a large stand area. Highlight was the Granite Concept, which was tucked away at the back of the stand. Looked quite neat.

The Terrain was launched a year ago, during which time I have got used to its very boxy styling.
Other models included the Acadia and Yukon, available in a wide variety of different trim levels and with all sorts of options.
Following the Paris Show launch of the Jazz Hybrid, Honda had another variant of their small hatchback on show. Still only a concept, this is the EV version of the US market Fit, a car which takes advantage of eco technologies from the rest of Honda’s range and applies the latest thinking.

Honda also had a full range of their other environmentally friendly offerings, from the Insight and CR-Z to the CNG fuelled Civic and the hydrogen fuelled Clarity.
The Accord recently had one of those facelifts where no-one will really notice. Minor changes to the grille and the addition of rear light reflectors on the boot lid were the ones I noticed. The Crosstour version continues unchanged for now.
The latest Odyssey went on sale a few weeks ago. A cautious evolution of the old model, it had lots of neat features in it, and will doubtless be good to drive. The US press seem divided in their view on whether it beats the Sienna or not, and there is a formidable new competitor from Nissan about to appear, as well as the established order of mini-vans from Dodge, Chrysler and Kia.
This is likely to be the last show for the current Civic, as a new model is expected early in 2011.
Newly unveiled at this show was the 2011 model Elantra. Aping the larger Sonata’s looks, this is a car that looks far more convincing in the metal than it did in pictures. With a massively improved interior, and low prices for the class, I reckon this car could do very well indeed.

The Sonata was refreshed a year ago, and the new model is starting to become a reasonably common sighting on the roads of America now. The range has been augmented with a 2.0 Turbo car and new for the show, A Hybrid model was staging an appearance.
Hyundai now has a vast range of cars, and there were plenty of other vehicle here, from the Accent, to the Elantra touring, the soon to be replaced Azera, the latest Tuscon, the Veracruz and the upscale Genesis and Equus.
The M35h hybrid had the turntable position here, in advance of an on sale date in mid 2011.

The latest M37 saloon was on show, along with the gargantuan QX56, both of which were launched earlier in the year, and the familiar G sedan ranged was recently augmented by a cheaper G25 model.
Highlight of the Jaguar stand was another showing for the C-X75 Concept. Although still “behind bars”, you could get much closer and there was far more light than when it appeared at Paris. Like many people, I think this is an absolutely stunning looking car and hope that Jaguar see fit to build it or something very similar.

The production range was represented by XF, XJ and XK cars. All look good.
The latest Grand Cherokee has received rave reviews, and looking at it, it is easy to see why. This is light years ahead of its very mediocre predecessor, with an interior befitting its price.

Facelifts have recently been applied to the Liberty and Patriot and these were on the stand. The 2011 Compass is yet to come (and will see more fundamental changes) and the Commander has been axed altogether.
The new Optima took the limelight here. Replacing a competent, if rather anonymously inoffensive design, is this striking new sedan which has just gone on sale.

The Sorento and Sportage were refreshed earlier in the year.
Forte is now a model range of three cars, with the good looking Koup now joined by a 5 door hatchback as well the initial 4 door saloon
The Pop concept was making another showing.
Other Kia cars included the Soul and the little Rio.
Not present.


Highlight here were the 2 Evoque models, with both a 3 door and a 5 door on show.

There was one example of each of the current range, too.
“Come to the darker side of green”, it said above the flashing display for the CT200h hatch. Hmm!

Whoever decided what would go on this stand definitely had a point to prove. Quite what it was, I am not sure when you see some of this stuff.
There were some regular models, too.
The LFA is now a production car, and was on show in a darker grey than I have previously seen.
Occupying an area within the massive Ford stand, there were several examples of each of this upscale producer’s vehicles. The MKT is based on the Flex, and can only have sold in very small numbers, as I have only seen a couple on the roads.

The MKS has fared little better, as this is also a rare sighting.
The MKX was facelifted earlier in the year. The rather garish reflective strip across the back has gone, but the new grille more than makes up for the improvement at the back end.
I was less than convinced by the changes to the MKZ when they were made in 2009, and seeing the cars again did little to persuade me that this is visually an improvement in the initial rather cleanly styled car.
The Concept cars that starred at Paris were all present here, too. And they were just as badly displayed, crammed into penned off areas with the ropes more or less touching the cars.

The front of the stand contained an example of the latest Elise, Exige and Evora.
Not present.


Mazda had a huge stand, in the other main hall from Ford, thus emphasising the distancing and separation that is going on between these brands. The Shinari Concept car was on a turntable in the middle of the stand. This is a big car, far larger than a 6, but bold in design and rather elegant. I hope that they go ahead and make something similar to this.

The latest version of the 5 was on show, and this will go on sale in the US shortly, as a 2012 model.
The 2 has gone on sale already, but I’ve not yet seen one on the roads.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MX5, this Super20 model was on show along with the regular cars.
This RX8 is hydrogen powered. The rotary engine lends itself well to such a fuel system apparently, and a number of these cars are on the roads of Japan on an experimental basis.
Regular production models included the latest 3, the 6, the CX-7 and CX-9. Mazda produce a range of good looking cars, and the ones I have sampled have all been good to drive (in US spec at least).
Star billing were the two cars on a plinth at one side of the stand: the CLS63 AMG and the SLS AMG. Both are achingly desirable.

There was another plinth at the back of the stand, which featured an S400 Hybrid and the Fuel Cell version of the B Class.
On the stand floor were examples of the current range, with everything from the facelifted CL Coupe in CL63 AMG spec, to the gargantuan GL Class.
As ever, there was a traditional British red phone box plonked on this stand, to emphasise Mini’s heritage. Representative versions of the 4 model range were on show, with this being the first chance for many Americans to see the new Countryman.

American debut for the i MiEV. This all electric vehicle is production ready, and is subtly changed from the European cars. It is very small, so by US standards, the word “tiny” would probably be more accurate and is therefore destined only to be a minor sales triumph, at best, I suspect.

The ASX crossover that I quite liked when I drove one has made it to the US, now badged Outlander Sport, and with petrol propulsion only.
The rest of Mitsubishi’s range is all too familiar, as new models are fairly infrequent from this Japanese maker.
Two full sized cars and the 1/4 scale three wheeler made up this stand.

The Murano Cross Cabriolet had star billing here. Probably rather fortunately – or perhaps deliberately – the answer to the request to see it if with the roof in place was politely ducked, as it was said “not to be possible”. The same Product Specialist had a long speech which he seemed to be delivering every few minutes, a lot of which was highly questionable, as he claimed all sorts of “firsts” for any convertible, which I think the likes of Mercedes and others would have said were simply not true. When I spoke to him one on one, he told me that the car is indeed inventing a new class as there had never been a four wheel drive convertible before now. I suggested that Audi had been selling quattro versions of the A4 and A5 cabrio for some time, but he dismissed these as “a completely different class of car”. It was tempting to point out that they were from the class of “elegant” unlike this gawky thing, but he did go on to tell me, in response to another direct question that about 90% of people had said they liked this model (and I heard plenty of approvals from around me!), and frankly they did not care if if did polarise opinion as they were trying to be distinctive unlike their rivals from Toyota. They are certainly doing that, though whether people will part with their $50,000 for this thing will be interesting to see.

Whilst thinking of polarising styling, the US version of the Juke was also on show. Views on this seem to vary from “it’s like a smaller, latter-day Pontiac Aztec”, to those saying it is “really cool”.
One Nissan I did like was the Ellure concept. Although this has some references to the latest Maxima about some of the details, I thought this was refreshing styling in a good way.
The all-new Quest Mini Van was making its world debut. This thing is absolutely enormous. Far bigger and bulkier than its Toyota and Honda rivals, It appeared well thought out, though, with lots of practical touches.
The Leaf is also due to go on sale shortly, and there was one of these all-electric cars on the stand.
There was one example of the each of the current production cars, from the Versa and Cube, through Sentra, Altima, Maxima, to Rogue, Murano, X-Terra, Pathfinder and the monster Titan truck.
Sharing a stand with Morgan, this GT was tucked in the corner.

As in previous years, Porsche have their own small hall area, and it always gets busy, so this was one of the first places I visited. On the way in, there was a display of a 1950 356 Convertible, one of the very first Porsches made, and the oldest known car in America.

From the “less is more” approach to cars, comes the latest Cayman, the R, finished in a rather bilious lime green colour.
It was joined in a display of locked cars at the back of the hall by the new 911 Speedster and the 911 Carrera GTS Coupe and Cabrio
A representative sample of the extensive current range were on show, including several of the latest Cayenne, the Panamera and a myriad of 911 cars.
Separated out from Dodge into a brand of its own, there were a number of Ram trucks on show. Massive beyond belief. With no running board to help, clambering up into the cabin of this one was just that – clamber.

A three car stand, show-casing the Phantom, Drophead and the Ghost.

Production debut for the 9.4X, a car which appeared as a concept at more shows than you could remember for more years than you could remember. It is based on the same underpinnings at the Cadillac SRX, a car which did not overly impress me when I sampled one a few weeks ago, but this one looks neat enough, and well finished. It will struggle to sell in Europe until it has diesel engines, but that is no issue at all for the American market.

The 9.5 is now on sale in the US as well as Europe.
The stand was completed with examples of each of the three body styles of the long running 9.3
You could hardly miss this stand, as most of the cars were painted in vibrant shades

This stand followed the same sort of format as in previous years, with a number of cars on the show floor and several more up in racking above the back of the display. New cars included the Scion iQ, and the xB Release Series 8.0, as well as the recently released new generation tC and the familiar xD.

The Impreza Concept was the star of this stand. Quite a contrast from anything that Subaru have offered since the last Legacy, in that this is a truly good looking vehicle. Let’s hope that they do indeed put their excellent engineering into something that looks as good as this.

Meanwhile the current Impreza has been updated, and the wide body helps a bit with the gawky looks, but it really is a case of the problem of lipstick and the porcine.
Sadly, the latest Legacy and Outback don’t get to look any better either, a year after they first disappointed us. The punters clearly think differently, as Subaru is reporting record sales volumes.
A lone example of the Tribeca was lurking at the back of the stand, and there were a couple of Foresters in more prominent positions.
Nothing new to see here, so the focus was on the good looking Kizashi.

Other cars included the now quite long serving SX4,in hatchback and sedan guises
The 2011 Corolla featured here, though it was marked “prototype” with big signs. This is one of those facelifts which achieves very little. Rumour has it that they asked for Italian assistance, but if so, I am guessing that they went to a white good manufacturer (let’s face it, the Corolla is pure white goods), as the end result is that the car still looks unutterably dull.

The Avalon was facelifted earlier in the year, and the new lights front and back also make one wonder why they bothered.
Plenty of Camrys featured, of course, and its close relative, the Venza is now starting to appear on the roads in some quantity.
The little Yaris was present, in both hatchback and sedan versions. Surprisingly, the Matrix was conspicuous by its absence.
Toyota’s green credentials were a large part of the stand, with Prius, plug-in Prius, the Hybrid versions of the Camry and Highlander and the EV version of the RAV4 (Tesla underneath) all on show.
Toyota also make trucks and there were several of these on show, including the full-sized Tundra
This was my first chance to look at the 2011 Jetta. Having driven a 2010 model recently, I wanted to see if the supposed “cheapening” was evident. It was not. The interior of this car, whilst still very clearly a VW is not now the same as you would find in a Golf. It is an elegant, if slightly anonymous looking car, and it could do well, but for the fact that it faces formidable competition from the new Focus and Elantra, both of which will be cheaper.

The facelifted Eos was on show, sporting the now ubiquitous VW grille treatment, and some new rear light clusters.
There were plenty of examples of the rest of the range, from the latest Touareg in Hybrid form, through the Golf to what will probably be the last show for New Beetle before the replacement car arrives early in 2011.
Doubtless reflecting their new ownership, Volvo had a much smaller stand than in previous years, but there was still plenty to see. The electric version of the C30 was making another appearance.

The S60 has not yet gone on sale in the US, so for many this would be their first chance to inspect the car close-up. The stand cars were T6 models, as Volvo do not sell diesels in the US, and they appeal, even though the European press have suggested that they are not that good to drive. Very comfortable to sit in, and beautifully finished, these are true Volvos. The V60 was not on display.
There was an example of a racing version of the old S60 to complement the latest cars, which included the XC60.
Downstairs from the South Hall, you find another area, which is full of an eclectic mixture of everything from trade stands to the display of some crass and vulgar over the top customised stuff that I just had to photograph for its pure comedy value. Take a look at some of this stuff to see why it was worth spending a few minutes in this hall, but as a proportion of my day at the show, not much!

An excellent show, therefore. Lots to see, and even at its busiest time, delightfully un-busy. The LA Convention Centre is situated at the point where the 110 and 10 freeways intersect, just south of Downtown LA, and is easily accessible. I drove more or less straight into the car park, from where it is about a 2 minute walk to the entry point, could buy a ticket from a machine before they opened the gates, and was straight in at 11am when the show opened. At the end, when it closed (yes, I was there for 11 hours!), I walked back to the car and drove straight out. You simply cannot do these things at any European show. So, yes, it is a long way to travel, but a cunningly scheduled vacation took care of that now that I no longer have the chance to work in Southern California. So, although I enjoy all the various shows that I get to attend, in many ways, this all make this one the most enjoyable of the lot.
2010-11-20 23:18:15

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