I'm home from the two press days at the Los Angeles Auto Show (and missing the warm weather already). This was the second time I'd been to the show, but the first that I'd been able to stay for the entire event.
First impression: even in Tinseltown, the auto industry has scaled back. When I first started covering auto shows, it was beyond ridiculous: cars crashing through windows, celebrities hawking vehicles, big-name bands, mini-shows by dancers and acrobats, and every two steps, someone was offering food and booze. This time, a solo dancer at Hyundai's reveal of the Sonata was the only entertainment, and finding food was as tough as finding a snowbank. Notably absent from the show were Nissan, Lamborghini and Ferrari. However, there were still reminders that it is Tinseltown. Rolls-Royce won't even let you step into its booth in Detroit or Toronto, but here, we were invited to sit in the cars.
There weren't a huge number of concept cars, but of the ones there, Audi's E-tron had to be the loveliest. This was definitely designed by someone with an eye for the car as a whole -- swoopy lines, the echo of its turbine wheels in the grille and rear hatch, and the most amazing shade of orange. And while Audi would roast me for saying so, wouldn't those lights look amazing in a new Camaro?
Several cars were unveiled that I think are going to be very important ones -- there's going to be a lot of choice in the subcompact and compact market in the next little while. Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 all look like winners. They'll be even more important in Canada, where we're far more likely to buy smaller cars.
Some observations: Hyundai is on a roll with a well-executed new Tucson, and with its stunning new Sonata which, in true company fashion, has stolen shamelessly from the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Toyota has introduced an all-new Sienna minivan, and I just love the idea of its second-row reclining rear seats, which have pop-up footrests like a La-Z-Boy lounger.
The show opened with keynote speakers, and Bob Lutz was hastily flown in to cover for GM president Fritz Henderson, who had been fired just prior to the opening. (Perhaps the fact that his name was misspelled on the show program was indicative of things to come.) Lutz was as much the wild card as ever, replying to a question on GMAC with, "I'm not qualified to answer that -- but I will anyway." But I was very disappointed with the president of the Motor Press Guild, who introduced the keynote speakers. An initial jab at GM about how he was still the Guild president "as of an hour ago" was cute, but a line about trimming an inch from the bottom of his speech was not. First he had to explain the joke, and that's when we found out he was referring to Toyota's floor mat/gas pedal remedy. Then he made matters worse by saying it again later in the speech. This recall is in response to people dying, and it's going to cost Toyota millions of dollars. I may have a sick sense of humor, but even I thought it was in terrible taste.
Volkswagen is again retiring its iconic Beetle, and it was sad to see the coupe and convertible with "Final Edition" on their license plates. Mini has a pair of two-seaters, in coupe or convertible, and they're just offbeat enough that they might capture a whole new group of buyers. Kia made history by presenting the all-new Sorento, the first Kia to be built in the United States. Chevrolet has reintroduced the Caprice nameplate on a rear-wheel-drive police vehicle, Buick has a sweet new Regal that will be built here in Ontario, and for the second year in a row, a diesel has won the Green Car of the Year Award. Only in California, as they say.