2007 LA Auto Show - CA = Cars, Crowds, Congestion


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Special to The Auto Channel
By Marty Bernstein
AIADA Contributing Editor

Californians were the leaders; in fact, the epicenter for the first wave of vehicles not made in Detroit – back then it was a trend. Today, the trend of international brands has become a force. 

Is California still the equivalent of the automotive promise land? Much to the chagrin of the Chicago-, and certainly, Detroit shows, the LA Auto Show has gained in strength, popularity, and – some predict – will take the lead for introductions of new ready-to-market vehicles and concepts from international and domestic makers.

Into the lion’s den of international brands Wednesday morning appeared Allan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company. Mulally was the kick-off speaker – a similar role he held at the New York Auto Show this Spring. Bold move? No, it’s bold, brave and ballsy for a company as embattled and under such constant media scrutiny as Ford is to open the major rival for his new hometown’s auto show in the land of green and imports, where Ford has not had much of a footprint.

Mulally’s remarks focused on the range of global environmental technologies Ford will provide customers in the future.   

Ford Motor Company is rolling out more fuel-efficient vehicles that emit fewer greenhouse gases without compromising their expectations for safety, interior room or performance, Mulally announced today at the Los Angeles Auto Show. 

“Ford is committed to offering customers affordable, environmentally friendly technologies in vehicles they really want,” Mulally said yesterday morning. “The goal,” he added, “Is the focus not for hundreds or thousands of cars – but for millions of cars, because that is how Ford can truly make a difference.”

The cornerstone of Ford’s near-term plan is a new generation of smaller-displacement turbo-charged gasoline engines with advanced fuel-saving direct injection technologies. Ford will provide more details about its aggressive plans for this technology in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 

Certainly there will be information on that topic, but there will be major marketing announcements from  Ford’s new whiz-kid, Jim Farley.  I’m almost willing to make a small wager or two on this topic. 

But enough pontificating and projecting. What looks good? Really good?  I’ve a minor advantage since I attended the Tokyo Motor Show where many of the concepts were revealed earlier this month and flown to LA. There are 40 or so debuts (dare they be called debutants?) at this show from various manufacturers. There are a handful; however, that may set a new path for others to follow.

Audi

Audi’s new concept, Cross Cabriolet Quattro turned more than a few heads when introduced with a little show-biz schtick. It’s being touted as a cross between a convertible and a sports utility vehicle. Could this be the newest crossover fad? Another small concept car, Audi’s Metroproject, made a big impact in Japan. It’s luxurious looking in and out with the refinements one expects from Audi. It’s not at the LA Show, but as Johan De Nysschen, executive vice president in charge of Audi USA, told me yesterday afternoon at LAX, “I don’t think its good for us to bring a small car to America at this time.”  Interesting comment though… let’s see what happens. The car looks great. Here’s a pic of the new A4.


Nissan

Just five years ago, Carlos Ghosn knocked the automotive equivalent of automotive homerun when he introduced the then new Murano – arguably the first crossover vehicle.  It is still good looking, but has gotten a little long in tooth. Sales are still strong; it is sold in 130 countries around the world. But today, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, introduced the new 2009 model. The new Murano has big treads to fill, and apparently it does the job, given the standing ovation it received from members of the automotive international press here in LA. There’s just enough difference to keep it Murano-esque, but different enough to standout. Next month I’ll be driving the new model.



BMW

And let’s give big surfer “Hey Dude" to BMW’s new 1 Series. I predict this will be a major volume vehicle in the years ahead, and a rocket on wheels. The BMW 1 Series Coupe draws inspiration from the iconic BMW 2002 of some 40 years ago. By combining sporty rear-wheel-drive dynamics, agile handling, powerful engines and seating for four, the 1 Series Coupe is said to reinvent the niche created by the legendary BMW 2002. The 1 Series Coupe will be available in two versions beginning in spring 2008: the 128i and the 135i.

Speculation began some time ago. Rumors followed. But today as BMW premiered the long awaited 1 Series, touted as the new BMW 2002 – the vehicle that literally brought fame to the brand over 40 years ago – attendees at the LA Auto Show were treated to stuff car dreams are made of. Equipped with a small body, rear-wheel drive, choice of a 230 hp, 6-cylinder engine or the rocket-like 3.0 liter 6-cylinder from the 335i, the new 1 Series drew overwhelming chatter from fellow journalists.

“Great!” “Awesome!” “Amazing!” were a few of the adjectives used to describe the newest ultimate driving machine. Most wanted to know one of two things: 1) How soon they could drive it; and, 2) When it will be in media fleets.

Is the 1 really the one for BMW? I asked Tom Pernice, president of BMW North America about the rumor the other luxury brands Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti had started development of their own small fast cars. Smiling, he commented, “This is a tough business. Everyone is fighting for business and more market share. It has taken us a long time to develop the new 1 Series, and it’s going to take the others much longer. We have the experience and knowledge.”

“The 1 Series Coupe is just one example of the many growth opportunities for BMW in the U.S.,” he added.

Mini Clubman

Mini owners are a special group of people who rejoice in being different. They are beyond confident and self-assured. The two already Minis already on the market – coupe and cabriolet – now have a new sibling, the Clubman. Think of it as wagon with an attitude, ambiance and accessibility in the luxury small car market. Attitude? It’s a bit longer than the other Minis. Ambiance? It sports a really cool interior configuration and design. Accessibility? The Clubman’s five doors are unique. Both driver and front passenger doors are supplemented by an additional rear-hinged door on the right-hand side of the car and the two split-rear doors in the back for easy aggress and ingress, and perfect for holding lots of mini things.


Kia

Kia’s KND-4 concept crossover looks toward the near future with smart styling. It is small and sleek with big wheels. The three-door SUV’s wrap around headlights and pointy front end make it really stand out. The vehicle has a high beltline, rear hatch and an overall compact appearance. A display screen features "Active-Matrix, Organic Light Emitting Diodes" or AMOLEDs, and includese with Blu-ray DVD-equipped entertainment system. As the brand continues its commendable growth in America, it is promising new technologies along with a new diesel engine. The question is when?

A green to chartreuse color theme is not a color usually associated with an auto company, but Kia has never, ever been afraid to be innovative and unique. But how often does one see a new corporate image with a matching new image concept vehicle. Not too often.

Len Hunt, newly promoted to CEO and president of Kia Motors America, is not one to shy away from anything. In a short conversation between media scrums, Hunt said, “This is an important vehicle for us. It connects with our philosophy of “exciting and enabling. We are committed to making vehicles that are both stylish and technologically advanced.”

A look inside the KND-4 gives one a bird’s eye view into the future of Kia vehicles. There are accents on the floor, dash and door are all illuminated with subtle indirect lighting and interesting instrumentation that enables the driver to obtain information inside and outside the vehicle with clear visual images.

Ian Beavis, Kia’s vice president of marketing, noted the new, more angular front fascia that is more aggressive and sweeping than in the past. “This is 95 percent done for our next vehicles,” he said.


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