The TACH Report: L.A. Auto Show High-Lights

01/20/97

There's a lot of competition between the L.A. Auto Show and the Detroit Auto Show: both run practically concurrently and vie for industry "firsts." This year both venues had a lot of exclusive offerings, but the debut of the Porsche Boxster in Los Angeles stole everyone's thunder.

Porsche really went Hollywood by taking the complete 21,000 sq. ft. Petry Hall (which would normally house five car displays--Ferrari, Lambo, Classics, kit cars, et al) and turned it into a Porsche historical happening. Rear projection, big-screen videos of Porsche's world-wide racing victories plastered the walls and were accompanied by original lively music. RSKs, RS 61s, all the new models for 1997, plus stand alone motor displays ringed the room, while the Boxster in roadster and hard top form occupyied center-stage. U.S. Porsche Prez Fred Schwab handled the Boxster intro and fielded questions from the press, including dumb queries regarding insurance and the women's market.

We won't go into the Boxster specs as it is hard to believe there is an auto enthusiast anywhere in the world who does not have all the info on the 149mph two-seater. The German sportscar maker has orders for 10,000 and will bring 7,000 to our U.S. shores. Schwab said that Porsche is mighty healthy and on a roll, with new products on the drawing board and in the pipeline.

JAY LENO figured in Ford's introduction of the electric Ranger. Although he was on tape offering his assessment of the battery powered truck that has a 60 mile range, he brought down the house when he opened the hood, pulled up the arm that holds the hood open, and said, "seems that some technology never changes".

BOB REWEY of Ford presented the vehicle which is for sale ($32,000) or lease and stressed that the company expects some fleet orders. He emphasized Ford's serious interest in environmental issues and said Ford has been in the alternative fuel business longer than any car company. Ford sold 8,700 alternative fuel vehicles in 1996. With the entire New York City Taxi fleet facing replacement in two years, Ford has eyes on big sales in the Big Apple. They have conducted a million miles of testing on their electric vehicles.

Another highlight of the L.A. Show is to meet up and listen to Chrysler Prexy BOB LUTZ, who is a media darling, as the press thinks of him as a true car guy. Lutz collects 'em, races occasionally, and is hands on when it comes to design. Unfortunately, Lutz was weathered in at two Detroit airports and had to address the 150 media types via big screen TV as he introduced the Dodge Dakota Sidewinder with lots of GO and lots of WHOA. The dream truck may never be built, but it's interesting 'cause it's a pickup with a convertible top and a 600hp motor.

On the subject of racing, Big Bob said Dodge will remain in the NASCAR Craftsman truck racing series, race the Stratus in the North American Touring Car Championships, stay with SKIP BARBER, and continue sponsoring vintage car events because the demographics are good and the participants, for the most part, are automotive thought leaders among their friends and associates.

There's no NASCAR racing in Chrysler's plans, as MOPAR does not have a big 2-door coupe. There'll be a new Dodge Intrepid in 1998, a Durango Sport Ute, an LHS Concorde, and a whole series of new six cylinder motors from 2.7 liters to 3.5 liters. In closing, Lutz noted that Forbes magazine voted Chrysler No. 3 BEST company of 1996 out of 1269 corporations.

ROSS ROBERTS, the popular and extremely knowledgeable General Manager of Ford noted that the No. 2 auto maker sold 300,000 more units in 1996 than 1995 while announcing the 1998 Windstar redesign and the 1998 Ford Contour. The new Windstar has a 200hp V6 and 3.8 power, while the Contour features one of the snazziest front grille-headlamp treatments of the car season. Roberts also said Truck sales were way up and the F series is the No. 1 selling vehicle in the world. Car sales were down 4%. He showed the Santa Fe concept car/SUV which was the ugliest car at the L.A. Auto Show, hands down.

General Manager of Linclon-Mercury JIM O'CONNOR showed off the '98 Mystique and the L'Attitude concept car, as well as the Lincoln Sentinel--a big square design exercise that evokes laughs or hurrays depending on who is viewing it. Interesting . . . I like it, because it looks Sentinel-like. Mercury Sable sales are up 10% over 1995, and Mystique went up 29%. Believe it or not, the big, ancient Mercury Grand Marque is the number one selling car in the state of Florida. All Lincoln's for 1997 will be priced the same: $37,950.

U.S. Saab boss JOEL MANBY said his company sold 32,000 units last year and hopes to see 40,000 cars over the curb by the year 2000. Manby introduced a 1997 Talledega edition Saab 900 and a Jubilee edition 9000. He noted that Saab's 50 birthday comes up this June: a big wing-ding is planned for Saab owners in New Hampshire. BE THERE !

Mercedes Benz chose not to have their factory big shots at the L.A. show to unveil the new, long awaited SLK Roadster, so affable West Coast manager Bob Wills handled the chore. Neat little car. Priced like the Porsche Boxster at $37,800, it has a supercharger, an electric hard top, goes 0 to 60 in 6.6 secs, and orders for 1997 are sold out. You can't get one.

The brand new head man replacing JOHN ROCK at Oldsmobile is DARWIN CLARK, and we found out--much to our delight--he is also a car guy: Clark collects Vettes. Darwin, taking the positive approach to a problem division, pointed out that since the inception of the automobile 2,500 companies have tried to build cars. Olds has survived and celebrates its 100 anniversary this year. Olds sales are down 17%, but clark unveiled the new, sexy Olds Intrigue four-door and said its the car that will save the division.

In 18 months, the fairly new Aurora nameplate will be Oldsmobile's oldest nameplate, as the Silhouette and Cutlass will go away. CLARK brought on racing legend, CARROLL SHELBY to unveil his new SHELBY series I sportscar, powered by the Olds Aurora engine. The car garnered lts of oohs and ahhhs from the 150 scribes on hand and looks like a Callaway Corvette. The new model has all the requisite racing scoops and stripes, but the show model did not have a motor. Ol Shel said, "don't ask me the top speed. or weight or what it does in the quarter, 'cause I don't know. It's brand new and hasn't been tested.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel

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