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2010 LA Auto Show Is Getting Back to Business

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SEE ALSO: 2010 LA Auto Show-Press Pass Coverage


By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
Amsterdam Bureau
The Auto Channel

Some twenty years ago, I first visited the LA Auto Show and came back every year. Way back then, the show was very laid back and the show in Detroit was the exhibition to go to. Indeed, Detroit started buzzing when Chrysler came up with concepts like the Viper and created a lot of pizzazz.

To be honest, the LA shows have always been attractive to me. No concepts, but production models on the stage. And also funny ideas, such as a Ford SUV, that was turned into an aquarium. Later on, we saw the Japanese cars coming up with ULEV-engines, electric and hybrid models.

In the weeks before this year’s show, the manufacturers were all sending out their news about the upcoming 50 or something world premieres and green cars. But to be honest, today, I did not get the impression of something special going on. Apart from the fact, that I have never ever seen so many people attending the first media day.

Most of them, however, were corporate people; employees of one brand, especially interested mostly in the unveiling of a competitor’s model. Or photographers and video people working for one manufacturer, who were shooting the underpinnings of a new model of somebody else. Hilarious indeed.

This year’s first show day did not bring us anything really exceptional, unless it was the Nissan Murano Crossover Cabriolet, the first all-wheel drive crossover convertible.

Indeed, I saw lovely cars, like the Camaro Convertible and the Buick Regal RS, the Subaru Impreza concept and Nissan’s elegant Ellure concept sedan. The Japanese left no doubt about which customers they are targeting with the Ellure: women in their thirties and forties. I like that, it’s transparent.

There were some anniversaries too: Acura is 25 this year and Porsche celebrates its 60th anniversary of being in the US market. The German sports car manufacturer put three new models on stage: the new 911 Carrera GTS, the fast Cayman R, and the 4th generation Speedster.

The first Porsche Speedster debuted in 1954 and will always be remembered as the car in which James Dean had his deadly accident. Of the new Speedster only 356 will be built and only 100 units will come to the North American market, for a price of $ 204,000, so if you want to order one you have to speed up.

Exceptional too were the triplets of LandRover RangeRovers on stage. They look more like normal cars now with their sloped roof and low, wide stance.

But where are the so-called ‘green’ innovations? The Chevrolet Volt debuted four years ago and now is ready for its market launch. Its technology is really good and we were shown that the car can be charged in 7.5 hours via a portable unit that would fit in a business case.

Yesterday I had a chance to drive a new 2011 Chevrolet Volt for two laps around the Convention Center. It has lots of pulling power in “Sport mode” and behaves decently in “Normal mode”. It is very quiet inside too. No wonder, since it only uses the electric drive train. But as soon as you put it in “Mountain mode”, the internal combustion engines starts working, yet it is still very quiet inside. The car drives well, provides a solid feel and is not uncomfortable. Would it be my Car of the Year? I do not know yet. I would need to drive it in daily life for at least a week.

One major problem for me is that charging it would be difficult in my home town in The Netherlands. Where could I plug in the charger? My 100 year old town house has no electricity outlet, nor do our lamp poles in my street have such things. So I would need and extension cord through the letterbox in the front door and then something: would the naughty kids like to play with the socket or the wire and leave me stranded without a charge…? No such thing. Not to speak of the price, that will be some 45.000 euro ($60,000 dollars) for the Volt’s twin sister in Europe, the Opel Ampera,

The Mercedes B-Class FC (fuel cell) and Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell models, that we see in LA, will not go into series production in the near to mid-term future.

The EV’s such as the Leaf and the upcoming Honda Fit are serious production cars, but their production numbers will remain limited, since they also are too expensive to make a business case and can only survive when sponsored by the government. Which means in The Netherlands, no luxury tax, no road tax, no 25 percent of the value of the car added to you income and being taxed (by 42-52 percent…) This program is also applied to hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Auris and the Honda Civic.

This fall, there was a rumor that the government intended to stop the incentives and immediately the sales decreased considerably. This marks my point. Not many people will buy hybrids, when there are no such incentives anymore. And who is going to pay for the charging stations? The electricity companies already announced price increases for 2012, since they have to invest in such stations, which cost 2500 euros per unit.

In short: with this year’s LA Auto Show, two years of crisis, of gloom and dark displays are gone. Now it is just all about going back to business as usual.