2006 Los Angeles International Auto Show

Retro Dodge Charger at the 2006 LA Auto Show

(for all the photos from the LA Auto Show, scroll to bottom of article)

If GM killed the electric car - and that's still at this point a massive, unproven "if" - it seems to be doing a pretty good job of bringing it back.

Rick Wagoner, GM's chief executive, opened the 100th Los Angeles International Auto Show with a barnstorming speech intended to reassure critics of GM that it is on the right road back to market credibility, by way of an hybrid Saturn Vue that you plug into the mains.

A welcome idea? Yes. Inspiring? Mmmm.  Do-able?  Maybe a different story, but there's no real compelling reason why GM's chief, who has a lot riding on this, would stand up just when the Auto Show has been granted a real standing alongside Detroit, Tokyo and Paris, and make fatuous promises.

The decision to move the Auto Show a month back was widely welcomed, allowing the event to stand out of Detroit's shadow and also assuage any fears, which weren't taken seriously anyway, that LA was trying to steal Motor City's thunder.

And though there's lots of stormy weather up in Michigan right now, the show proved that domestic carmakers can at least keep up with, and even eclipse, the Germans' donner and blitzen.

In a show driven heavily by thoughts toward the environment - as witnesses by an eco-protestor who joined Wagoner on stage unannounced and uninvited  -   many predict a good few of  the innovative products on display could be the future of consumer buying patterns, particularly in Southern California.

Show standouts were undoubtedly the fuel-cell displays by GM, Ford, Nissan and BMW, alongside debuts from Aston Martin and GMC and concepts from Mazda and Chrysler.

And talk quickly turned to Wagoner's comments that the new Vue is scheduled for production from 2009 and that, by 2010, his company aims to be the most fuel-efficient in the market and that the environment is now the company's top priority.

Now I'm not sure that having reassured everyone that you don't have to plug in the current generation of hybrid cars to a wall-socket, reversing the field and then planning a range of motors that do is that good an idea.

And the proposed engine will have a range of just under 10 miles before it is forced to kick back to gas power. Handy for going to the shops, but enough to attract buyers? Much, as Wagoner points out, depends on advances in battery technology.

While on the subject, be sure to check out our review of the 2007 Saturn Vue -  the newly-released hybrid, not the sometime-over-the-rainbow  plug-in variant - in the upcoming weeks.

GM's design team also unveiled plans for a self-sustaining Hummer, the O, as part of the annual "Design Los Angeles" competition, going up against nine other teams including VW, Honda and Toyota.

As well as taking a sideswipe at critics of one of the world's thirstiest road-going civilian vehicles, the H0 team promises to carry organic algae in its side panels which, by way of photosynthesis, can produce oxygen that can then be turned into hydrogen. When parked, the roof  panels can swoop upwards in the manner of tree branches for greater exposure to the sun.

In a similar vein, VW promises a concept made out of minuscule building blocks that mesh together to lend lightweight strength to the shell and crumple in the event of a crash, supporting the structure.  All very futuristic, but hey, that's what the comp's all about.

Strong world debuts included the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster, Audi's new TT roadster and GMC's Yukon hybrid, a massive step in the right direction for GM in terms of fuel-efficient giant SUVs and something available right now, as opposed to years in the future.  Also check out the new Lamborghini Murcielago, the Ford Escape and the Chrysler Sebring.

North American debuts included Audi's wannabe halo sportscar the R8, a reworked Hyundai Tiburon and the dramatic Volvo C30.

The show was also retro-heavy, Dodge and Chevy going way back to their roots with cars that will resonate nicely with a now deep-pocketed generation remember from their hayday, hair quiff is optional.

The show, at the Los Angeles Convention Center,  is open to the public from Dec. 1 through Dec. 10.  And yes, it promises to be electric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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