(scroll to bottom for more pix from the LA Auto Show)
California got a Ferrari to match its world-famous auto show this week as the 102nd Los Angeles Auto Show rolled into town with the debut of the Prancing Horse's long awaited California model.
While both were impressively streamlined, you couldn't help get the feeling that the Big Three automakers' current troubles overshadowed the Convention Center event, while things aren't easy going for luxury automakers either -- Ferrari alongside Land Rover and Rolls-Royce has already made its decision to pull out of the Detroit Auto Show early next year, while GM and Chrysler scaled back their displays here.
But back to the Ferrari's all-new California Spyder, a new market entrant that made its North American debut in LA and is based on Ferarri's famous 250 California model that turned heads in 1957 and still does to this day (though you don't see too many of them about). Unfortunately -- or I guess fortunately for the lucky few -- the California Spyder is sold out until 2011.
Other notable North American debuts included the Audi A6, BMW 7-Series, Lexus IS Convertible and a very cool Smart fortwo Brabus, while world debutants included the 2010 Ford Mustang, Lincoln MKZ, zero-emissions electric Mini E, Mazda3, Nissan 370Z and Porsche Boxster. Show standouts for me were aforesaid Ferrari -- as really it doesn't correspond in any way with traditional Pininfarina styling and its mid-front-mounted engine may be almost sacriligious but the car as a whole remains very, very cool -- and a reworking of the old favorite Honda CRX (you know, the Eighties and early Nineties two-door compact coupe that looks like a sneaker) in a concept model that evoked everything good about Honda design that may just be missing in their current rather conservatively styled lineup.
Also notable was the Mazda Kaan as winner of the annual and prestigious Design Challenge, which this year was based around futuristic motorsport formulas for racing in the 2025 season, with impressive treatments also from Audi, which utilized algae for power, and Mercedes Benz, which sought frictionless inspiration from yacht and luge races. Mazda's racer, which likely will never see asphalt, draws its power from the road (which in the future will all be coated with electroconductive polymers, if all goes to Mazda's grand plan).
Back to the present but with a nod to the future, concepts on display included BMW's 7-Series Hybrid, Dodge EV based on the Viper, Honda FC Sport and Insight, the Jeep Renegade and Saab's 9X Air Bio-Hybrid Convertible, which eats up less energy than it takes to say its name three times.
Journalists were as usual treated to a feast of peerless driving taking in some 20 futuristic green vehicles including fuel-cell and flex-fuel variants that perhaps defy the common wisdom that automakers have yet to embrace green motoring's potential. In fact, a quick browse at www.http://www.laautoshow.com/AlternativeFuelVehicles.aspx shows at least 50 models on display that are either hybrids, EVs or high-mileage diesels or E85-ready, and show officials on Monday named the 41mpg VW Jetta TDi as their Green Car of the Year (the cylinder-slipping Chevy Tahoe Hybrid was last year's pick).
And notable if even just a gimmick, Ford's 2010 Fusion – which should be rated a little more highly than its absolutely excellent precursor available at ridiculously low prices right now – boasted an electronic tree as a rear-view-mirror display that rewarded green driving practices by sprouting new leaves.
Evergreen Nissan-Renault's Carlos Ghosn opened the show with little optimism for the current auto market, pointing out that October was the worst sales month in 25 years, but indicating that Nissan sees potential in the emerging EV or hybrid market and should have some green models in dealerships by 2010 (if anybody including customers and automakers can actually get their hands on the funding necessary to build or buy a new car). Our governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also trumpeted the show's emphasis on the environment, saying: "This is exactly the kind of innovation we need. Working together, we will ensure that California remains a leader in clean and alternative fuel vehicles."
This year's show was much lower key than in years past, of course a reflection of the automakers' current sticky financial times. We can just hope that the clear recognition of green vehicles and their potential will ensure there are successful auto show events out here – and in Detroit -- in the future, too.