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2009 Los Angeles Auto Show Review -- Green means go!

By Craig Howie

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Ferrari California was a show standout

(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.

Beautiful models abounded

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.

Honda's Sport concept stole the show

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.

Published on Dec 31, 2008

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