2006 LA Auto Show

Bugatti Veyron's drop-dead looks - yours for $1.2 million

Los Angeles's 99th  International Auto Show was its  usual smorgasbord of glitzy  paintjobs and glitzier models  both human and automotive,  though with some serious  substance behind both.  It's  kind of like walking naked  through a field of gleaming  Lamborghinis, as it were (and as it was, minus the nudity).

Flat-out highlights were Bugatti's $1.2-million 1,001-hp Veyron, the new Mercedes  S-Class, and BMW's M6. In a  concept-heavy field,  Volkswagen's outrageously  styled  GX3 three-wheeler -  which, according to VW brand  chief Wolfgang Bernhard, "we will see this on the streets of  California soon" - was a stand-out amid the impressive  collection  of Lambos, Ferraris  and Porsches on show.

VW's Bernhard joined BMW's  design chief Chris Bangle among  any number of industry bigwigs  both domestic and international  at the Staples center this  week,  at a prestigious affair  that usually attracts more   higher end models than Detroit  in a fortnight or so. It's LA,  stupid.

Selection of Lambos on display

VW's radical GX3, and split-axle Jeep concept

And the city's assorted media  types here on Wednesday and  Thursday  also saw a number of  important North American roll-outs  from the big stables'  high-earners, and soon-to-be high earners,  including 2007  Chevy Tahoe, reviewed here last  week and revealed at Times Square on New Year,  GMC's  Yukon XL and Toyota's 2007  Yaris mini. The show's doors  open to the public today.

I had the pleasure of pulling  up to the show in Chevy's  latest Corvette Convertible, a  bonafide road-rocket whose  performance stands alongside  almost all of the cars on show, and which will be reviewed in the coming weeks. 

One of the few to better it was  its sister model on display inside, the Z06, whose more  technically advanced 505  horsepower, 7.0-liter V-8   manages to shave near a  half-second off the 6.0-liter test-car's 0-60 time.  Which in  the Z06 is 3.7 seconds, with a  top-out at 198mph.

Congratulations to GM's West Coast Advanced Design Studio just announced as winner of the Design Los Angeles showcase, for its GMC PAD concept that "enables cultural and geographical freedom for the modern city dweller", i.e., it shortens any commute as a movable lifestyle, well, pad.  It features advanced media entertainment systems, enhanced securiy, and runs on a diesel-electric hybrid engine.

GM's innovative design winner, the GMC PAD

Gull-wing Merc, Z06 7-liter engine, Scion concept

Mercedes unveiled its new  S-Class, in a grand ceremony  themed on the film  Memoirs of  Geisha, in which  a 1938  Maybach appeared. A new-release  Mayback 57S, whose AMG-tuned  engine   produces a belting  612hp, was also on display  alongside its ageing yet  stunning film-star cousin.

Special mention goes to the  Daimler-Chrysler communications  team, who  laid on for the  S-Class unveiling a  presentation that included a  performance artist/dancer  deftly twisting in some  ceiling-mounted fabric, which  I'm sure is called something,  accompanied by a band that  features a string instrument  which was also, bizarrely,  hooked to the ceiling.

Mercedes' new S-Class debut is  an extremely important roll-out  for the luxury carmaker in a  state that buys most of its  imports, and little wonder Merc  wanted to create a bit of a  coup. Its PR bods duly noted  that 60 of the new  $140,000-plus cars sold in  about three hours in a Saks  event in New York recently,  with Cali buyers now further  enticed to step into dealers,  drop-jawed and with wallets  wider.

Mercedes S-Class and Maserati Birdcage

1938 Maybach, of Memoirs of a Geisha

BMW's M6, built on Bangle's  somewhat controversial "flame  surfacing" design principles,  hopes to succeed where the  Germans have previously failed:  in replicating the success of  the original E24s first rolled  out of Bavaria in 1976. This  one will prove popular in  California though, whose  residents' high-spending habits  could, just maybe, be the  reason for Bangle's appearance  to promote the 500hp V10 luxury  coupe. 

BMW's Bangle-inspired M6

Most interesting was  France's  Citroen C4, on display as the  winner of the 2005 Solutia  International Design Award.    The importance of the European  market was also highlighted by  Toyota, whose Yaris sales will  be heavily dependent on  small-car markets in France,  Spain and Portugal, as well as  the emerging US market for  superminis.

Similarly innovative, VW's GX3  was developed in VW's design  studio in Simi Valley, which  will shortly move to Santa  Monica. The 1.6-liter,  four-cylinder  two-seater with  a five-speed manual  transmission pumps out a decent  125hp, which is bang on for  what VW terms "a motorcycle".

Other concepts worth a mention  include Jeep's Gladiator and  Hurricane, with the latter's  dual V8 engine (one for the  environmentalists), and crazy  wishbone back axle allowing the  SUV to spin 360-degrees.  It  can also hit 60mph in under  five seconds, apparently.   Maserati's low-slung V12  Birdcage 75th was also  gorgeous.

But for now I'll take a Chevy  Corvette - albeit a yellow one,  but of course with astonishing  performance and capable ride -  with a keen eye on the Z06, and  a century of Los Angeles auto  shows next year.

*LA Auto Show, Friday through  Jan.15.  Dates: Friday through Jan. 15.  Los Angeles Convention Center,  1201 S. Figueroa St., Los  Angeles. $10 for adults, $7  seniors; Parking: $10.*

Toyota Yaris unveiling, drum roll please

Mazda's race-ready new MX-5

Jaguar's gorgeous XK



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