Toys Bright and Shiny at LA Auto Show Ferrari, Maserati Missing in action

It’s no secret that these are interesting times in the automobile business. There’s the bailout of GM and Chrysler, of course, as well as the recall debacle Toyota is facing. Then there’s the L.A. Auto Show, which runs Dec. 4-13 for the public but opened for the media Dec. 2 for a two-day preview as it does every year. Talk about a recall. The keynote speaker kicking off the show in front of the press Dec. 2 was scheduled to be General Motors’ CEO Fritz Henderson. Oops. Henderson suddenly and dramatically exited the company the day before, leaving old industry hand Bob Lutz to step in for him. It probably wasn’t the first time Lutz, a former Marine, had been dropped into a war zone.

 There is also the matter of the missing superstars.  Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Bentley are conspicuous no-shows this year, erasing a good portion of the glitz from this edition. Thankfully,  Aston-Martin and Rolls-Royce are on hand to uphold the outrageous upper stratosphere of the car game, but the three missing marques also means a significant reduction in the car babes hired every year to purr over the upscale product. Which brings up another point. Viper, along with parent Chrysler itself, may not be around for next year’s show.

 Also present is Saab, which is being shopped by GM as if it were a regifting situation and may not be here in a year either. No matter.

The show, spread over the vast expanse of the Los Angeles Convention Center, provides pretty much the same dose of hype and gearhead ecstasy as every year. There is the usual dose of debuts, cars unveiled with a showbiz flourish.

Among those shown for the first time anywhere are the Cadillac CTS coupe, renewed Dodge Viper and Toyota Sienna. Thirty-one other models are on view for the first time in North America, including ones from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Jaguar, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Porsche, aloof as always in its own space apart from the rest of the carmakers, rolled out its brand new Boxster Spyder, calling it nothing less than a “world premiere.” In-from-Germany executive Christian Dau termed the minimalist convertible “the perfect Porsche,” so focused on performance that routine niceties such as air conditioning, cupholders and even interior handles were left out to save weight. Dau said it would cost just over $62,000 when it goes on sale in February. The media obediently swarmed until the car was obscured in the crush. Yep, a Hollywood premiere all right.

There is the usual contingent of improbable “concept” cars, most of which will never be produced, at least in this form. BMW’s see-through Vision, Subaru’s flighty double-wide gull-wing sedan, and Chevy’s Leno (yes, Jay) Camaro fall in this category. They’re amazing to look at, but would you want to drive one? One you might want to drive, if you were a big-time DJ, is the Sciion XB DJ 2.0 by Five Axis concept. This is a car tricked out with a 2,000-watt sound system, massive fold-out speakers and a DJ mixing deck. It’s like a Death Star for tailgate parties. Meanwhile, the ordinary transportation that provides the car business with most of its cash money is largely ignored. The new VW Beetle convertible and the nice little Toyota Yaris generated no heat and featured no draped car babes.

The unveiling of the Ford Fiesta was the exception. Pitched with what seemed near-desperation to the texting demographic, it enjoyed a great deal of attention. To show off its youth market chops, the introduction included such phrases as “tweet-up” and “growing the buzz.” Hey, with talk like that, how can you say no?

 The LA Auto Show is Dec. 4-13. Weekday hours are 11 am-10pm, 9 am-10pm Saturday, 9 am-8 pm Sunday. Adult admission is $12, with $2 discount coupons and $10 e tickets available on the web site www.laautoshow.com.  Convention Center parking is $12.

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