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What’s Hot from the L.A. Auto Show

This year’s show features a new flagship sedan for Cadillac, a premium sedan from Hyundai, a slew of compact crossovers and rumblings of a new horsepower war.

November 17, 2011

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Ford Escape
Ford Escape

The auto manufacturers’ dog-and-sheet metal show makes its annual stop here in Los Angeles at the L.A. Auto Show over the next few weeks. Here are news, notes and model reveals from the first press day. 

Compact Crossovers Ready to Do Battle
Ford debuted the 2013 Ford Escape, and it’s got “more” of everything. The new small crossover, on sale in the first quarter of 2012, will have “segment-leading” fuel economy with its 1.6L engine and an impressive 3,500 lbs. of towing capacity with its bigger 2.0L engine. Cargo room has been upped to 68.1 cu. ft. The hands-free liftgate should be a boon to moms holding a baby and groceries.

Ford Escape
Ford Escape

The Escape’s styling makeover adapts the new Fiesta and Focus rather than the styling of its bigger brothers, the Flex and Explorer. The new Escape has a distinct forward stance; headlights that incorporate frosted glass and fog lights that sit in the “nostrils” of the car’s grille.

Ford Escape
Ford Escape

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Not to be outdone, Honda showed off its fourth-generation CR-V, “the best-selling SUV in America for the last four years.” Available Dec. 15, it’ll churn out 185 hp, and, like the Escape, has more interior room and a lighter body, and guess what? It also has the best fuel economy in its class.

Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

The CR-V is stylish for a small crossover (it’s hard to make a design statement in that segment, I think) with a distinctively sandwich-thin front grille. Moms holding babies and groceries will also like the one-touch 60/40 split rear seats, as well as the available rear entertainment system and multi-angle rear camera.

Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

Mazda introduced its brand-new CX-5, which slots in below the CX-7 and should do battle with the likes of Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. Going up against those market leaders is no small task — how will the CX-5 compete? Driving dynamics, said Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO of Mazda North American Operations. “We’re all about Zoom Zoom,” O’Sullivan said.

Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

The CX-5 will come with an optional six-speed manual transmission, as well as a diesel-variant in 2013. The CX-5 will get Mazda’s first global Skyactiv 2.0L gas engine (think Ford’s EcoBoost), producing 155 hp which should come in at 26/33 mpg for the manual and 25/30 mpg for the automatic. Apparently, those numbers are also “segment leading.”

Subaru announced a new small crossover called the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Slated below the Forrester, it will go on sale in 2012 here. 

On the larger luxury side, Infiniti is hoping moms with more money will take a look at its brand-new JX crossover. Infiniti calls it “the next great luxury family vehicle,” and touted its room for seven passengers, fold-flat seats and roomy second and third rows. JX drivers even have access to a 24-hour personal concierge service with a live assistant. The JX starts just north of $40,000.[PAGEBREAK]

Cadillac XTS
Cadillac XTS

Cadillac Launches New Flagship
You could say Cadillac’s reveal was about the biggest of the show. While the manufacturer mentioned that its compact luxury sports sedan, the ATS, will arrive next year, the XTS took center stage. As the DTS and CTS ride off into the sunset, the XTS will be Cadillac’s flagship sedan, available this coming spring. 

Cadillac XTS
Cadillac XTS

Priced above the CTS, this is “the most advanced Cadillac yet,” according to Ed Wellburn, GM’s design guru.

With its long wheelbase and wide stance, the XTS is big, bold and bad (my words). The XTS will have a 300-hp V-6 engine with variable-valve timing, direct injection and standard Brembo brakes. Interestingly, a V-8 option is not in the plans.

Wellburn said the XTS will be big in the livery market and also as a “reward” car in sales fleets. GM is steering clear of daily rental.

The XTS will be classified as a midsize but with a fullsize interior. The model is going straight at the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Series market. Wellburn wouldn’t talk MSRP, but said the XTS will be “a compelling value” compared to those cars, and — in manufacturing speak — will “define its own space.”

Hydundai Azera
Hydundai Azera

Hyundai Launches its Taurus Fighter
Hyundai pulled the covers off the new version of Azera, its full-size premium sedan. The 293-hp, V-6 Azera is slated between the mid-size Sonata and luxury Genesis, and will compete against Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon. Hyundai is also hoping to conquest a few Lexus ES and Acura TL buyers.

Hydundai Azera
Hydundai Azera

While somewhat derivative in styling, the Azera’s panoramic sunroof and integrated exhaust tips should set it apart. Not priced yet, you can bet that Hyundai will slot it below the Taurus and pack it with goodies.

John Krafcik, president of Hyundai USA, made light of Hyundai’s fleet sales as south of 10%, the lowest in the industry. Upon questioning, Krafcik said that while commercial fleet is still a small market for Hyundai, the company is intent on growing that fleet segment, while managing (read, curtailing) rental fleet.

Chevrolet Spark
Chevrolet Spark

Chevy Sparks Mini Segment
GM unveiled the U.S. version of its tiniest car (14.5 inches shorter than Chevy Sonic), the 85-hp Chevy Spark, arriving here next year. The Spark will compensate for its size with its bold pastel color options, such as salsa, lemonade, jalapeno and techno-pink. Apparently the best-selling Spark color in Korea is techno-pink — go figure. 

Chevrolet Spark
Chevrolet Spark

In keeping with the industry trend of packing value into the least expensive cars, the Spark will have 10 standard airbags and a lot of accessory possibilities, including a slick graphics package. A city car aimed at “millenials” and urbanites, a GM rep told me that this is not a big-numbers segment. Expect sales of about a fourth of the compact Chevy Cruze.

Horsepower Wars
A few years ago, auto manufacturers seemed chastened by the rise in gas prices to the extent that they pulled back on the horsepower one-upmanship. With new technology to eke the most fuel economy out of an internal combustion engine, combined with an improving economy and somewhat stable gas prices, the horsepower wars are back — at least as halo cars serving a very small niche.

Volkswagen debuted its 256-hp Golf R and Beetle R concept, which brought me back to my younger days when the VW Scirocco and pocket rocket Rabbit GTI got our teenage blood racing.[PAGEBREAK]

For 2013, Ford will launch its fastest Mustang yet, the Shelby GT500. This bad-boy machine sports 650 hp and 600 lb-ft torque and tops out at 200 mph — because you know you need to go that fast, somewhere. As is almost a tradition at auto shows, Carroll Shelby was on hand to stand up and wave.

Ford will also sell a Focus ST with a 250-hp rocket under its hood.

Not to be outdone, GM introduced its Camaro ZL1 convertible. With a 6.2L 580 hp engine that delivers 556 lb-ft of torque, the Camaro ZL1 will take 0-60 in 3.9 seconds but “only” tops out at 184 mph. List price: $54,000.

If you’re looking for a drop top that marries performance with a little luxury, Infiniti showed off its new G convertible IPL (Infiniti Performance Line).

BMW unveiled its fifth-generation M5 sedan, a twin turbo V-8 with 560 horses that does 0 to 62 (it’s a metric thing) in 4.4 seconds. That’s 30% more performance and 30% more efficient, according to BMW.

BMW also announced pricing on its new 3-series line. The 328i starts at $35,775, while the 335i lists at $43,275.

In the bad-ass concept department, the Kia GT (3.3L, 395 hp, 8-speed automatic) looks like it will go straight for the Nissan GT-R, if Kia ever produces the RWD car. The GT is actually a four-door racer in a two-door body — the reverse-hinged back doors meet the front doors in the middle of the car.

Subaru’s BRZ concept STI, shown in sheet metal, is apparently a lot closer to production, arriving here as the Scion FR-S (Toyota is part owner of Subaru’s parent, Fuji Heavy Industries). It’s Subaru’s first rear-wheel drive vehicle.

BMW i3 concept
BMW i3 concept

Electric Reality
While manufacturers play to the power niche, electric cars continue to move from concept to street ready. 

BMW’s futuristic i8 “eco-sports car” is not merely a concept; it will become a reality in 2014. The carbon fiber plug-in hybrid has a 170 hp electric drive motor driving the front wheels and a 220 hp 3-cylinder internal combustion motor at the front. The package should satisfy the tree huggers and adrenaline junkies alike: 400 hp and 78 mpg. The array of 13 lithium-ion batteries will give a 100-mile all-electric range, which breaks new ground for a plug-in.

The i3 all-electric city car is coming sooner, in the fourth quarter of 2013. For those that can’t wait, the all-electric BMW ActiveE (based on the 1-Series) will be delivered beginning in December.

Honda will introduce the 2013 Fit EV in summer 2012. You can lease the all-electric Fit for $399 a month for three years, or buy it for $36,625.

Chevy will have an all-electric Spark in 2013 for select markets. For California drivers, the Chevy Volt now qualifies for the HOV lane.

Infiniti will have a fully electric luxury sedan in 2013.

Also at the show, EV startup company CODA announced it was starting production on its electric sedan, after a couple of years of false starts. Hallelujah![PAGEBREAK]

Technology Trickle Down
Technology is trickling down to the cheapest cars on the market. The Chevy Spark’s available infotainment system interfaces with an iPhone, which will allow the iPhone’s map apps to pull up on the touch screen display — pretty cool. Value-minded Spark buyers get navigation system functionality for free!

The Honda CR-V’s “intelligent multi-information display” has a text messaging function, which can read smartphone texts aloud through the speakers.

Cadillac debuts its infotainment/communications system CUE (Cadillac User Experience) on the XTS. What’s cool is that on the touch screen you can use your fingers to enlarge or shrink the screen, similar to Apple’s iPhone and iPad. When you touch the screen, you get a visible ripple effect too. Apparently the system’s voice recognition is more user-friendly as well.

Infiniti’s JX crossover can sync driver’s Google Calendar and then navigate to appointments. The JX also comes with “the world’s first back-up collision intervention system,” or “BCI.”

Introduced on the new Ford Explorer, Ford is putting rear inflatable seatbelts in the new Flex.

Pandora, the Internet radio company, must be making all the right moves. They’ve got agreements to interface with BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Mini and Scion, and soon on GM, Hyundai and Toyota products.

Ford revamped its My Ford Touch system. The touchpad is more tactile and compatible with tablets such as iPad.
 
A few concept vehicles had tiny side-view mirrors that were not mirrors at all, but cameras that projected the rearview on interior cabin screens. That will take a bit of getting used to, won’t it?

Mazda CX-5
Mazda CX-5

Where’s the Glitz and Glam?
This being Hollywood, you’d think the stars would’ve been more on display this year in greater numbers. Patrick Dempsey was trotted out by Mazda for photos. Apparently “McDreamy” races Mazdas. The Kardashian sisters and Bruce Jenner were also spotted.

Kia spokesman/hoops superstar Blake Griffin exchanged some banter with Michael Sprague, Kia’s marketing chief. It seems as though Griffin has the good-natured, slightly goofy everyman thing going for him that Shaquille O’Neal once did.

BMW began its press conference with an actual projected commercial for the next Mission Impossible Movie. Paula Patton, who stars in the movie, emerged from BMW’s i8 plug-in electric hybrid super car and bantered with BMW of America’s Ludwig Willisch in an awkward Hollywood-starlet-meets-stiff-automotive-exec moment. Only at an auto show…

Hyundai’s display was one of the sleekest. With roving spotlights, thumping trance music and lots of smoke, it could’ve been a Hollywood club. Only it wasn’t. It was sweaty car journalists with tripods and camera jackets.

Mini wins for best lifestyle display, evoking a mod-London feel, replete with a red phone booth in which you could “talk to London.” Three Minis hung vertically from the ceiling, used as video screens for a slot-machine-like projection.

Ford introduced its new Escape around “social gaming,” and an event it had in Hollywood the night before. There will be some functionality with social gaming and the Escape (not while driving, please!). I guess collecting license plates while driving is officially passé. Sigh.

Instead of stars, GM went for the gut. A video told the story of a guy who sold his 1965 Chevy Impala 20 years ago to concentrate on fatherhood. His sons decided to get the car back. After five years of searching, his sons found that same car, bought it and returned it to their father. The family was on hand with the fully restored car. For those who don’t believe that Chevy runs deep — think again!

Photos by Joanne M. Tucker (click here for a full gallery of the L.A. Auto Show)

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris Brown is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. Through these publications, online newsletters, trade events and associations, Chris covers all aspects of the fleet world, including fleet management, manufacturer fleet activities, the fleet leasing industry, vehicle remarketing, rental industry news, car rental taxation and legislation.

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