Auto Focus

Six Trends from the LA Auto Show

This year’s press conferences showcased a diesel invasion, more affordable all-electric models, new types of car connectivity, the latest option must-haves and some serious power.

December 3, 2012

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The 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon may find a unique home in between a family hauler and small business van.
The 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon may find a unique home in between a family hauler and small business van.

This being Hollywood, it’s ironic that the 2012 LA Auto Show lacked star power at the press conferences — no Heidi Klum, Kardashian sisters or “McDreamy” this year. Nonetheless, the show is always a good place to take the pulse of the manufacturers and parse the trend lines. Here is an assessment of the first press day.

(LA Auto Show photo galleries: Part 1: Sedans and Part 2: Trucks, Vans & Crossovers/SUVs)

The industry is outpacing the economy.

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It’s clear that as a whole the auto industry is back and on solid footing, as just about every manufacturer crowed about substantial sales increases year over year — in spite of a sluggish economy.

Volkswagen reported it had doubled sales in three years and 2012 will mark its best sales year in the U.S. since 1973. Subaru will break its all-time sales mark in America this year, while Kia will smash the manufacturer’s record for sales of a single model with the Optima. Hyundai said it has “a shot” to break 700,000 in total sales this year — remarkable considering it said it’s running an average 21 days’ supply.

Though the pace of sales will cool off moving forward, the fact that higher sales are being done with lower incentives and higher transaction prices speaks to the health of the industry.

Diesel is gaining momentum.

Diesel sales are showing double-digit increases in America and the model offerings are following. OEMs see this as one path to reaching the new fuel economy standards; better diesel engine technology is pushing the envelope and the premium payback is quicker than most hybrids.

Audi announced it is expanding its diesel models from two to six, adding TDI versions of the A6, A7 and A8 luxury sedans and Q5 SUV alongside the A3 and Q7. Volkswagen recently added the Passat and Beetle TDI to complement the Golf, Jetta and Touareg diesel offerings, and Porsche now has a diesel variant of the Cayenne. Earlier this year, BMW also announced a 2.0L four-cylinder diesel engine for the U.S.

Not to be outdone by the Germans, Mazda announced that it will be the first Asian automaker to offer a diesel engine in America with its redesigned 2014 Mazda6, coming next year.

In a sign of the times, Audi of America President Scott Keough called for diesel to be equated to an alternative fuel for the purposes of HOV lane access and a tax on diesel closer to that of gasoline.

Balls-out* power is not dead, it’s just moving upscale.

As automakers abandon V8 and even V6 engines for mainstream cars, serious power is finding a permanent home in the luxury and sports car segments. Sure, you could always find horses in those segments, but the OEMs seem to be upping the ante with new products in Los Angeles, the biggest luxury car market in the world.

Mercedes announced that AMG, its performance division, is on a “product offensive” in the U.S., with 18 total offerings. Mercedes introduced the GL63 AMG SUV, which churns out 550 horsepower, 550 ft.-lbs. of torque and goes from 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds, as well as the SLS AMG GT Black Series supercar, which gives you 583 horses and goes 0 to 60 in an astonishing 3.5 seconds.

Jaguar introduced the XFR-S, labeled “the most powerful production sedan in Jaguar’s history,” which offers a V8 and 498 horsepower and does 0 to 60 in “only” 4.2 seconds.

Chrysler had on display its new Viper, which debuted at the New York Auto Show. The V10 engine reaches new heights with an absurd 640 horsepower and 600 ft.-lbs. of torque.

The trend with compact cars is engine choices that offer fuel economy or power, and the 2014 Ford Fiesta is a leading example. Ford’s newly introduced 1.0L Ecoboost 3-cylinder engine will debut in America on the Fiesta, while the Fiesta ST will give 197 horses and 215 ft.-lbs. of torque.[PAGEBREAK]

The Spark, which utilizes already developed Volt technology and is said to go 0-60 in a respectable 8 seconds, will list for $25,000 after government tax breaks.
The Spark, which utilizes already developed Volt technology and is said to go 0-60 in a respectable 8 seconds, will list for $25,000 after government tax breaks.

More all-electrics are coming, but in limited production.

Los Angeles is a major luxury car market, but it is also a home to the green movement. Next year will see the debuts of three all-electric models, the Fiat 500e, Chevy Spark electric and smart electric. The Spark, which utilizes already developed Volt technology and is said to go 0-60 in a respectable 8 seconds, will list for $25,000 after government tax breaks.

Daimler’s Smart division is calling the new smart electric “smart’s true calling” and it will apparently be the cheapest all-electric model on the market, with a base price of $25,000 not including government breaks.

On the premium end, BMW showed its i3 coupe concept mega city vehicle, which is a “close look at the production version” that will go on sale late next year. It’s a space-aged e-car, built out of plastic and carbon fiber and with large glass openings, but it won’t be cheap. The i8 all-electric sports car should rival the Tesla roadster in performance and price.

They’re calling these electric models “compliance cars,” manufactured to satisfy California’s requirements to sell electric vehicles. You won’t see these in most other parts of the country any time soon.

Don’t expect any leaps in range either — as none of these models will get you much more than 80 miles on a charge. It makes you wonder — has the electric vehicle market stalled?


New versions of crossovers such as the new Toyota RAV4 all grew to add passenger and cargo volume, and yet all these models gained in fuel economy.
New versions of crossovers such as the new Toyota RAV4 all grew to add passenger and cargo volume, and yet all these models gained in fuel economy.

Redesigned models grow in size and volume, yet sip less fuel.

This isn’t a new trend, only the continuation of a quest by automakers since fuel became a political hot button. New versions of crossovers such as the new Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe and Subaru Forester, along with redesigned car models such as the Kia Forte and Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet, all grew to add passenger and cargo volume, and yet all these models gained in fuel economy.

The Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander and Range Rover all went on Weight Watchers, the latter dropping a whopping 700 pounds over the outgoing model with an all-aluminum frame. The new Range Rover improved to a best-ever 20 mpg on the highway, while still being able to hit 60 mpg from a standstill in 5 seconds.

The car gets (even more) connected.

Systems that integrate navigation, hands-free phone and digital audio were once options on premium models, but they’re now essential offerings even on B-segment models such as the Ford Fiesta.

Big touchscreens are the norm, and live concierge service is trickling down to mainstream cars. The new Acura RLX debuts a concierge service as part of its connectivity system. Sprint announced a new platform for OEMs called Velocity with concierge center integration. Kia’s new UVO eServices platform, which will be first available on the 2014 Sorento, also offers a concierge service — for free.

Standard fleet telematics features such as “geo-fencing” are now available on consumer platforms. Kia’s Michael Sprague got a laugh when demonstrating how the UVO system can alert parents when their daughter visits her bad-news boyfriend by putting a virtual fence around his house.

Other thoughts and one-shots:

The press conferences for both Hyundai and Kia first addressed the fuel economy overstatement issue, with both automakers offering outright apologies. Hyundai said it has not affected auction prices of those models, and that 90% of owners who visited dealerships are satisfied with the reimbursement program. (So what type of stink are the dissatisfied 10% making?)

Power lift gates are the new norm on mainstream (non-luxury) crossovers, as the new Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sorento all get this as an option or standard.

Toyota said the all-new 2013 Toyota RAV4 represents Toyota’s quest for “more emotionally engaging products.” It’s sleeker and sportier, with a tapered, redesigned front fascia and integrated rear spoiler. Gone is the spare tire on the back door — hooray!

The all-new Beetle Cabriolet has been given a more masculine stance. It’s longer, wider and lower, with a Porsche cabriolet-like rear spoiler. The wheels are bigger, and you’ll begin to notice the distinct dot pattern on the xenon headlights that are available on other new models.

The all-new Acura RLX, heralded as the company’s next flagship sedan, looks about as inspiring as a Camry. Called “comfortable and quiet,” that’s a good indication of where this sedan fits in the marketplace, if it can conquest any sales from the Toyota Avalon.

The 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon may find a unique home in between a family hauler and small business van. While its looks and interior appointments can best be called “Spartan,” the back seats fold flat to offer endless combinations of people and stuff. Two wheelbases produce five- and seven-passenger versions. The third-row seats recline and actually fit full-grown adults comfortably. Pricing is not announced, but a Ford rep said the Wagon will be “a few thousand less than a comparably equipped Odyssey and Sienna.” Who knows, its Euro flavor just might catch.

* Does someone have a problem with the phrase “balls out” on a business-to-business website? “Balls out” and “balls to the wall” are phrases derived from steam engines, and the steel balls that spun in the rotating governor device. So sit back down! 

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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