Auto Focus

Greetings from the Los Angeles Auto Show

Observations on the cars, the trends, the industry and some very cool things.

November 22, 2013

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The automotive world — well, half of it, anyway — descended on our fair city this week. The other half was in Tokyo for the Tokyo Motor Show. This year, the orbits of these two auto shows aligned. Some execs literally did two press conferences in one day, owing to the substantial time change.

These links will take you to our photo galleries for cars, trucks, SUVs, vans and green vehicles, and for my takeaways, read on:

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-    Can the auto world fit more compact luxury crossovers? Yes it can.

When I saw the Range Rover Evoque at the 2011 show, I wasn’t sure how the motoring public would take to a compact crossover from a luxury brand. The answer is: very well, apparently.

Since then, BMW released its diminutive X1 and revealed its concept X4 at this show. The X4’s closest cousin would be the erstwhile Honda Accord Crosstour — or a smaller version of the X6. Eyeing a summer 2014 release, the X4 elbows itself in next to the X3 and X5. With the X1, X3, X5 and X6, BMW expanded its crossover/SUV lineup to five, from only two vehicles five years ago.

Porsche unveiled the Macan, a compact crossover that is supposed to do zero to 60 in five seconds. With a starting price of about $50,000, it’s the cheapest Porsche on the market.

Mercedes said its compact GLA is coming next fall, and to tease its arrival, Mercedes premiered the GLA AMG 45 concept, which rivals the Macan with a 0 to 60 time of less than five seconds.

Jaguar showed off its CX-17 crossover concept. If the venerable British luxury sedan maker feels it needs to be in the segment, you know it’s real. Infiniti unveiled its entry, the Q30 “compact premium” concept vehicle, launching in early 2015.

Why all the attention to a segment that didn’t exist 10 years ago? Porsche puts Macan volume around 50,000 units, which would make the Macan its highest seller. An Infiniti press release reads, “The Q30 Concept has a compact footprint geared to the global trend of younger customers entering the premium sector in search of a product that suits their urban lifestyle.” That says it all.

-    The luxury “A segment” is growing fast.

Again, chalk this up to the manufacturers’ desire to reach younger buyers. Audi’s Scott Keogh said 57% of the growth in the U.S. luxury market in the coming years will be in the A segment.

Audi revealed the A3 at this year’s show — actually three bodies, five engines and seven variants across a sedan, cabriolet, all-electric and S3 sports model. While previous A3 iterations sold about 6,000 units, the new A3 “will blow away those numbers,” Keogh told me.

The magic starting price point for the A segment is $29,990, matching the Mercedes CLA. CLA sales have propelled Mercedes past its German luxury rivals this year.


-    The EV market has stalled.

Looking back at the swarm of all-electric and plug-in electric models that were shown off in 2010 to 2012, this show had the least amount of electric buzz in years. Volkswagen made the biggest splash with its eGolf, still a year away from sales. The Cadillac ELR is based on the Chevrolet Volt. One of the new Audi A3 models is an electric version. BMW trotted out its i3 electric compact model, but with a new, peculiar option: you can get it with a “range-extending” motorcycle gas engine. Talk about hedging your bets.  

In terms of “wow factor,” nothing tops the BMW i8, a plug-in hybrid with a 310-mile range that does zero to 60 in about 4 seconds and gets 94 miles per gallon equivalent. This concept is becoming reality in the summer of 2014, but for about $150,000.

-    Hydrogen is happening.

Honda unveiled its dedicated hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, at the 2007 LA Auto Show, and this year announced the concept FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle). Honda promised an on-road version by 2015, while Toyota promised its midsize hydrogen-powered fuel cell sedan by 2015, as well.

Hyundai, however, is bringing to market a hydrogen fuel cell Tucson SUV next spring in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Built on the same Tucson platform, the hydrogen version can be leased for $2,999 down and $499 a month and comes with unlimited free refueling and “valet maintenance.”

California being the (loss) leader in all things alternative, automotive or otherwise, we’ll see if Gov. Jerry Brown’s “hydrogen highway” of fueling stations becomes reality.  Some eight years ago, I wrote an editorial gushing about the promise of hydrogen fuel cells. I used to wince when I reread it, as hydrogen was soon after jilted for the sexier electric vehicle market and then natural gas. I’m not wincing anymore.  

-    Chevrolet will own midsize pickup segment.

Admittedly, the segment has been moribund without updates from Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. But the all-new 2015 Chevy Colorado will change that. The Colorado gets a four-cylinder version for the fuel conscious and the segment’s only diesel variant. It is 900 pounds lighter than the Silverado, with a sharper turning radius.

With “the comfort and convenience of a crossover” and “accessories for the weekend warrior,” the Colorado will appeal to small fleets as well as the “suburban white collar commuter,” according to GM’s Tom Wilkinson.

-    Kia has arrived.

Kia celebrates its 20th year in the U.S. market. At this year’s show, Kia launched a luxury sedan, the strangely named Kia K900. But this is not your uncle’s Amanti. The K900 is going after the Lexus GS/LS market. Starting at $50,000 and going to about $65,000 loaded, this is Kia’s version of the Hyundai Equus.

A few years ago, 2% of Kia’s sales were written as leases, but today that stands at 22%, a sign of good things. Kia calls itself a “challenger brand,” but it should stop comparing itself to other brands as it can stand on its own merits now.

A collection of very cool things:

-    The new Nissan GTR NISMO goes to 60 in two seconds. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Nissan had Usain Bolt on hand to gush over it before he struck his famous pose.
-    The Ford Edge concept’s “fully assisted parking aide” allows the driver to park in tight spaces — even perpendicular ones — while standing outside the vehicle. Autonomous driving may be years away, but we’re on that path.
-    In the “I don’t need it but I’m rich” department: An option for the all-new BMW 4 series convertible is a neck warmer vent.
-    In a concept car first, the Mercedes AMG Gran Turismo sports eight exhaust pipes, with a wraparound taillight that runs right through them.
-    The 2015 Audi A3 comes with the world’s first embedded 4G LTE connectivity, allowing drivers to get Twitter alerts, flight updates, enhanced parking finder, picture navigation and thousands of Internet radio stations. Safety ramifications aside for the moment, in-car Internet is here.

And just a few interesting statistics, culled from the J.D. Power Western Automotive Conference:

-    20.1% - U.S. residents who speak “a language other than English in the home.” (43% for California)
-    California is the only state in nation that has no ethnic majority.
-    30% - Auto loans in the U.S. for 72 months; 100-car loans are also becoming a reality.
-    24% - Present lease penetration rate.
-    $450 - Average monthly auto payment in the U.S.
-    70% - Debt as a percentage of gross domestic product in 2010. In 2007, it was 40%.
-    In 2010, Social Security payments to cover one worker in retirement were covered by four workers. In 2030, the burden to pay for one retiree will be shared by only two workers.

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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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