2008 Los Angeles Auto ShowPosted on November 20th, 2008
By Nina Russin
Auto shows are as much about swagger as substance: a person could go blind from the proliferation of smoke and mirrors. This year’s LA auto show was lighter on bravado and heavier on news, as automakers faced what will at best be remembered as a challenging time in the business.
General Motors pulled its press conference a week before press days. The rest of the media preview remained in tact, with a conspicuous absence of champagne and cheese cubes.
Nissan president and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, expressed industry-wide concerns in his keynote speech to the Motor Press Guild Wednesday morning:
“October was the worst month for US auto sales in twenty-five years,” he stated. “We are clearly in uncharted territory…”
“Everyone is hoping that pent-up demand is building and consumers will soon start buying again, but we really don’t know when that will happen. We have to in the meantime adapt in function of these threatening circumstances, balance short- and long-term objectives in order to maintain viability and a future.”
Greening of America
Manufacturers seem to agree that environmentally-friendly vehicles that use sustainable fuels are driving the current market. Even though gas prices have dropped, customers haven’t forgotten the summer of four dollar-per-gallon fuel. As purse-strings tighten, buyers are looking beyond window stickers, to the long-term costs of owning a vehicle.
As has been the trend, Japanese automakers are sticking with hybrid technology in the short term, and looking towards fuel cells within the decade. Europe believes clean diesel is the way to go, though BMW bucked the trend with its 7 Series hybrid concept.
Honda and Toyota, both long-term advocates of hybrid powertrains, stayed the course. Honda unveiled the Insight concept: a compact car that offers many of the same features as the Civic hybrid, but with a lower sticker price.
Honda’s FC Sport combines Formula One racing technology with the automaker’s next-generation fuel cells in a three-passenger sports car.
The Lexus RX 450h is a more powerful, refined version of the sport-utility vehicle it replaces, with a 295-horsepower engine and 3500-pound towing capacity. An optional remote-touch navigation system includes a new causal language voice recognition feature.
A wide-angle side view monitor uses a camera under the passenger side window to eliminate blind spots in that area. The newest Lexus will also feature Toyota’s pre-collision system that applies the brakes in the event of an imminent collision, and adaptive headlamps that follow the steering wheel to light corners in the road.
Ford hopes to give the upstage the Honda Civic and Toyota Camry hybrids with its two newest alternative fuel midsize sedans: the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. Both use an Atkinson cycle version of the new 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, and have a range of 700 city miles between fill-ups.
Ford’s Sync system now includes a 911 alert, that automatically notified emergency medical personnel if the vehicle’s airbags deploy. Volvo’s blind spot information system comes to the new Fusion as well, alerting the driver about vehicles passing through blind spots to the rear of the car.
Hyundai Goes Blue
Hyundai joins the legion of alternative fuel brands with a full hybrid version of the next-generation Sonata. The 2010 Sonata uses a parallel hybrid drive system and lithium polymer battery technology.
The Sonata hybrid is part of a new environmental initiative that Hyundai calls Blue Drive: the objective is a fleet average of thirty-five miles-per-gallon by the year 2015. Hyundai also unveiled a crossover concept powered by a turbocharged gasoline direct injection engine.
Long-term Hyundai Blue Drive technology includes plug-in hybrids and fuel cell cars.
The Green Car Journal awarded the Volkswagen Jetta TDI this year’s Green Car of the Year award. Readers may recall that the Jetta TDI Sportwagen was our pick for 2009 Green ALV.
“Hybrids have dominated the discussion of environmentally positive vehicles in recent years,” said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and editor of GreenCar.com.
“The highly fuel efficient, 50 state emissions certified Jetta TDI shows that advanced clean diesel has arrived and is poised to change this dynamic. With its affordable price point, refined ride and handling, and high fuel economy, the Jetta TDI shows that hybrids now have a strong competitor in the marketplace.”
Audi, which invented the turbo-diesel technology it shares with sibling-brand, Volkswagen, recapped its recent mileage marathon: a coast-to-coast drive in four of the automaker’s turbo-diesel models: the A3, A4, Q5 crossover, and Q7 sport-utility vehicle. A turbo-diesel version of the Q7 arrives stateside next April.
Zoom-zoom With a Conscience
The 2010 Mazda3 four-door sedan meets partial zero-emission vehicle standards with a 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The new engine utilizes variable valve timing to maximize fuel economy and performance.
There are two front-wheel drive models: the four-door i, with a five-speed manual transmission, and the four-door s, with a six-speed manual.
Buyers can opt for a five-speed automatic transmission instead. Both manual and automatic models average 33 miles-per-gallon on the highway.
Mazda will roll out the five-door hatchback model closer to production.
Smart Hot Rod
Smart, which produces the only micro-car currently sold in the US, is adding a Brabus edition to its line-up. The German tuning specialist, best known for its work with Mercedes-Benz, is spicing up the smart fortwo exterior with special wheels and ground effects, special headlamps and dual exhausts.
The Brabus smart has the same three-liter engine and five-speed automated manual transmission as the base model, but adds a sport-tuned suspension.
Inside, the Brabus edition adds perforated gas and brake pedals, ambient lighting, a special shift and handbrake lever. The Brabus coupe starts at $17,990; pricing for the cabriolet begins at $20,990.
Kia’s Got Soul
The 2010 Kia Soul is a boxy crossover similar in feel to the Scion xB. Like the xB, the Soul encourages customization, with four available trim levels, ranging from a value-priced base model, to the sport grade, with eighteen-inch wheels and ground effects.
There are two available engines: a 1.6-liter block rated at 120-horsepower, and a 140-horsepower two-liter block. Both cars come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. Buyers who chose the bigger block can opt for a four-speed automatic at no additional cost.
Inside, the five-passenger Soul has fourteen storage zones, a state-of-the-art audio system with MP3, iPod, Bluetooth, and satellite radio capability. An optional audio upgrade adds a 315-watt external amplifier.
Buyers can use a dedicated web site to order their cars, choosing from a variety of interior and exterior colors and options.
Nissan adds its take on the box with wheels in the 2009 Cube: a five passenger crossover with a small footprint and tall, square cargo bay. Powered by a 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, the Cube is an environmentally friendly package with an estimated thirty mile-per-gallon fuel economy.
The Cube comes in three grades, with a range of accessories for those who like to customize. A wrap-around rear window brings more ambient light inside the Cube, as compared to its Scion competitor.
Nissan also unveiled the newest Z sports car. The 370Z coupe rolls out in January, followed by the roadster for the 2010 model year. The new Z is slightly shorter than the outgoing model, with a more powerful V6 engine.
Engineers enhanced the coupe’s torsional rigidity for better handling and performance, and took almost a hundred pounds out of its overall weight.
Buyers can opt for a six-speed manual or new seven-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection: both deliver slightly better fuel economy than the current model.
As with its predecessors, the new Z is a driver-oriented car with a race-inspired cockpit, low center of gravity and extremely low coefficient of drag. Base price will be about $30,000, making the 370Z one of the best values in the sports car market.
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