- The class of 2013 debuts in Los Angeles.
- No big stars but plenty of "most likely to succeed" contenders.
- Technology takes on greater importance.
The 2012 LA Auto Show is a big deal. Huge. This is where potential buyers can see many of the new models that will grace showrooms and streets in 2013 and beyond.
In some ways, the new cars launched in Los Angeles this year are typical--a particular mix of luxury and eco-friendliness that is popular here. The 2014 top-of-the-line Acura RLX debuted on the same day as the all-electric FIAT 500. The sexy 2014 Jaguar F-Type roadster vied for attention with the efficient 3-cylinder Ford Fiesta. And in Southern California's nearly perpetual sunshine, the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible is a welcome sight.
But even though it's held in a city known as La-La Land, this year's LA show has been more about "real" vehicles than high-dollar sports machines or niche cars. Imagine a fashion show that concentrated on comfortable clothes and sensible shoes--that's the atmosphere here.
Audi, purveyor of all things stylish and sleek, made diesel its main message, with four new TDI models, including the popular Q5 SUV. Actually, Audi's commitment to diesel in the United States is unwavering. Considering that diesel is typically about 30 percent more efficient than gasoline with no real sacrifice in performance, the company has a strong argument. "We think this technology has a big future," said Scott Keogh, president of Audi's American operations.
Mazda has done something similar with its 2014 Mazda6, an all-new generation of the midsize sedan, by offering a diesel option for American buyers.
To use a little of Hollywood's language, there have been no blockbuster cars, no wow moments. Instead, companies are mainly going for the safe bets--the products they know will be well received by drivers who need to make the most of their automotive budgets. The 2014 Kia Forte sedan and 2014 Kia Sorento 7-seat SUV are prime examples--family fare offering good looks and good value. They're joined by another fine 7-seat SUV, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe.
There are plenty of sequels. The revised 2013 Honda Civic reworks and improves the compact car formula. The 2013 Porsche Cayman takes over from where the previous generation left off, just like the 2013 Toyota RAV4. If there are few surprises, at least consumers know what they're getting.
If we want to see something really new from Los Angeles, we must look at silicon instead of steel. The digitization of transportation maintains its relentless pace, as more vehicles embrace greater computing power. Cell phone provider Sprint has teamed up with Chrysler to provide new features for the car company's Uconnect system.
Like her or not, Siri is well-known among Apple iPhone users, and this interactive voice-activated system is becoming more common. For her fans, General Motors is bringing a Siri-based "Eyes Free" system to two of its cars. These are the Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, small cars aimed at young, tech-embracing drivers. No doubt this function will spread to other GM vehicles in time. Honda and BMW have also eluded to their own plans to use Apple's virtual assistant.
If we put all of the cars seen at the 2012 LA Auto Show into a blender to make one machine, we'd get something with smart styling, frugal fuel consumption, strong reliability and plenty of gadgetry--all at a competitive price. There's never been a better time to be a car buyer.
What it means to you: Equipment versus price, performance versus consumption--the LA Auto Show demonstrates that modern cars can offer assets that were once mutually exclusive.
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