It’s been difficult to sum up the Los Angeles Auto Show this year.
Maybe there’s just a general malaise among the media after Trump’s election, a collective hangover of doubt and insecurity, punctuated by a city protest that marched so close to the automotive press Wednesday night, some had trouble downing their free cocktails and meatball appetizers. (Thanks, Donald.)
Maybe it’s the way the Los Angeles Auto Show is attempting to redefine itself. Through the years, it has morphed from a luxury show to a green show to a technology showcase. The green moniker (the Chevrolet Bolt was named Green Car of the Year this week) lasted a while until carmakers began making every major show environmentally friendly. The L.A. Show was so good at promoting green events, everyone else copied it. Now, electrics rarely create more buzz than an oscillating fan on a summer night.
But it took a great electric vehicle to wow cynical reporters and editors this year. That was the Jaguar I-Pace Concept. The 400-horsepower electric crossover promises 200-plus miles of range and will arrive at dealerships in 2018. A good measuring stick for a vehicle’s popularity is how many people gather around it the day after its debut, and the I-Pace managed to hold a crowd the entire time. While still in concept form, the sleek exterior is pretty much set and won’t vary from what we see today. This vehicle is ready, and that’s part of the excitement.
The word “crossover” remains the leader in automotive buzzword bingo.
There were some other vehicles that people care about and, frankly, are much better than the vehicles they replace. The Honda Civic Si will leave boy racers panting, the Mazda CX-5 becomes the unofficial California family starter kit, and Subaru joins the world of multi-row crossovers with its Mt. Fuji-sized Vizivi-7 – a concept that suggests there’s even a Subaru for the Walton family.
The word “crossover” remains the leader in automotive buzzword bingo. Everyone wants one, customers and carmakers alike. It’s certainly keeping designers and engineers in working capital.
“No one expected the speed of change from cars to crossovers,” said Bob Carter, Toyota’s senior vice president of automotive operations in the United States. Toyota unveiled its own small crossover, the C-HR, the first vehicle to have its name chosen from a periodic table.
Carter is one of many automotive executives who sees the growth of crossovers continuing throughout the market. He credits Millennials for finally ponying up to the table and beginning buying vehicles. That group of youngsters – ranging in age up to 35 – had been holding off on buying cars for the past decade, strapped with student-loan debt and unable to make car payments with participation trophies and emojis. Things, apparently, are picking up for them.
“There was so much talk before about how Millennials weren’t interested in cars, but it seems like they are just moving to cars later than previous generations,” Carter told Motor1.
But even the C-HR’s debut Thursday felt underwhelming. It’s a highly stylized crossover, with its big hips ready to cart kids to soccer games and parents to work, but even before the drop cloth was pulled off, everyone knew what it looked like.
In fairness, the show is not just about pleasing the media. It’s a matter of pleasing the public.
That’s the reason much of the L.A. show felt a little flat this year. So many of the reveals were photocopies of something we’ve all seen before. The world has already seen the new Jeep Compass, the Volkswagen Atlas, and the Nissan Sentra Nismo – heck, we already drove that one. Debuts now come at swank Beverly Hills homes, dark studios, or the sterile confines of the Internet, days before the show begins. Trump’s election was a bigger surprise – and more recent news -- than many of the vehicles presented in Los Angeles.
That’s certainly not the show’s fault. Los Angeles remains the beating heart of America’s car culture and its perfect 76-degree, climate-controlled city is a wondrous place to see them. Instead, the constant barrage of news and 24-hour automotive news cycle is just companies making the most of their resources.
No one is surprised. No one is excited. Automotive foreplay is a dying art, last appearing when Ford rolled out the GT in Detroit two years ago with orgasmic thunder. And that car still collects a crowd at an auto show.
Now, the automotive press prewrites events, schedules their publication time, and then smoke cigarettes during the press conferences. (Okay, most of the smokers are actually German and Japanese engineers.) Prewriting an event saps it of any potential energy.
In fairness, the show is not just about pleasing the media. It’s a matter of pleasing the public. It will still be pleasantly surprised when they walk up to the Si. It’s an affordable aspiration that will certainly stoke that 12-year-old’s imagination as he or she looks up at pages of Motor Trend taped to the wall. The Corvette, Mustang, Camaro, GT, Ram, F-150, WRX STI, Golf R, Challenger, 911, F-Type, S5, R8, and 3, 4, 5, 6 Series fans will all be pleased at the downtown convention center.
They don’t know about maximizing exposure or exclusive content provided under an embargo. Many don’t even know that it’s the chemical adrenalin pumping through their veins that causes their heart to quicken, their head to spin just a little when they look at the lifted Mercedes G-Wagen.
And at the L.A. Auto Show, they get to touch them. See the sheet metal version of their dreams.
I may not find a reason to feel amped at the show. But, really, I don’t have to. It’s not for me. It never was.
Scott Burgess has covered the auto industry for more than a decade as The Detroit News' auto critic and as Detroit Editor at Motor Trend. Before writing about cars and the people who make them, he was a newspaper journalist, where he covered everything from small town politics to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Live Photos: Nathan Leach-Proffer / Seyth Miersma / Motor1.com & Newspress USA