I distinctly remember finagling a pass to the LA Auto Show Press Days when I was 16 and driving the then-new Chevrolet Corvette up the 110 Freeway on a predetermined route. How long ago was that? That was a 25th Anniversary Corvette. A long time ago.
With very few exceptions I haven’t missed going to the LA Auto Show since then. I have always been excited by all the new cars and the dog and pony show that the vehicle manufacturers put on. I like the thumping music and flashing lights as the latest machines roll out onto the stage and some guy in a suit talks about how this car is going to save the automotive universe from boredom or whatever.
But something felt very different this year. While there are usually tons of future cars spinning on turntables with beautiful women trying to figure out what a carburetor is in their scripts, this year I didn’t see any of that. The spinning displays were all about present vehicles with a very few exceptions.
The messages one guy in a suit read from his teleprompter was virtually identical to what the other guys in suits read from theirs. And almost all the readers used the word “product” to describe their vehicles. Product. What a sad word for something that has created passion in teenagers and grown-ups alike for over a century now.
Maybe that’s the problem - they think of this as just “product” like hair care goo or salty crackers. That lack of vision certainly seems to show up in almost all of what their companies are producing - nondescript driving appliances with poorly-designed electronic interfaces. Product. What a sad word.
There were a few stand out vehicles; however. But just a few. And, admittedly, not everyone wants something more than a driving appliance. I get that. And that’s why Toyota can build hundreds of thousands of Camrys and Corollas - they are little more than a driving appliance.
So here are vehicles I think that are worth looking at while you’re at the LA Auto Show. Oh, and do go. There are some cool things to see and it’s fun to see all the vehicles without some dealer dork breathing down your neck checking your credit score.
The 2016 Volt is the combination gasoline and electric vehicle that I think makes so much sense for people. For ’16 the Volt can go up to 50 miles on pure electric power and many drivers realize that that’s plenty since the average driver only puts about 35 miles per day on their vehicle. If you go further you have a gasoline engine that kicks in and keeps you moving for up to 420 miles.
This is a driving appliance that makes a tremendous amount of sense for a lot of people.
I am the first to admit I have a huge bias against Italian cars. I don’t know why, but the Fiat 500 is possibly the worst car I’ve ever driven. That being said, Fiat’s 124 Spider is intriguing if nothing more than an alternative to the Mazda Miata. A two-seat rear-drive convertible that gets decent mileage could also be a great second car to have.
See my comments above about Italian vehicles but Alfa Romeo certainly put on one heck of a show to introduce their Giulia Quadrifoglio. This four-door sedan offers a turbocharged V6 that offers over 500 horsepower. Despite the four doors this car is the antithesis of a driving appliance and was the fastest four-door sedan ever driven on Germany’s famous Nurburgring race track.
My favorite automotive configuration is the small crossover like the Toyota RAV4. That configuration offers a great seating position, easy entry and exit, and plenty of cargo space in a fuel efficient package. The Infiniti QX30 is a new entry by the company into this field and they’ve certainly done a first-rate job of making this vehicle stand out in a good way with their styling.
So there you go. That’s it. Small list, isn’t it?
One more thing - while I know the design of the exterior of a vehicle is heavily dictated by the desire to have the vehicle both cheat the wind and survive a collision, interior design isn’t quite as restricted. So why does every single new vehicle have such completely unimaginative interior design? Black plastic and either some metallic material or another plastic that looks like carbon fiber. Ew.
While the 1980s were possibly one of the worst times in the automobile industry, one thing I did like was the choice of a variety of interior colors and materials. I remember having a Dodge that had red corduroy seats. Okay, it looked like a whore house inside but it wasn’t the same black plastic that everybody else had.
Come on, car companies, give us some choice besides black or dark grey plastic for every surface of your interiors. Go get a Pantone color book and just pick one or two colors besides black or beige.
Also, can we get rid of the shift lever already? In a modern car, this is just an input device and isn’t connected to the transmission at all. Ram Trucks have a knob on the instrument panel that does this job - let’s all look at that and adopt it, shall we? The gear shift in the console is a huge waste of space.
Let’s also get rid of a lot of the in-vehicle electronics. We all have a smart phone. We like it. We upgrade it frequently. We don’t need your outdated dashboard computer that works poorly with our smart phones and is a distraction. Just make your audio system work with our smart phones and we will be happy. In-vehicle electronics have been a huge source of frustration for vehicle buyers as is born-out by the vehicle quality ratings - the more in-vehicle electronics the more likely a vehicle drops in these ratings.
Where are all the promised electric car choices? Right now the electric cars on the floor included the BMW i3, which is hideous, and the Nissan Leaf, which is hideous. You car makers may have heard of Tesla, who wasn’t at the show. Their cars are beautiful. How about an electric car that is beautiful where we buy the car itself and then lease the batteries? They do this in Europe - we can do it here. Makes sense. And, again, package it in something I don’t have to sneak up on because it’s ugly.
So there’s my take on the LA Auto Show for 2015. I hope you go, I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear your take on the show.