LA Auto Show AND a newsbyte you won’t find anywhere else

“I love it when a plan comes together,” quoth the great Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith.  I said the same when I saw the LA Auto Show, Thanksgiving, and some time off from work all coalesce on my calendar.  Needing to pick up some Craigslist purchases in LA, and also planning to top the whole thing off by visiting some old friends in San Diego, we packed up our 2004 Nissan Murano, rented a U-Haul trailer, and headed west.The drive from Vegas to LA sucks.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  Primm, Barstow, and Baker are  Shakespearean tragedies of towns, there’s absolutely nothing else of interest on the way, and there will always inevitably be heavy traffic somewhere on the route.  The drive always takes longer than you think it will, and always FEELS like it takes even longer than that.  We finally arrived, exhausted, at our friends’ place outside San Diego at around 8pm.  We were thrilled to be there but were unable to celebrate for long–everyone was passed out by 11.

Wednesday morning, we grabbed breakfast and headed north for the LA Auto Show and our Craigslist items.  We dropped off our trailer at my wife’s sister’s place, then headed over to the Convention Center.
Porsche was the first display we visited, and it was great to see them showing off the Black Swan GT3 RSR that took the ALMS GTC championship this year.  Of course, the GTC class is made up entirely of GT3 RSRs, so any champion would certainly have been welcome.  Porsche’s big premiere at the LA show was the Panamera GTS.  I understand why this was the case, as I saw more than a fair share of Panameras in the SoCal area on this trip.  Porsche is only too happy to oblige their rich LA customers with more model diversity.  Gotta keep it exclusive.  Additionally, it was also the first time the unwashed masses got to see the new 991…but we saw it earlier at Rennsport Reunion IV, so if you want more on that, keep reading those posts.

As has been the case the last few years in LA, the Ford display was amazing.  It took up a huge chunk of the main hall and featured an SVT Raptor where the body would lift off of the frame to show off the incredible suspension, closed-circuit TV mini-gameshows for giveaways, the new Escape, a Mustang on a dyno…one could spend hours in the Ford display alone.

The Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep display was well-executed, even if they don’t have the cash to be blowing big money on their square footage like Ford does.  Instead, they featured an SRT display: just the four SRT models together with animated functioning cutaways of their engines chugging away next to them.  One Toby-Keith part of me really wants a 300 SRT8 or Charger SRT8–simple, big, loud, fast, All-American.  Oh, and Chrysler also did a nice job playing up one of their best current, more sophisticated features: the 8.1-inch display that’s going into the 300/Charger.  It was the centerpiece of a cockpit mockup, and kept the boys occupied pressing its touchscreen for a good ten-plus minutes.

I have no interest in any Kias, but it was nice of Kia to throw down a huge lit dance floor with a digitally enhanced “mirror” above it, so my sons could dance with digital hamsters.  In fact, when we got to the Las Vegas auto show a few days later, the first thing #1 said was, “Let’s go to the dancing!”

Audi was just too overcrowded.  I love the cars and wish the company the best, but Audi is so “in” right now that I cannot fathom purchasing one for myself.  The R8 GT is beautiful, the TT RS is a mini R8 with a five-cylinder snort, the A7/S7 is stunning, and the A6 is is profoundly competent, but the members of the  crowd around the Audis were more interested in buying status symbols than cars.  Fortunately for most of them, Audi sells a more expensive VW Golf called the A3, and the front-drive CVT A4.  Ugh.

Mitsubishi embarrassed themselves by centering their display on the i-MIEV, or whatever they call their abomination of an EV.  It looks so golf-cart flimsy that I refuse to believe that the thing meets any collision standards whatsoever.  The worst part about the display, however, was that the featured car had fake wood-panel doors.  This begs for a SNL Weekend Update “REALLY?” segment.  Honestly, the only thing that “car,” if you can call it that, has going for it is that the electric motor is in the back, and it’s rear-drive.  So basically the i-MIEV, as noted on Top Gear, is a Porsche 911.  Right?

Chevy brought along three (3) Volts.  And charging hardware, too.  Neat.  Shame they all seem to be at auto shows instead of dealers.  And where is the Volt advertised, anyway?  How come the only pub I see for it seems to be coming from the clueless televised news, which constantly reports (with a lawsuit-worthy level of inaccuracy) that Volts spontaneously combust in crash tests?

The Cadillac Ciel was present at the show in all its glory.  I have trouble picturing how it could possibly still look good with the top up, but as a spectacle at an auto show, it is drop-dead gorgeous.  My picture did not turn out well, so here’s one from the Monterey Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Ciel looks so much like a long, slab-sided American luxury battleship that they should limit production to fifty and instead of numbering them, name them after the states.

Son #2 was not doing so well at this point, so the wife took him back to the car, and #1 and I breezed through Mazda and Subaru.  The CX-5 looks like a strong choice for a recently married (or perhaps long-term committed) enthusiast type with a less-than-large dog, if you must have a crossover instead of a wagon.

And of course the Subaru BRZ concept was in place, drawing a crowd.  Subie PR folks refused to give out performance or price numbers, only saying the official unveil of the production model would take place very soon at the Tokyo Motor Show.  Always a good thing to have inexpensive, front-engine, rear-drive, 4-seat cars in the world.  Thank you, Subaru.

That wrapped up my experience at the LA Auto Show.  I took #1 back to the car after he said, “Let’s go see Mommy.  No more cars, Daddy.”  I was a bit disappointed, but knew that it would be impossible for me to get the six more hours I’d need to cover the entire show in depth, so we called it a day.

Now, about that bit you won’t read anywhere else: I have been on the cusp of calling Ford to ask this question since it hasn’t been reported anywhere, but was able to get my answer on the show floor.  In their massive display area, Ford had a few tricked-out Flex models sitting about, and I asked one of the PR guys standing nearby if they planned to keep building the Flex, given the somewhat disappointing sales numbers.  His answer was an emphatic YES, because even though they don’t sell as many as they would like, the feedback from the folks that have bought them is so overwhelmingly positive that Ford feels that continued production is worthwhile for the purpose of retaining those happy customers.  Additionally, they find that for many buyers, the Flex is their first Ford, so it’s an excellent product for stealing customers from other manufacturers.  When the wife’s parents were looking for a new vehicle a year or so ago, one of my suggestions was a Flex SEL Ecoboost, and they wound up custom-ordering one from Dearborn.  I’ve put in a fair bit of time behind the wheel and it is exceptional.  It’s a small, luxurious bus with a rocket attached to it in the form of the Ecoboost V6, which is a superb engine choice for the vehicle.  You can easily take six people along with you and still crush the average sedan in a 0-60 fight for a merge onto an on-ramp.

There you have it, the 2011 LA Auto Show.  Read more about our latest west coast trip in the days to come.


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