Looking for early Christmas presents in the form of national and international press kudos and internet buzz, more than 50 automakers have been unveiling sparkling new models and features at the press preview at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week. The exhibition is the traditional kickoff to worldwide auto-show season, which next moves to Detroit in January.
Just about every major — and not so major — automaker has something to brag about at Los Angeles, where the show opens to the public on Nov. 18 and runs through Nov. 27. Here's a look at a handful of the most interesting and significant from the car brands in LA this week:
Ford is touting a completely new version of its venerable Escape, the nameplate that played a huge part in popularizing compact sport utility vehicles during the Nineties. This time around, new smart technology helps Escape owners load or unload gear through the rear hatch without fumbling for a key and parks itself, among many other enhancements and new features. The 2013 Escape also illustrates how Ford has advanced its global vehicle-development strategy, because the vehicle is made from a common set of parts and components that Ford also will use to make a future version of its Focus, two future minivans and at least six other models, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Honda introduced a substantially new version of its staple CR-V compact utility at the show, a major milestone for a company that is badly in need of some momentum-building news — and vehicles — on the product front. It remains a bit touch-and-go what volumes of CR-V that Honda can produce in the near term because of the supply-chain disruptions wrought by the flooding in Thailand. But observers including Edmunds.com say that the CR-V's makeover, while modest, is a good one, including some restyling, a boost in connetivity and steady pricing with the last version.
Audi racked up the 2012 Car of the Year Award from Automobile magazine for its A7, a new model that debuted near the upper end of Audi's product line this year and made immediate splashes around the world. A7 also picked up the inaugural Vehicle of the Year award from the Motor Press Guild, an auto-media association that called the car "the epitome of high style and artistry."
Cadillac revealed what executives are calling its most technically advanced car in the brand's history, the XTS sedan, which GM is aiming boldly and squarely at German luxury brands. The large and spacious XTS goes on sale next spring featuring new technologies such as advanced voice recognition and automatic braking that can aply up to 1G of force to slow the car at road speeds, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Hyundai marked the show in what amounts to its American home town with the introduction of Azera, an all-new full-size sedan that sits in its lineup between Sonata and the near-luxury Genesis. It's the seventh vehicle in a much longer blitz of new models for the momentum-churning Korean brand, and Hyundai is calling it a luxury sedan like its Equus as well as Genesis. Azera probably will go strong out of the gate but, in the long term, it'll be interesting to see how Hyundai juggles a polarization of its product line between budget-minded products and upscale nameplates all under the same brand umbrella.
Infiniti unveiled its all-new 2013 JX luxury crossover, featuring what it called "the world's first back-up collision intervention system" and more rear legroom than a Cadillac Escalade. Boasts aside, there's no doubt that Infiniti has managed to come out of the Japanese industry's supply-chain calamity with the most ample current inventories and greatest sales momentum of the three Japanese luxury brands.
BMW announced that it will unveil a production version of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car in 2014, the year after it launches the production version of its previously announced battery-electric model, i3 city car, according to AutoObserver.com
And Chevrolet quite understandably used the LA Auto Show as the platform to announce that a Low Emissions Package, which qualifies the 2012 Volt to access California's High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, will be standard on all models sold in the Golden State early next year.
All of this activity in LA is a reminder that the global auto industry remains a cauldron of creativity, innovation and excitement. Maybe they can restore as much luster to the U.S. economy as they have to their vehicles.