LA Auto Show:
Quietly tucked away in a corner of the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show II was the all new Mazda CX-9 Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle. No surprise here, as we brought you the reveal from the New York Auto Show in April (click here) and the CX-9 has been seen tooling nearby on the roads surrounding Mazda North American Operations headquarters in Irvine, California. The disturbing thing was that the CX-9 was getting no attention even with an overhead display similar to that Mazda used to launch the CX-7 last year. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers stumbled on this forlorn looking CX-9 while searching for the john.
The CX-9 becomes Mazda’s flagship and effectively replaces the not-missed Mazda Millenia near luxury sedan that literally faded away several years ago. Sharing a platform with the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, Mazda did the Ford entries one better by enlarging the body and adding a third row of seats. In the Mazda lineup the CX-7 does the 5-passenger duty and the CX-9 does the 7-passenger duty.
The 2007 Toyota Tundra is already in production but won’t be on sale until February 2008. Still a 2007 model year full-size pickup truck, Tundra’s intro is awaiting availability of its 5.7L V8 engine. While we brought you the reveal in February 2006 at the Chicago Auto Show (click here), Toyota later showed the truck at the Texas state fair and again used much of its exhibit space at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show II to showcase the truck in advance of public sale.
A photo collage without many comments seems appropriate…
Toyota Tundra “Street Concept” – Regular Cab Design Study
Honda‘s design facility in Torrance, California, has developed much of Acura‘s current lineup, including the TL, MDX, and RDX. And as Acura moves forward to become a global brand instead of only a North American one, Honda opens an Acura advance design studio in Pasadena, California, in 2007. It was that team that brought us the Advanced Sedan Concept at this November’s Los Angeles Auto Show, and the studio that will be responsible for Acura’s future design. The Advanced Sedan Concept is the first look at some of the studio’s thinking.
ASC: A Controversial and Amateurish Cartoon of an Acura Flagship
The Advanced Sedan Concept is a possible direction for “the biggest and baddest luxury/performance sedan we could possibly” build, according to head of the new Advanced Design Studio Dave Marek. No specifications were given for this pure design study, which did not have a finished interior or running gear, but its proportions indicated a possible front engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. As a dream of a car that maybe twelve years from now could rival Bentley or Maybach for presence as well as performance, a rear-drive orientation is the one expected by those buyers.
Though the most controversial design execution at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Acura ASC lacks maturity needed for a range-topping flagship. Even though it hints at an urgently needed rear-wheel-drive V8-powered platform that could propel Acura into the top tier of luxury brands along with Lexus and Infiniti, the design cues are amateurish at best. The grille is almost cartoonish. Perhaps Acura designers have overcompensated for past milquetoast efforts here.
In fact, this concept could be qualified to appear in the VehicleVoice “What Were They Thinking?” category.
The Los Angeles Auto Show has lived in the shadow of the larger Detroit Auto Show – pardon me, the “North American International Auto Show” – for decades now. Through a folly of scheduling, Los Angeles and Detroit were always scheduled on top of each other in early January. Why more people didn’t opt for LA in January rather than Detroit was beyond us. But it wasn’t until LA moved away from the January date (which Detroit will keep because that is where the Detroit Auto Dealers Association wants it) that it has begun to reach critical mass.
Of course, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific crews were there to document the most recent LA Auto Show and determine if it has succeeded in separating itself from Detroit.
LA Gets International Sanctioning
For its “New Beginning”, LA received international sanctioning from the Paris-based Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles (OICA)
. This is a big deal because only two shows per continent can be sanctioned each year by OICA. But it is French, so who cares?
LA Moves Even Earlier in 2007 for 101th LA Auto Show
In 2006, LA moved from January to just after Thanksgiving. Press days were on the 29th and 30th with several companies throwing soirees on Tuesday evening the 28th. This moves LA five to six weeks earlier than Detroit and opens up the ability to trot out more concept vehicles and new vehicle introductions.
For the 2007 show, LA straddles the long Thanksgiving holiday with the show getting more attendance from the Thursday and Friday of the week when prospective show goers are sated with American football and avoiding the shopping malls like the plague. Good move, LA.
Honda Tries to Out-xB Scion with Step Bus
Man Maximum, Machine Minimum
Shown at the LA Auto Show on Wednesday, November 28 the Honda Step Bus Concept appeared to be a clear appropriation of the Scion xB rolling box. Maybe it can thought of as a mix between the Honda Element and the Honda Fit… both of which have solid followings in the USA. The VehicleVoice and AutoPacific crew were on hand when the Step Bus was unveiled.
With a mid-mounted engine and a wide-opening sliding side door on the driver’s side of the concept (clearly built for the Japanese domestic market with right hand drive), Honda positions this vehicle as “man maximum, machine minimum”.
There he was, Fabrizio Giugiaro himself taking over intro duties from Ford’s J Mays. English with a heavy Italian accent, Giugiaro went on about how Italian design could influence the American icon and how American styling themes were a bit away from current Italian thinking. “But I will try to make a silk purse out of this sow,” you could almost hear him uttering under his breath. Ah, yes, a spaghetti western worthy of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone.
Giugiaro and Ford Yield Italian Pony Car Concept
Ford retained Giugiaro’s Italdesign-Giugiaro S.p.A to create a modern (and somewhat Italian) interpretation of the iconic American sporty car.
Crammed into a small venue in trendy north LA, Ford trotted out hors d’oeuvres and rent-a-talent to showcase their new concept car. Forgetting the tongue-in-cheek comments it could be that a cue or two from the Giugiaro Mustang concept could find itself into future Mustang designs.
The introduction of a new coupe is usually a controversial affair. We struggled whether to include the new 2008 Altima Coupe in the VehicleVoice “What Were They Thinking?” category and here is why…
1. Coupes are a struggling bodystyle.
Coupe sales have been deteriorating for years and only when there are really significant new entries does the sales in the segment spike. Mustang is the big dog and even though the Altima Coupe is officially a “Premium Mid-Size Coupe” sales will not be robust.
2. Altima Coupe is a me too.
Maybe Nissan has extra investment dollars in the kitty that they can spin off a highly differentiated bodystyle off the Altima. No big deal. Not too expensive. But the Altima Coupe follows the Honda Accord Coupe and the Toyota Camry Solara Coupe and Convertible. In the future we can also expect a coupe from the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan.
So, not much original thinking here.
3. Coupes are package-challenged sedans.
Once upon a time General Motors decided that a coupe should have a shorter wheelbase than a sedan. Looks sportier, you see. (Note the Pontiac G6 sedan and coupe have identical wheelbases). So, the Altima Coupe has worse ingress/egress, worse visibility and worse headroom. What’s good about that. Well, I guess you can argue that it looks sexier.
4. Coupes are ego cars for management.
Think about it. Auto designers always are the most proud of the coupes and sporty cars they have designed than of great sedans. More sex appeal. “Let’s design a car that a young guy would really like to buy. He doesn’t care if he can get into it, or out of it, or can see out of it. He just cares about style.” Car company management lusts to have the development of a successful coupe on their resume.
With that anti-coupe flailing around, assuming that a coupe is OK, the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is a worthy competitor. The style behind the B-Pillar is what counts and Altima’s stylists have done an outstanding job. The resulting style has familiar Nissan coupe cues found on the Z-Car and the Infiniti G35. If they had to do it, this is a good job.
Among the alternative fuel production and concept cars making news at the Los Angeles auto show this week was Saturn‘s 2007 Aura and the announcement of the 2008 Vue Green Line along with the standard Vue. Both the Aura and the 2008 Vue use the same hybrid powertrain as the 2007 Vue Green Line. (The Vue Green Line only went on sale in summer 2006, click here for our discussion of the Vue Green Line’s January 2006 introduction.) Saturn’s Green Line vehicles use a mild hybrid, which does not run on full electric power, but Saturn is promising a base price of less than $23,000 for the Aura (about the same cost as the 2007 Vue Green Line). The 2007 Aura Green Line goes on sale in spring 2007, and GM promises a 25 percent fuel-economy improvement over the XE, which uses the 224HP 3.5L V6, at a premium of less than $2500.
The Aura and Vue use the same hybrid powertrain, a 2.4L DOHC 16v I4, four-speed automatic transmission, and an electric motor/generator. Though the car doesn’t move under electric power, the system saves fuel by shutting off the engine when the car is stopped (and reviving the engine as soon as the brake pedal is released), enabling early fuel shut off in deceleration, and using regenerative braking to capture kinetic energy during deceleration.
All in all, these are not the most impressive hybrids offered. As mild hybrids, the electric engine only serves as a helper, so fuel savings aren’t as dramatic as those with full hybrid systems (Ford Escape, Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry). Of course, the full hybrid systems are far more expensive and it isn’t certain if either option would ever really pay for itself. With the Green Line products, you get what you pay for: a little bit of fuel savings for a little bit of extra money.
Saturn’s Stars Finally Align for a Bright Future
Actually, the Opel Antara was introduced in Paris in September, and I’m not really confusing shows. It is a good thing for Saturn there are some solid designs coming out of the Opel/Vauxhall studios, because after having seen both in the tin, we can conclude there is practically nothing different between Opel’s Antara and the Saturn Vue, as was true of the Antara and PreVue concepts. Saturn’s Vue goes on sale in the second quarter of 2007, the fourth all-new Saturn since 2006.
This is not a surprise for industry watchers, or to vehiclevoice.com readers who caught our May article on the Opel Antara and Vue (click here
), but it is still interesting to listen to Saturn talk about their European design. This brand was launched with a specific mission to take on the Japanese imports and find a way to do business differently than GM’s other brands. Instead, Saturn was starved for product and folded back into the mothership. On the bright side, we get the Antara and the Aura (based on the Opel Vectra), and even the Sky has an Opel design relationship, all three good-looking products with the ability to really make Saturn a brand to be reckoned with. These are further supported by the U.S. developed Outlook, and it becomes clear Saturn is gaining steam, regardless of where the products were styled.
At the legendary car-designer school, Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, and with the assistance of legendary golfer and Buick spokesperson Tiger Woods, GM boss Rick Wagoner introduced Buick‘s next big thing. And big it is. Nearly as long as a Tahoe, Buick’s Enclave is one direction for the future of crossover SUVs and people movers in this country. With seats for seven or eight, standard front-drive and optional all-wheel-drive, and contemporary styling, the Enclave has what it takes to bring the brand into the modern automotive market. The production Enclave takes a look very close to the concept introduced at the Detroit auto show in January this year (click here), to our view a very good thing.
While the relatively new LaCrosse and Lucerne have more to offer in dynamics and style than Buick sedans of the late 1990s, they follow the same, generations-old family sedan formula. It is more difficult to create buzz or change the image of Buick dramatically by bringing out a new four-door sedan. And Buick’s first attempts at SUVs seemed at best afterthoughts. Buick’s Rendezvous, a Pontiac Aztek-based ungainly entry, almost had what it took. Then came Rainier, a version of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy. Rainier is a decent mid-size SUV, but it launched well after its siblings and isn’t significantly different from the competition.
Enter Enclave, driven tonight through a purpose-built wall by Woods and Wagoner. Enclave gives Buick a chance to bust out of the doldrums in the SUV and crossover SUV landscape with a stylish, usable, and modern entry. Buick’s General Manager Steve Shannon describes the Enclave as “the new face of Buick and everything we want in future Buicks.” We haven’t driven Enclave yet, but it promises to offer driving dynamics tuned for real-world use. This means solid acceleration and passing power and the capability to handle dirt roads and inclement weather as well as the ubiquitous mall parking lot. Power is from a 275HP 3.6L V6, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which should give even this heavy product reasonable oomph. Buick is hoping consumer reaction is as strong as that of the media, who flocked around the vehicle as soon as the formal presentation was over.