Los Angeles Could Eclipse Detroit as Epicenter of U.S. Automotive Industry

For auto enthusiasts, the Detroit Auto Show has been a must-see for nearly two decades. But, like virtually everything else associated with the auto industry, that appears to be changing. The vaunted Detroit and Tokyo auto shows have seen declines in participation and attendance over the last couple of years while interest in other venues, including the Shanghai and Los Angeles auto shows, have grown.

Last week, all eyes were on this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show which featured debuts by approximately 30 foreign and domestic automakers, and the event’s promoters are working hard to supplant Detroit as the premier auto show in the U.S.

Adding to the hype was the appearance by GM’s vice chairman, Bob Lutz, who stepped in to deliver a speech originally slated for delivery by ousted CEO, Fritz Henderson, who resigned early last week at the request of the company’s board of directors.

The fact that GM’s top executive was scheduled to appear and that the company sent someone of Lutz’s stature as a last-minute replacement speaks to the importance of the show.

With the notable exceptions of Chrysler and Nissan, most automakers were represented by top-level executives touting their latest designs. Strangely absent was Nissan Motor Company, which wasn’t represented at all. Before moving its North American operations headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, Nissan USA had been headquartered in Los Angeles. Nissan’s absence was punctuated by the company’s thrust to build an infrastructure network for its new LEAF all-electric vehicle stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles and other areas of the West Coast.

Despite the bad economic news of the past year, the mood at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was decidedly upbeat.

Ford and Mazda unveiled their 2011 Fiesta and Mazda2 subcompacts. Ford also showcased its updated Mustang, while GM debuted the much anticipated 2011 Chevy Cruze.

Hyundai-Kia, one of the only automakers to experience growth in sales and market share this year, unveiled its new 2011 Hyundai Sonata sedan and Tucson compact crossover along with its first U.S.-built vehicle, the Kia Sorento SUV.

Toyota also chose the Los Angeles Auto Show to launch its redesigned 2011 Sienna which it hopes will rekindle America’s jaded love affair with the consummate family vehicle – the minivan.

Both Toyota and Honda have found themselves playing defense this year as more reliable, more fuel-efficient models from Hyundai-Kia and Ford have encroached on their once-unchallenged dominance in the small-car sector.

Also showcased at the show was the 2011 Buick Regal. The new Regal is essentially a rebadged version of Opel’s highly successful Insignia sedan.

Of course the true test of any auto show’s importance is the headlines it generates. This year’s headline was Green Car Journal’s naming of the Audi A3 TDI as its Green Car of the Year.

Perhaps the real headline is that relative newcomer, Green Car Journal, can generate so much buzz for an award given at the Los Angeles Auto Show. In years past, it was the Detroit Auto Show serving as the backdrop, and such stalwart publications as Car & Driver, Road & Track and Motor Trend that made all the headlines and impacted the shape of the industry.

Posted in In the News

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