Mood at this Year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was Subdued but Optimistic

The mood at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was less festive than in years past. Gone were the elaborate parties, glitzy models and high profile press conferences. Less is more appeared to be the order of the day.

With some notable exceptions, most of the headlines from the show focused on small, practical, fuel-efficient vehicles with sticker prices of under $30,000.

Many premium automakers, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley, passed on this year’s show altogether. In their place, were scores of concept cars and green vehicles like the Honda P-Nut and Subaru Tourer Hybrid.

Instead of heralding the era of the electric vehicle, the overwhelming message was that the industry still has a way to go. Automotive expert and spokesman for the Los Angeles Auto Show, Brendan Flynn said, “Now it seems to be more of a clear path towards the electrification of the car in some aspect, but everyone is realizing it’s not going to be for two or three years, so in the interim there are lots of solutions for today that are both economic and affordable and fuel efficient.”

Toyota chose the Los Angeles show for its U.S. debut of the Prius plug-in, gas-electric hybrid. The vehicle, which Toyota has touted as its answer to the Chevy Volt, was debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show this past September.

Audi grabbed headlines when its A3 TDI was named Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year. The Audi A3 TDI gets 42 mpg and uses clean diesel technology that has proven extremely popular among European owners. With a base sticker price below $30,000, the A3 is also priced right.

U.S. automakers Ford and Chrysler also chose the venue to launch new products as did Japanese automaker, Mazda. Priced below $15,000, the Ford Fiesta, Chevy Cruz and Mazda2 are all expected to do well with environmentally-minded, budget-conscious new car buyers.

Ford Motor Company’s exhibition area was increased by 30% this year and was, by far, the largest of any participating automaker. Ford has created quite a buzz for its compact 4-cylinder Fiesta, which will make its reappearance in U.S. showrooms after a 20 year absence. The revived Fiesta delivers an estimated 30 mpg and will go on sale early next year.

The Fiesta will be competing against Mazda’s popular Mazda2 which was introduced to America audiences in 2007.

Flynn says that, although American auto buyers place a premium on fuel-economy, they remain very demanding.

“There’s a new wave of consumers that of course want good fuel economy, but they still want the same choices they’ve had in the past, Flynn said. To make his point, Flynn said, You can still get the beloved Mustang, but it comes in a six cylinder twin-turbo that gets 30 miles per gallon, so you get a six cylinder that acts like an eight. So you can have your cake and eat it too. Nobody wants to be spending a lot of money at the gas pump, but they want the choices they’ve always been able to make.”

Ford spokesman Octavio Navarro said, “The other big trend you’re going to see is in technology. People want to be able to integrate their phone, their music player, everything into the car. We have a system SYNC which lets you control all that through bluetooth to contact to your things so you have no more extra wires hanging out everywhere but more importantly you can control everything by voice.”

Perhaps in response to the pervasive gloom that has dominated the automotive market for the past year, automakers are pushing the envelope when it comes to color.

Navarro said, “Everybody has vibrant colors, you know. You’re really starting to see bright yellows and bright blues. One of the things that we are introducing this year is the 2011 Fiesta, and one of my favorite colors for it is called Lime Squeeze. It’s a very vibrant, almost metallic yellowish green color. It really pops really well on the street.”

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