LA 2014: Annual Auto Show Review
By Noel Adams
t was a cool overcast morning as I crawled towards the LA Convention Center to attend the 2014 LA Auto Show and see what new and exciting cars the auto industry had for the coming year. It was typical LA rush hour traffic on the 10 freeway, just managing to keep moving at about 20mph. [Click here for Day Two coverage]
Arriving at the Convention Center I just had time to grab a quick breakfast and take a look at some of the classic cars displayed on the Gilbert Lindsey Plaza before rushing off to the South Hall to attend the first press conference of the day.
When I got to the Audi stand the first thing I noticed was a car label A7 H-Tron and since many of the carmakers are experimenting with fuel cells I guessed this would be Audi’s version. It turned out that I was correct although with a slight twist.
Professor Rupert Stadler took the stage and announced that the car was indeed a hydrogen fuel cell car, The A7 H-Tron Quatro. The twist is that it is also a plug-in hybrid combining an 8.8 KWh lithium battery pack with the fuel cell stack. Charging for the battery pack takes about 2 hours at level 2 and will allow the car a battery only range of about 30 miles. After that the fuel cell kicks in to give a total range of 342 miles.
The electric motor can kick out 200hp and 400 ft-lb of torque and is able to push the car from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds.
Audi currently has no plans to bring the car to market but say that they are ready to launch the car once hydrogen fueling infrastructure is in place.
Next came the big unveiling which turned out to be the Prologue concept car. This car is built on a new platform which will eventually form the basis of the next generation A8. The car is designed to show the direction that Audi car design is headed which appears to be a more aerodynamic body and larger air intakes to increase the amount of air that can get to the engine.
Next I hurried over to the Cadillac press conference to see what they had to offer. It has been rumored that they are going to update the ELR and I was hoping that they would include this in their press conference but no luck so I guess we will need to wait for the Detroit show.
What they did announce was pretty much in line with the sort of cars that everyone else was showing, either high performance cars or SUVs. In this case they showed two performance cars the ATS-V Coupe and Sedan.
Cadillac says the car is 100% race track ready straight off the showroom floor. Some of the features that allow this is “no lift shifting” that allows gear changes without lifting up on the accelerator pedal. The car also comes with the third generation of Cadillac’s magnetic ride control which sets the suspension characteristics depending on current driving patterns.
My next stop was at the Mercedes Benz press conference and once again the announcements were all about the performance and luxury, but here plug-in cars were not forgotten. Although they didn’t have it on stage Steve Cannon, President and CEO of Mercedes Benz USA started off by mentioning their second foray into the plug-in market with the S550 Plug-in Hybrid.
The S550 PHEV will come with an 114hp electric motor and a 329hp V-6. The US version of the car will come governed to a top speed of 130mph while the Europeans will be able to push it to 155mph on the autobahn. The 8.7 KWh lithium ion battery will give the car an all-electric range of about 20 miles but does intrude into the trunk a little reducing capacity by 5.2 cubic feet to 13.9 cubic feet. The car is expected to go on sale in California in the second quarter of 2015 and nationwide some time in 2016.
Then Mercedes got down to their new car offerings, first from their performance arm, AMG, the GT and the GT S. Both come with a 4.8 liter V8. The one in the GT S produces 503hp and has a 0-60 time of just 3.7 seconds. The engine in the GT produces 456hp and takes 3.9 seconds to get to 60 from a stop.
Mercedes also showed off its latest offering in the Maybach line, the Mercedes Maybach S600. This car is built on the same platform as the S600 but has a longer wheelbase which adds more leg room in the rear seats. Surprisingly it only has two seats in the back making it just a four seat sedan. I don’t expect Mercedes to sell many of these.
Mazda has made it clear that they see the future of the automobile as more efficient gas engines so I decided to skip their press conference. Mazda’s big announcement was the CX-3, a small sized crossover. The car will be powered by a 2.0 liter gas engine that uses Mazda’s SKYACTIVE technology and will produce about 155hp.
While the Mazda press conference was going on I headed up to the Media room. As I left the South Hall the first thing I noticed was a Nissan Leaf sitting outside with graphics that stated this was the cleanest car in the world. There was nobody around to tell my why this was the cleanest car in the world but it was prominently displayed.
I went upstairs and sitting outside one of the meeting rooms was my next surprise; a Tango. This was not a new car, it had California license plates, but I haven’t seen one for a long time so it made me smile. Again there was nobody around to discuss the vehicle but since the whole idea of the tango is that it is a narrow commuter vehicle that can lane split allowing twice the capacity on the freeways I assume it was to illustrate what could be done with urban mobility.
I made my way to the West Hall where Ford were setting up for their press conference. I was early and lucked into a seat on the front row.
The Ford press conference was both very short and very disappointing. All they had to offer was an update to their Ford Explorer SUV. Now the Explorer has been a big seller with more than seven million sold since it first rolled out to dealerships in 1990 but it is still a full sized SUV.
The Explorer, slated for delivery in mid-2015, will come with a 2.3 liter Ecoboost engine which is expected to provide more power without compromising fuel economy,
I decided to skip the Chrysler presentation and take a look around the West Hall. I went around the Ford exhibit first. At last year’s show Ford had tucked away its three plug-in offerings along the wall at the back of the Hall. This year the cars were Front and Center with the Focus EV, Fusion Energi, and C-Max Energi all sitting next to each other.
Next I walked over to the Kia stand. They started selling the Soul EV here in California in October and sold a total of 108 of these compact SUVs in the first month. I am happy to report that Kia also had two Soul EVs prominently displayed at their stand.
Chrysler’s main announcement was the revamp of the 300. This was really a restyling as it will continue to be delivered with the same 3.6 liter V6 or 5.7 liter V8 but now coupled to their 8 speed automatic transmission.
Bucking the trend at this year’s auto show Chrysler say that it is going to discontinue their high performance model, the 300 SRT.
Porsche always makes a big splash at the LA Auto show since the LA area makes up about a tenth of their worldwide sales. This year they debuted the new Porsche Cayman. This is really a hardtop version of the Boxster convertible. It comes in two trim levels, the 165mph Cayman and the 175mph Cayman S. The Cayman is powered by the same 2.7 liter 6 cylinder engine as the Boxter but it has been tuned to develop 275hp. The Cayman S is fitted with a 3.4 liter 6 cylinder power plant that produces 325hp.
What interested me though was the three cars lined up against the wall as I entered the main floor space. In the far corner was the Porsche S e-Hybrid. This plug-in hybrid has been selling quite well for Porsche.
Sitting next to it in the center was a Porsche 918 e-Hybrid which went on sale in the US in June of this year. This car falls squarely in the Supercar category. It is built to order with a starting price of $845,000. It comes with a 4.6 liter V8 rated at 608hp plus two electric motors driving the front and rear wheels giving a total of 887hp. The 6.8 KWh battery pack can propel the car for about 18 miles in electric mode only at speeds up to 93mph. After that the car will run in hybrid mode with a top speed in excess of 180mph.
The car closest to the door was the Cayenne S e-hybrid. This version of the popular Cayenne SUV range has a 333hp 3 liter V6 gas engine combined with a 95hp electric motor to give the car a 0-60 speed of 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. The 10.8 KWh battery pack offers an EV only range of 22 miles and the car can run EV only at speed up to 72mph. I asked the lady from Porsche when it would go on sale but she didn’t appear to know the difference between the S e-hybrid and the regular Cayenne. “it’s been on sale for several years”, she told me, “and we have sold lots of them”. In reality EPA fuel efficiency numbers have not been set yet but the Cayenne S e-hybrid is expected to retail starting at a base price of $76,400 when it goes on sale in the US next year.
After grabbing a quick lunch I got to the Honda stand early and managed to snag a seat. Honda is one of the champions of fuel cell vehicles but have delayed the expected introduction of their next generation fuel cell vehicle. John Mendel, Executive Vice President of American Honda started the press conference by telling the audience that they will debut their next Fuel Cell Concept vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show in January of next year. He also told us that Honda will provide $13.8 Million to expand hydrogen infrastructure.
What Honda did reveal on stage was the US debut of the HR-V crossover. This is a sub-compact SUV powered by a 1.8 liter VTech engine that is capable of producing 138hp and 127 Lb-ft of torque. It can be coupled to either a CVT or a 6 speed manual transmission. The SUV seats 5 passengers and offers 24.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear passenger seat.
I had to hustle back to the South Hall to make the BMW presentation. Each year attendance on the media days seems to increase and there was already a large crowd around the BMW stand when I got there, but I was able to find a spot where I could see the stage.
First up was the Series 2 Convertible. This is powered by a 4 cylinder turbo charged engine or an optional V6. One of the big selling points of this car is that the top can be taken down automatically in 20 seconds and you can do this at speed of up to 31mph.
They also showed off the M versions of the X5 and X6 crossovers. These two vehicles are basically high performance SUVs. Both will be powered by a Twin Turbo V8 which will give more horsepower than the equivalent X5 and X6. To handle the extra power the SUVs will also come with bigger brakes and a tuned up chassis. According to BMW X6 M project manager Herbert Bayerl the X6 M has been driven around the Nurburgring in 8.24 minutes, taking just 12 seconds longer than the much lighter M3.
The big reveal at Lexus this year was the LF-C2 coupe. This prototype was a gold colored 2 + 2 convertible. One of the key styling features of this car is a huge front grill. This has been a trend on cars this year and is designed to get more air into the engine compartment allowing more air to be pulled into the engine to increase power. As is common when car companies show off their prototypes no details of the powertrain were given.
From what I hear Lexus dealers were not happy about the reveal of the LF-C2, they are pushing for a seven passenger SUV.
Talking of seven passenger SUVs they had one to show us at Volvo. The Volvo press conference must have been highly anticipated because when I got there I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage. I gave up and found a seat over by a bank of cell phone chargers where I could hear the presentation clearly and see it on the large screen set up behind the stage.
First out on stage was the V6 Cross County Wagon. Although there are some design cues that make this car look a little like an SUV it is a true station wagon. The station wagon does seem to be making a resurgence recently since it offers the space of an SUV but tends to be more frugal at the gas pump. The V6 Wagon comes with a 2.5 liter turbocharged 5 cylinder engine that will give a combined fuel economy rating of 23-mpg. The Cross County Wagon will go on sale next year at a base price of around $41,000.
Next they showed off the XC90. This is a full sized 7 passenger SUV. Volvo will be offering a plug-in hybrid version of this SUV. It will be powered by a 4 cylinder gas engine connected to volvo’s 8 speed automatic transmission supplemented by an 80hp electric motor. With a full charge the XC90 should be able to travel up to 25 miles in electric only mode. The Plug-in Hybrid XC90 should start to appear in dealerships in the US towards the end of 2015.
I decided to skip the Jaguar/Land Rover presentation in favor of coffee but didn’t miss a whole lot. Jaguar rolled out some additional options for the F-Type family including an all-wheel drive version and a new 6 speed manual gearbox for the V6 models.
Land Rover had two new entries, a long wheelbase version of the venerable Range Rover that adds additional leg room to the rear seats but does not come with a third row seating option, and the Discovery Sport, a compact SUV driven by a 240hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine and a 9 speed automatic transmission.
Missing the Jaguar/Land Rover presentation meant that I managed to get a seat at the VW press conference. After talking about the auction of the first VW e-Golf in the US at the end of October VW went on to reveal additional members of the Golf family.
The first was the Golf R a performance version of the Golf. The Golf R will come with a 292hp gas engine that will power the car from 0-60 in about 5 seconds. It will go on sale early next year at a starting price of $36,595.
Motor Trend then came on stage and presented their prestigious car of the year award to the Golf family of cars.
Next came the unveiling of the Golf R Sports Wagon. This is a compact station wagon with a 300hp power plant coupled to a dual clutch transmission. The car is capable of 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and an all-wheel drive version will be available.
Finally VW showed off their Golf Sports Wagon fuel cell concept. The Golf Sports Wagon FCV uses the same power train as the e-Golf but instead of the lithium ion battery pack its power comes from a VW designed 4th generation fuel cell stack fed from 4 hydrogen tanks pressurized to 10,000 psi. The car gives a range of about 310 miles on a full tank of hydrogen.
VW have no plans to product the Golf Sports Wagon at the moment. What they said is “When the fueling infrastructure is in place and we can produce hydrogen from renewable sources then we will be ready with a fuel cell vehicle”.
Toyota didn’t have a press conference this year but their Scion division did. What they had to show was the new iM concept. The Scion iM concept is a 5 door that looked a lot like a Subaru to me. Scion said that it would become a reality and promised a price under $20,000 and outstanding fuel economy. The production version will debut at next year’s New York Auto Show.
They said that this would be the first of three new cars coming to the Scion line over the next three years. These cars are designed to attract younger drivers. I didn’t really see anything with this car that would pull in younger drivers, except perhaps the price, so we will have to wait and see what the other two vehicles look like.
My final press conference of the day was Chevrolet and this one looked like a rerun of last year’s press conference. When I got to the Chevrolet stand I noticed that they did have the Volt featured prominently in their floor display. They had apparently held a special event the night before to give about 100 Volt drivers a sneak peak at the 2016 volt and did release a teaser picture but chose to wait for the Detroit Auto Show to reveal it to the public. They should take a leaf from Porsche’s book and consider revealing their Plug-in cars in LA since California is the largest market in the world for such cars.
Last year Chevrolet chose the LA Auto Show to roll out the updated Colorado pick-up. This year the Colorado was again center stage as they showed off the ZR2 Concept off road truck and a version powered by a 2.8 Liter turbo diesel.
Finally they showed the Chaparral Vision Gran Turismo concept which is really a virtual race car designed for the Gran Turismo video game. The driver lies flat and the car is designed around him. The car is driven by pulsed lasers. According to Chevrolet the theoretical tops speed is 240 mph but of course this is never likely to morph into a street legal car.
I skipped the last press conference of the day, Mini, and decided to head home. Mini’s main reveal was the Citysurfer electric scooter which is a folding “Zappy” style electric scooter which, when folded, will fit in the trunk of a Mini. The stand-up scooter offers a range of about 10 miles and a top speed of 15mph. Unfortunately such scooters are no longer legal on the roads here in California so we probably won’t see them on sale here any time soon.
The first day of this year’s auto show had been quite a disappointment. With lower costs for gasoline the American public look to be falling back into their old gas guzzling ways and the new vehicles coming into showrooms did reflect this. Fortunately the carmakers are at least featuring their plug-in offerings prominently this year and with the prospect of two new plug-in SUVs and the new plug-in S class from Mercedes to add to the assortment of cars we have right now we may be better prepared when oil prices start to climb again. Hopefully I will see more plug-in vehicles on the second day.
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