Jens evaluates the health of the car industry based on what he saw at the recently concluded LA Auto Show…
The diesel scandal is casting its shadow. Germany’s presence at the Los Angeles Auto Show was a far cry from earlier years. Two high-performance variants by Audi (niche models at best), a special model of the Volkswagen Beetle, and a further variation of the vast 911 palette – in the past, we’ve seen much bigger and better at this Southern Californian metropolis, which is bursting with purchasing power. There wasn’t even a trace of Bentley or Lamborghini at the show. The rear-wheel drive, purist Huracan LP 580-2 was revealed at an offsite location.
BMW’s presence was modest as well. Their most important debut was the Mini Clubman – arriving in the US after its international launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Mercedes-Benz, however, served up two global debuts – the seven-seater GL morphs into the GLS, and the SL, which is redesigned with a completely new front end and modified technology. Daimler has recently made headlines in California with the hiring of star designer Stefan Lamm – who held senior positions at Ford and Seat before taking over Benz’s advanced design studio in Carlsbad, near San Diego.
The American brands, on the other hand, appear to be bursting with confidence. GM and Ford have used the show to sharpen their luxury brands. The Cadillac XT5, successor of the SRX, has become not only bigger but also much lighter than its predecessor – and it surprised with a very high-quality interior and many practical ideas. And then there’s the Buick LaCrosse – a large and elegantly styled sedan expected to gain a following in the US, and especially in China.
These markets are the focus of another luxury brand – Lincoln. Ford’s premium brand unveiled a revised MKZ – a sedan based on the Mondeo – engineered to deliver over 400 horsepower. Its front end is shown for the first time with the brand’s new ‘signature’ grille – a design element all too obviously copied from Bentley. Insiders claim that a Bentley was parked in Lincoln’s design studio – so that the designers could emulate its style.
Outside inspiration seems to have shaped the Ford Escape/Kuga crossover as well. It look is strikingly close to the Hyundai Tucson.
Hyundai’s look may be copied, but it could well change. The brand is waiting for its next chief designer, Luc Donckerwolke of Lamborghini and Bentley fame. When he takes on his job next year, he’s expected to re-imagine and redefine Hyundai. Right now, the design of sister brand Kia is more consistent and modern. Hyundai needs to be sharpened, and they need a convincing styling language for Genesis – which will morph into a luxurious sub-brand.
Infiniti’s new crossover, the QX30, shown in the United States for the first time, is intended to help Nissan’s premium subsidiary position itself again as a premium brand. And, since the QX30’s voluptuous shape hides a Mercedes-Benz GLA, it is a realistic endeavour. The chances of a QX30 with the powertrain of the GLA45 AMG, however, are slim.
Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo is on a power trip. The long-delayed Giulia sedan is usually shown in Quadrifoglio trim, with a 500-horsepower V-6 biturbo. In Los Angeles, however, the brand announced the arrival of a two-litre four-cylinder rated at 280 horsepower. I have to admit that I’m a little sceptical about whether the Giulia is enough to turn this dormant Italian brand around. And the signs from Fiat are mixed as well. The 124 Spider, named after an iconic model that was built from the late 1960’s into the 80’s, is little more than a rebodied Mazda MX-5. And thus, the cute and attractive roadster underscores once more that Fiat is woefully short on technology and expertise. More than ever, the fortune of Fiat-Chrysler depends on gas-guzzling Jeeps and Ram Pickup trucks.