Thursday, November 20, 2008

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 1

This is Part 1 of 5 in a report about the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Today I was at the media-only day at the Los Angeles Auto Show. When it's only the media, you have a lot of blank space everywhere with the people scattered throughout the showcases -- mostly a mix of corporate folks in suits, photographers, reporters, and lots of photos and video being done for magazines, newspapers, and broadcast. The visual impact is stunning, with all the shiny cars favorably displayed. The big-wigs from these auto manufacturers strut around in their suits but usually disappear once the show is open for the public.

The atmosphere seemed pretty subdued everywhere except for the Toyota area and the luxury vehicles (BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz). One could only add in the subtext of the economy downturn and the U.S. car manufacturers' complaining to Congress as further drama to the show. Interestingly, the ultra-luxury cars (Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Lotus, Aston Marin, Bentley, Spyker) that have mountains of admirers yet few buyers were showcased in a side concourse and had the most people pouring over them -- mostly men were there, salivating over the vehicles and the pretty young girls in fall-out tops who stood by those dream cars.

With the exception of the ultra-luxury vehicle (which I feel fall more in the category of art and collecting, not just a "car"), the most vehicle innovation is coming in the form of "greenness." With the exception of the ultra-lux car, it is my opinion that how green a vehicle is will largely determine not only its future but also the future of its manufacturer. This is a significant trend in the auto industry, which was previously dominated by design and safety as its marketing strongholds.

After walking the showcases, some of these manufacturers have obviously come too late in the game or have refused to participate outright in being green. I believe this is pure stupidity on the management's side and will cost them, their employees, and their business dearly. To this point, at the end of my roundup, in Part 5, I will post my predictions for the general auto industry in the next 5-10 years.

Part 2 ...

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