LETTERS AND NOTES
from the LA Auto Show

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Story by Brian Kennedy
Pictures by Gabriela Moya

Every year I think the same thing: “Where are the classics?” In my head, the LA Auto Show should feature the great old cars of the past. Or maybe what I think is that the cars of today ought to somehow look like they’re all 1967 Pontiacs or 1955 Nashes. In truth, I don’t even know whether they made the Nash in 1955. Doesn’t matter. This isn’t about fact.

So with that as the beginning point, here are some impressions from this year’s LA show.

First, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, and almost all of them, or at least the good ones, seem to be as far as the imaginations of people who market cars can stretch when it comes to naming the cars they make. Witness the Genesis G80 and G90. And doesn’t Lexus have a G-something? Maybe that’s Infinity. Audi has “A’s,” though at least they also have numbers, as in “A3.” But they’ve also got a Q. Why is that a good letter? Mercedes uses C, E, and so forth. The Miata isn’t even the Miata anymore. It’s the MX-5, with “Miata” reluctantly tagged onto the end.

Related to that, it’s quite apparent that adding a letter or two to the end of a car name automatically makes it fast. Mercedes has its AMG. BMW has the M. Nissan at least has a word, NISMO. Or maybe that’s just a bunch of letters. Dodge does SRT. Lexus thinks “F” means “fast”. Hey, that actually works.

Why isn’t “D” a go-fast letter? Or K? If M works why not N? None of this makes any sense, but those extra letters cost a lot of money and make cars much better, I “learned” by looking at them in LA this week.

Second, some companies do use names, but these can be altogether made up, like the drug names you see advertised on TV. (Tab of Lyrica, anyone?) Verano is one of these. Buick makes it. Maybe they’re ashamed that they couldn’t come up with a real name, though. It wasn’t on the floor during press days. But their Cascade was. And other trucks—Enclave, Encore, and Envision. Family groupings of names seem quite common. Ford does Escape, Edge, and Explorer. Maybe it’s just that “E” is such a compelling letter.

Hmmm. Dodge does “Challenger” and “Charger.” Is this like that annoying family you went to elementary school with, all of whom had names which started with the same letter? Brandon, Bradley, and Brian, and then when they ran out of good names, something like Brockton or Broyden for the youngest one.

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Third, judging by what they were showing, most carmakers don’t care if you buy a car. But they’re really anxious for you to get a truck. Chevrolet devoted almost its entire display to trucks. Big, expensive ones. They had some cars, but those were kind of in the aisle, almost like they were extraneous. Come to think of it, with pickups ranging past $50 thousand bucks, maybe cars don’t matter much anymore. Ford’s got trucks. But so does Jag, Audi, BMW, and everybody else. So it’s not the “Auto” show anymore, now is it?

Dodge is still very much in the car biz, by the way. And they’ve got a lot of very nasty-looking machines for you to pick from. Their only trouble is that the models seem like they’ve been around for a decade now. Time to freshen up the product line, guys. I will give you credit for the 200—very sharp small car.

Fourth, Ford is lacking focus (if not Focuses). They plunked down a bunch of Fusions, some SUVS, small cars, and oh, somewhere mixed in there, some Mustangs. But no great big display, even of the new Shelby. You wander in to the Chrysler booth, by contrast, and you’re freaked out by the size of the sports cars, their numbers, and their engine callouts (392 CID). But Ford, which has the original ponycar, just doesn’t seem much to care about showcasing its Mustang. They did have a couple of Le Mans GTs, a move which tapped into their victories on the track. But hey—isn’t there a NASCAR Mustang showcar around somewhere? Even Toyota had a baby Busch (AKA Kyle) Camry for the curious to paw over.

Then again, neither does Chevy really highlight its sports car heritage. They had a “Fifty”-model anniversary Camaro. It was front and center, but not signed to promote it or indicate what it was. I know only because I’ve seen an article on it in a print mag. The graphics are subtle enough and the color subdued enough that you might walk right by it.

Fifth, over-the-top is passé. Back in the good old days—i.e., pre-2008 crash, companies would have cars climbing towards the ceiling, bursting through fake rock walls, and other spectacles. Now the launches were pretty much down to this: Ridiculously loud music. CEO babble. Cover comes off. More CEO blather. Video of car on turntable. Big deal. Except nobody told Nissan. They had pyrotechnics, and a giant Star Wars display to feature a product tie-in with one of their crossovers. Cool. But kind of alone-on-the-mountain given what everyone else is doing, or not doing.

Sixth, Porsche really does take itself way, way too seriously. We asked for a press kit, which other people had. “No, we don’t have any,” the product person said with a sniff.

I was about to call BS on this, but I decided I didn’t care. Their best (sports) cars aren’t their thing anymore anyway. They had a Boxster and a Cayman, a couple of 911s, but their display, which is a separate room that you have to pass security to enter (come on, people), was mostly four-doors and SUVs. Porsche, I said. I know—disgusting. Or at least disappointing. Well, “the almighty buck” and all that rot.

Seventh, the days of properly courting the press are over. I’m talking about as recently as a couple of years ago, when you could count on a glass of champagne, a slider or two—something, anything. Now, it’s endless cups of coffee and the occasional cookie. The private areas most booths had are apparently reserved for the clients that each manufacturer courts or already does business with.

Hey, people, you want free publicity? You have to play the game. Stop with the snooty exclusivity thing, OK?

Hyundai gets it. They threw their usual kickass party Wednesday night. Lots of food, a band which had the Foo Fighters’ drummer as its lead, and an after party, all at a club across the street from Staples.

Long live the Korean car! Especially those made in the US by union labor, which many Hyundai-badged vehicles are.

And while we’re on the positive, the eighth lesson I learned at the LA Auto Show press days was that there is hope, because Galpin Auto gets it. They brought classics of the type I always hope to see—the Pink Panther, a custom; a Scooby Doo van; and some race cars including that driven in the 1960s by Ron Hornaday (senior). Superb collection, and it’s not the same as what they showed last year.

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So good on them.

As for you, if you’re looking for a car, go to the show. Just don’t expect anything jump out at you (speaking literally). Those days seem to have been put behind us. You will, however, see lots of stuff on carpets neatly vacuumed. Try to fall in love with something called “G” or “T” or “Evora.” Just don’t expect it to feel like it used to, when you could have a Galaxie, Thunderbird, or Bonneville in your driveway.

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