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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jan 1, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff



Once upon a time Not so long ago Car fans in LA Loved the auto show One of the biggest And one of the best Many world premiers Always gave it zest But the Detroit show Runs at the same time It's grown leaps and bounds Now it's in its prime LA is larger It has more square feet More vehicles too More people to meet But LA this year Will see little new Product unveilings Dwindle to a few As a top-tier show LA is no more Without breaking news Some call it a bore After reporting on LA We'll brave Detroit's snow For LA Car's in depth coverage Of the North American International Auto Show


LA Auto Show 2004 floor No news is good news? Not when it comes to auto shows. We're sorry to report that this year's LA Auto Show offers more snooze than news. It runs January 2 - 11 at the LA Convention Center. Typically, a dozen or more vehicles receive their world premiers in LA. This year only one vehicle was unveiled, the Chevrolet Cobalt. The consolation prize for Southern California enthusiasts: Five additional vehicles that have been seen previously by the press are being displayed publicly for the first time. During the press preview days, December 29 and 30, fewer than a dozen manufacturers conducted news conferences. We were surprised that no-show brands included most of the Asian marques, including Toyota, Lexus, Scion (which was introduced to the world at last year's LA show), Nissan, Infiniti, Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Hyundai and Kia. Other brands notably absent included Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Lincoln Mercury and Jaguar. Some observers attribute the lack of news to the press days being held in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, though that happens every few years. A more likely reason for the lack of manufacturer participation is they're choosing to reveal new products at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), in Detroit, which always opens the week following the LA show. Perhaps in the past the Asian manufacturers felt more comfortable showcasing products in California, their traditional sales stronghold, and now they're confident enough to stand bumper to bumper with the Detroit-based automakers. Maybe a factor is the growing prestige of the Detroit show because of its "international" designation, which it gained in 1989. Compared with the NAIAS, the LA Auto Show displays more vehicles, in a bigger convention center, to more people, in a larger market. Los Angeles vs Detroit Vehicles 1,000+ vs 700+ Exhibit Space 760,000 sq. ft vs 700,000 sq. ft. Auto Show Attendance 1,000,000 vs 800,000 Metropolitan Population 16 million vs 5.5 million Southern California is also the country's, if not the world's, preeminent trend-setting market. Automakers worldwide acknowledge that - and consequently conduct a wide range of activities in the LA area, with virtually every manufacturer operating a design studio here as well as conducting more consumer research than anywhere else on the planet. But when it comes to showcasing products, Detroit is now where the action is. Next week at the NAIAS, about 25 brands will introduce more than 40 vehicles. In that comparison, LA looks small. It seems the most significant news from the 2004 LA Auto Show is that it has fallen to second-tier status. In spite of that gloomy appraisal, if you live in Southern California, head on down to the LA Convention Center. There's plenty to see - not only cars and truck from every manufacturer, but as usual, Kentia Hall is filled with specialty vehicles, aftermarket products and a lot more. You'll have a great time. As long as you don't expect any news.

The all-new cars on display at this year's LA Auto Show


Chevrolet Cobalt Coupe (production vehicle)

Chevy Cobalt sedan (production vehicle) Webster's dictionary defines Cobalt as a greenish, blue pigment. Chevrolet tagged this name on the new coupe and sedan perhaps thinking its competitors will be turning green with envy or singing the blues after the Cobalt's introduction. Replacing the Caviler in the Chevy lineup, the Cobalt comes in a rainbow of choices from basic Ecotec 2.2-liter engine with 140 horses to a two liter supercharged 200 plus horsepower rocket as found in the upcoming SS model. They are positioning the SS to take on all sport compact cars loading it up with some of the best goodies they had available, including eighteen inch rims and tires on the top model! Seems like GM has done some market research at SEMA. The sedan and coupe share the new Delta platform however they differ in sheetmetal from the A pillar rearward. The coupe is reminiscent of some styling we have seen from Japan over the years. This Chevy even can be had with OnStar and XM satellite radio in a much more refined interior than in its predecessor. GM is betting the Cobalt will add a considerable amount of black to Chevy's bottom line. - John Grafman


Acura TL A-Spec Concept (concept vehicle) Acura unveiled its third-generation TL for the 2004 model year, but it certainly did not waste time creating a high performance concept, known as the TL A-Spec. This vehicle has a much more aggressive stance with a two inch wider track, 21-inch wheels, Brembo brakes all around and lowered suspension. What caught my eyes were the impressive flared fenders. This car means serious business. Under the hood you will find the stock 3.2-liter V6, but this concept has been tuned resulting in horsepower increase to 300 from 260. The interior is trimmed with suede and carbon fiber. The TL concept is also equipped with a panoramic glass roof. - Anthony Quon


Buick Terazza (production vehicle) The third entry in Buick's growing truck portfolio is the Terazza, an eye-catching crossover sport van that combines bold styling with functionality. Terazza is powered by a 3.5L V6 and features GM's advanced Vehicle Stability Enhancement System, which is designed to provide superior handling and control in almost any driving situation. For safety, a longer front-end compartment provides a larger crumple zone and heavily reinforced motor compartment side frame rails increase energy absorption during frontal impacts. Buick expects Terazza to attract new and younger customers as well as affluent couples with children. - Reed Berry


Hummer H3T (concept vehicle) The Hummer H3T is a compact - dare we use that term when talking about a Hummer? - pickup based on the Chevy Colorado. True to the Hummer theme, "Like nothing else" GM teamed with Nike on several design elements such as innovative and distinctive tire tread, specialized clothing material for the seats and Nike backpacks integrated into the seatbacks. Other innovative features include side access doors and drop-down assist steps on the truck bed, drop-down rear window, and power folding canvas sunroof. Power comes from a turbocharged version of GM's new Vortec 3500, an inline five-cylinder engine pumping 350 horsepower. - Derrick Lim


Lexus IS 430 Project Car (concept vehicle)

The old Lexus IS is a very nice car. Now the Lexus people decided to spice it up. The IS 430 comes with a 4.3 liter V8 engine. It is the same engine as the GS 430. (How they could fit a V8 in the Lexus IS is a mystery.) The car has 340 hp, 325 lb-ft. of torque. It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. You are supposed to make it from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. Not bad! To match all this, you also get a new mesh/design upper grille, front lip spoiler, aluminum wheels, sport tires, contoured side skirts, rear spoiler, an impressive sound system and so forth. What a dream baby! Well, continue to dream because the IS 430 is only a dream. This car is a project car and might never reach the market. After all, are there enough enthusiasts? Remember that VW did about the same thing with the VW Passat. One of the Passat models comes with eight cylinders and is available in the U.S., but it doesn't sell. - Olov Lindberg


Lotus Elise Lotus is a name that carries a lot of moxie in the sports car world. The mid-1960s Lotus Elan was the inspiration for the Mazda Miata. Jim Clark raced Lotus Fords. The sports car clubs raced Lotus Cortinas. Even General Motors turned to Lotus for suspension expertise. However, the mark has been absent from these shores for many moons (the second-generation Elan of 1990 was the last time Lotus introduced a car to these shores). That's about to change with the return of Lotus in May of 2004. The import of choice will be the Elise, which carries the reputation in Europe of being the closest thing to a race car that one can buy without taking out a house mortgage. The US version will go for $39,985, and will be fitted with Toyota's tried-and-true 190-hp 1.8 liter 16-valve four cylinder engine. Although the Elise design dates back to 1995, it still looks remarkably fresh in 2004. Lotus chose the LA Auto Show to show-off its US-spec car.

- Roy Nakano


Saab 9-2X (production vehicle) The 9-2X is the first Saab that does not speak Swedish - though it is probably fluent in Japanese. The more you look at it, the more it looks like a Subaru Impreza Outback ... which it is. It's no wonder the 9-2X is already being referred to as a "Saab-aru." No doubt it will have the great handling of a WRX, but a few features annoy me. The interior panels have more plastic than my Tupperware cabinet, and the back seat is only for kids - if they aren't too tall. Moreover, this Saab does not have the familiar ignition key between the seats. For this reason alone, the Saab diehards are going to have a hard time accepting this new member of the family. On the other hand, if you're going to make a clone car, you can do much worse than using the Subaru WRX as your platform. - Olov Lindberg


Saturn Relay (production vehicle) Saturn continues its growth with the addition of the 2005 Relay, the first Saturn to seat seven. GM calls it a "crossover sport van" like its platform sibling, the Buick Terazza. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard, along with four-wheel-disc brakes. GM's Totally Integrated Acoustic System provides a quiet interior. Dual cavity, four-halogen bulb headlamps provide twice the lighting intensity of previous GM minivans. Clean and contemporary styling combined with features such as a 50/50 split-stowable third row fold flat bench seat and a rear seat DVD entertainment system make the Relay a wise choice for growing families. - Reed Berry


GM North America President Gary Cowger "Our New Year's resolutions: Lose weight, be more flexible, give more to charity, and spend more time with the people you care about." These were the words of General Motors North America President Gary Cowger. And, no, he wasn't talking about his personal family; he was talking about the General Motors family. In a nutshell, Cowger was referring to production economies, serving the individual needs of each market, not giving away the house - i.e., not allowing the imports to gobble up the truck market (actually, giving less to charity) - and focusing more on direct-contact marketing, such as ride-and-drive events. What's Good for General Motors... Cowger was the keynote speaker for journalists covering 2004 LA Auto Show. It was probably a good thing, since without General Motors, there would have been no vehicle debut at the show. In this particular instance, what was good for General Motors (the keynote speaker) turned out to be good for the LA Auto Show (new car debuts). That adage, however, can be taken a step further and applied to the organizers of the LA Auto Show: Lose Weight & Be More Flexible There is a monkey on the back of the LA Auto Show, and it's the notion that it's locked into the first Saturday of the new year. LA Auto Show General Manager Andy Fuzest says, "This policy has been in place for nearly 30 years in order to provide the show with consistent dates. It's not that we wouldn't want to change, but there aren't available dates that can be consistently guaranteed by the City." This year clearly showed that Detroit has managed to sap virtually everything out of the LA show. Consistency is nice, but continuing to overlap with Detroit's North American International Auto Show will only continue the downward spiral of the LA show. Lose the monkey, LA. Be more flexible. Give More to Charity Once upon a time, the LA Auto Show was on par with the Detroit show. However, while LA chose to sit back and relax, the Detroit cowboys went on the offensive: They (audaciously) changed the name of the Detroit show to the North American International Auto Show, and they aggressively went after the manufacturers to steer new car debuts over to the freezing, snow-filled Motor City. California is the fifth largest economy in the world. The organizers should use that leverage to do some cattle steering of its own. Spend More Time With People You Care About One of the things that set the Detroit Show apart from others is the attention that the organizers pay to the participants. Every media registrant receives a letter from the state governor, welcoming the registrant to the show and offering contacts for lodging, eating, and other needs that the participant may run into. The LA Auto Show organizers should be working with the folks at Hummer to work with the new California Governator to do the same and more. If the media come, the manufacturers will respond in kind. And so will the Southland consumers. We'll Be Back Southern California is the center of car culture. It has more automotive design studios that any other place in the world. Perhaps it's high time the organizers of the LA show start acting like it. I'll know the organizers are serious when they rename the LA Auto Show to the Western Hemisphere International Auto Show. - Roy Nakano


The show must go on. One of the bright spots and potential highlights for future L.A. auto shows is the Designer Night gala. Consulting with the show on this event is none other than Chuck Pelly and Joan Gregor of The Design Academy, Inc. Chuck is known in the automotive world as the founder of Designworks USA, which later became BMW's California design studio. Judging by Chuck and Joan's enthusiasm, Designer Night might turn into the must do event of the year for Angelinos. Nearly all automotive companies who sell cars in the USA have a design studio in the Southern California area. This event is a natural and should help to reinforce the uniqueness of the region and its influence to the design community. This affair should bring out the best from the burgeoning design companies including everyone who turns our dreams into reality. We expect the efforts of The Design Academy will snowball into a greater L.A. Auto show for all.

- John Grafman

The LA Auto Show gets better during its second week: A Second Look at the LA Auto Show. For more details on the LA Auto Show, go to their site at

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