REVIEW: 2009 LA Auto Show

By Guy Bird for Wallpaper*, Dec 2009

Invasion of the superminis...

Who would think the most important car of the 2009 LA Auto Show would be a supermini? Yes, there were smart new Porsches and Cadillacs to see, but the launch of the US-spec Ford Fiesta – a compact but roomy car already on sale in Europe with a well-proven frugality and genuinely fun-to-drive character – was undoubtedly the most important launch on US giant Ford’s stand and arguably the key event of the 2009 LA show.

Why? Because it signals a shift in mindset for US carmakers towards their domestic market – and Ford hopes – an openness by US customers toward buying smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Ford wasn’t alone in thinking small either. Mazda also chose LA to launch its new Mazda 2 supermini to North American consumers for the first time. It too has been on sale in Europe for some time and both go on sale in the US this summer.

Beyond these significant US debuts, there were seven ‘physical’ global unveils, the most significant of which focused on lightweight – from the stripped-out Porsche Boxster Spyder to the future-facing Honda P-NUT and VW Up! Lite – not forgetting the ‘virtual’ LA Design Challenge which threw up half a dozen great computer-generated visions of what the youth of 2030 might want to drive.

All in all, the 2009 LA Show was much better than 2008’s – an event completely overshadowed by coinciding with the major US carmakers pleading with Washington for a slice of a $25bn Government bail-out. LA really seems to be really gaining ground on its rival in Detroit now and one day it may even usurp the event in the famous Motor City as the most important North American motorshow. Meantime, here are the 2009 LA Auto Show highlights…

Who would think the most important car of the 2009 LA Auto Show would be a supermini? Yes, there were smart new Porsches and Cadillacs to see, but the launch of the US-spec Ford Fiesta was arguably the key unveil of the day


Porsche Boxster Spyder

With its stylish ‘double-bubble’ rear profile and retro-leaning exterior graphics the Porsche Boxster Spyder was a real crowd pleaser at the LA Show – introduced with a whole series of bangs and crashes courtesy of a fantastic live drum solo on stage – but look beyond the pizzazz and there’s a good story too. The £45k open-top production sportscar sheds 80kg compared to its basic Boxster S model – even cupholders and a stereo have been dispensed with to lose weight – which makes it the lightest car in the current Porsche range. Lower weight of course benefits agility, performance, fuel economy and emissions. Order it now for early spring delivery.

Honda P-NUT
It might have a silly name, with an even sillier explanation – P-NUT stands for Personal Neo Urban Transport – but this electric city car concept envisioning urban transport in 10-15 years’ time was one of best cars at the LA show. The unusual three-seat layout features a centrally placed driver’s seat upfront with two flanking rear passenger seats plus a different kind of interior architecture that replaces a conventional solid dashboard with a driver display screen and U-shaped steering controls on separate overlapping stalks. NB Not due for production any time soon.

VW Up! Lite

Another car that majored on lightweight in LA was VW’s diesel/electric hybrid Up! Lite concept. Weighing less than a two-seat Smart coupe at 695kg this four-seater promises 116mpg and just 65g/km of CO2. It is also incredibly aerodynamic with a front radiator air intake that only opens when required to cool the engine. Expect such ‘active aero’ measures to boost economy and reduce emissions on future VWs within a few years.

Cadillac CTS Coupe

If this smart new production car seems a little familiar that’s because a ‘concept’ looking very similar and with the same name was shown back at the 2008 Detroit show. Virtually unchanged on the outside and set to feature the excellent cabin of its CTS saloon sibling on the inside, it will take on upmarket coupes like BMW’s 3-series and Infiniti’s G37 this spring in the US. Official UK sales could follow by 2011.

LA Design Challenge

You won’t see them in physical form on any show stand but the competition entries for the LA Design Challenge are some of the most exciting cars associated with the LA show. The well-established annual virtual competition is open to Southern Californian car design studios and this year’s brief was to come up with a computer-generated idea for the ‘Youthmobile of 2030’. Mazda imagined a very simple vehicle concept – called Souga – with only a few internal controls, as its designers believed that by 2030 most digital communication and information devices will be integrated into the user’s fashion apparel, eliminating the need for separate satnav and stereo systems in the car.

A car-version of the ‘Guitar Hero’ video game was GM’s idea where learners test their skills against the car’s autonomous system that can gradually ‘unlock’ controls as the human driver improves but the winner for 2009 – announced on the second press day at the show – was from Nissan’s studio. It proposed the V2G concept – standing for Vehicle-to-Grid – a car capable of using the newly electrified highway system, paid for by mobile phone-style access plans, but also hack-able by users to take ‘off-grid’ for less constrained automotive fun.


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