The big news on Day One of the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show was the lack of news from General Motors and Chrysler. The beleaguered bookends of Detroit's Big 3 both took a pass on introducing any new models or concept cars here while they wait to see if Congress gives them a much needed injection of cash.
Ford was left to carry the standard for the domestic auto industry, doing its best to make the case that it can build the kind of vehicles needed to compete in one of the tightest markets ever.
Now $540 million richer after selling most of its stake in Mazda earlier in the week, the company rolled out the eagerly awaited 2010 Mustang, along with an updated midsize lineup that includes a pair of the most potent hybrid sedans in the world, the new Fusion and Mercury Milan. The first salvo in an upcoming product assault that the Blue Oval Brand hopes will dig it out of the current economic mess the old-fashioned way, by selling cars.
Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn agreed with that sentiment in his keynote address to open the show. The man known in the industry as “Le Cost Cutter,” due to his reputation for getting troubled companies out of the red, cautioned automakers to do everything possible to keep from burning cash, but advised them not to lose focus on the core products of their brands that customers will come looking for when things eventually turn around.
Taking some of his own advice, Nissan unveiled the all-new 370Z, the sixth generation of the iconic sports car, while also claiming the title of lowest-priced car in America with a $9,990 version of its Versa sedan. The literally named Cube compact was the car of the show, though, with a boxy body complimented by an interior that is supposed to bring to mind a hot tub.
The Toyota and Honda stands were conspicuously absent of new products, but both companies did show a number of alternative-fuel concept cars, including a three-seat sports car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell from Honda and a Toyota Camry Hybrid that burns compressed natural gas instead of gasoline.
Despite the recent collapse of prices at the pump, just about every company in attendance was touting their latest fuel-saving technologies. BMW and its subsidiary MINI had all the bases covered with an all-electric version of the MINI Cooper, a diesel BMW 3-series sedan and X5 crossover, as well as a concept for a BMW 7-series hybrid it hopes to have in showrooms by late 2009.
Porsche, which has been the world's most profitable automaker in recent years thanks in large part to its successful Cayenne SUV, arrived at the show as beat up and battered as everyone else with sales down 25 percent so far in 2008. The company is counting on its updated Boxster and Cayenne entry-level sports cars to help stem the losses as it readies a hybrid version of the Cayenne as well as its first 4-door sedan for introduction sometime next year.
Overall the show felt more somber than most, and Los Angeles is supposed to be the fun one. Every press conference was tempered with phrases like “challenging market” and “weathering the storm.” Ghosn did his best to put a positive spin on it saying “the one thing that is certain about the future is that people will be driving cars.”
Whether they will be buying cars again is yet to be seen.