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January 28, 2013

The 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show: Automakers Keep the Sport in Sport Utes

IMG_0277Although southern California is celebrated as a sports car mecca, sport utility vehicles of every size and type were among the biggest hits at the 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show. More than 40 different brands parked their new models and concept renditions on the ‘red carpet’ at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as 50 new vehicles made their premier entrance or global debut. The LAIAS is among the most significant shows in annual big-city show season in the U.S. and the home of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Dealers Association (GLANCDA), the umbrella organization for local and regional dealers. The LAIAS is followed by 2013 auto shows in Detroit (January), Chicago (February), New York (April) and other cities across the nation.

The eyes of the world were on “The City of Angels” as the world’s top manufacturers and members of the international and national automotive press, and approximately one million auto enthusiasts came together in the country’s largest performance car market. In addition to the dazzling and desirable sheet metal, autowriters and visitors were able to check out new and innovative automotive technology, as well as aftermarket offerings for all types of vehicles. There was also a collection of classic and historical models. My automotive career started at Four Wheeler magazine and, as a result, I have developed a partiality for light trucks—a category that includes SUVs and pickups, and I have a love of performance--and a passion for racing both trucks and SUVs. I’ve been privileged to race in the two top 4WD races on the planet-the Dakar and the Baja 1000- motoring in a cadre of models that have ranged from small (the Kia Sportage) to tall (the Ford Raptor) to a granddaddy of them all (the Hummer H1). I not only love off-road racing, but also know that it’s used as a ‘test bed’ for vehicles and new automotive equipment. You could say the same about auto shows to some degree, as there is opportunity to garner fanfare for new models and vehicle technologies, as well as to test the waters for new designs, new color pallets and far-out ideas that we might even see at a dealership and use onboard our personal vehicles sometime soon.

IMG_0270The LAIAS is truly a show of strength in the industry and a showplace for designers and engineers that are charged to create the future—and LA is where creativity lives! Among the captivating unveilings, all enhanced by bold musical and visual entertainment (think Golden Globes or Oscars!), there was an assortment of sport utility vehicles, one of the top-selling and most-popular segments of the automotive world today. Today’s SUVs are stronger, smarter and more savvy, and are notably smaller than the behemoths of the nineties and early 2000’s-era, although almost all have more room. And, they are also dressed with more “jewelry”, with bigger and bolder grilles, clever lighting design and flashy wheels, regardless of whether their mission is more militaristic or for the country club. Note: there were no pickup trucks brought to the show, which are often introduced in Detroit, Chicago or New York. Following are the evocative SUVs that took Top Honors in my book and a few that were engaging and deserve honorable mentions… a few of my favorite things:

Top Honors: Mercedes-Benz Ener-G-Force—This concept knocked my socks off! Inspired by the uber-capable Mercedes G-Class SUV, the concept is beastly-looking but uses a “hydro tech converter” (just say fuel cell technology!) that can travel some 500 miles converting water to hydrogen and has a 360-degree top that police might use to patrol the streets-some say it might be a replacement for the G-Wagen, used by the military and extreme off-roaders.

I also liked the real-time Mercedes GL63 AMG with the gallop power of 550 horses and a top speed of 174 mph-who said SUVs were boring! The 3-row, 7-seater could appeal to millionaire mommies like, say, Posh Spice!! BMW X1 K2 BMW boasts that this “Powder Ride” concept is an automotive driving machine with a design hat that morphs a car and motorcycle, airplane and train and still contains the aesthetics of sustainability-Wow-zah! There’s an aluminum roof-rack top for skis and cargo boxes. Love the Valencia Orange paint job, with Ferric Gray trim accents; dark-tinted windows; cool wheels; LED spotlights; wood and black leather inside, with orange stitching. BMW also updated its 2013 X1 compact crossover, now coming to showrooms and ski slopes near you!

The Bavarians also bring a ski-themed, special edition model called the Powder Ride edition bundles K2 skis. But, of course! 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Special Edition—The unforgiving “ Ruby” turns 10 years old and carries enough beefy, backcountry cred to make it over the legendary Rubicon Trail in northern California with nary a scratch! Two wheelbases, Sunrider or optional hardtop, red leather seats with anniversary embroidery. As a back-roader and 4WD enthusiast, I love the set-up on this model. Blow out the candles, Jeep! Honorable Mention: Nissan Hi-Cross Concept-This sculpted hybrid concept seats seven runs on both electric and gas-not a new concept but, the word on the streets is this Japanese automaker plans to bring it stateside. We need all the fuel savings we can get! Toyota RAV4- The importance is this model is its history; what began in 1996 created a new culture, and secured some awards for the young and active seeking efficiency and the ability to carry a bit of gear. A new theme-Let’s Go Places-gets a new Adventure’s APP that is dialed for the 150 places it is sold around the globe. All new for this year, it sheds the third row and V-6 engine.

IMG_03182014 Subaru Forester and 2014 Forester Turbo (a meld of SUV capability and WRX know-how, says Subie!) It’s crazy popular for a few reasons: all-wheel-drive traction, decent fuel economy and a modest price, among them; and Subaru will keep its price modest in the low 20’s. Uplevel models will get a new Eyesight driver assistance system and Starlink infotainment, as well as Hill Descent Control. 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe-This updated SUV (Santa Fe Sport) now gets a stablemate that’s 8.5” longer, with three rows of seats; it holds more people, more cargo volume and a new power liftgate. Other goodies include heated rear seats! 2014 Kia Sorento-Built on a new platform, with a panoramic roof that lets the sun shine in, gets new mechanicals and a new interior.


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