It was gloomy when I landed in Los Angeles last week. Gloomy enough that it put me in a sour mood — despite living in the Midwest, I like sun.
The same cloud cover that prevented me from getting a view of the city upon approach to LAX painted downtown in a shade of grey that would be right at home in some depressing movie about urban malaise.
Then, on Thursday, the sun came out. Just in time for this year’s sole media day.
I am flirting with a cliché here, I know, but the weather seemed to be a metaphor for how the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show media day drove perception of the automotive industry’s health.
One doesn’t want to make too much of one day, of course, and I am on the record, as I’ve written multiple times on this very Web site, that auto-show media days aren’t what they used to be and probably not a good indicator of industry health — and also, even if media days look morose, it doesn’t mean consumer days aren’t successful.
I won’t continue to beat that drum — put away that Simpsons meme you were about to post, you know the one — but I did notice that LA was more vibrant than Detroit. And had Stellantis not pulled out due to the uncertainty around the UAW strike, it might have felt like the old times were almost back.
More to the point, conversations I had with OEM reps and analysts and others seemed to suggest that some of the COVID-era issues that have bugged the industry over these past few years might finally be going away.
I had reps for more than one brand suggest to me that supply-chain and production issues, for example, were easing.
As I said, the amount of activity at any one given auto-show media day might not provide great insight to the bigger picture. It works both ways, too — this year’s grim Detroit Auto Show doesn’t necessarily signify a larger doom and gloom. Heck, a given media day might not even be an indicator of the health of that specific auto show.
And, as I’ve said multiple times — with OEMs looking to capture the news cycle, media days may be, going forward, reduced in influence. Even if a particular auto show is bringing a mass of car-buying humanity through the door during public days.
All that said, the show felt busy enough to give me the feeling that perhaps the industry is moving in a more positive direction, post-COVID. Or at least moving back towards the way things were in 2019.
Putting the big picture aside, each debut caught my interest, but it was a car that didn’t get a presser that really had me thinking — the Honda Prelude.
I wasn’t alone in that — everyone over the age of 30 was fawning over it, thanks to fond memories of the ’90s car. That said, it also looks good up close.
Yes, there is an element of disappointment in the fact that Honda has indicated it won’t be a true sports car. Still, it was a hit among attending media, based on conversations I had.
As far as the big intros go, we had the new Camry, the updated Forester, a new Kia Sorento (plus two concepts), a debut from Genesis, the Lucid Gravity, a hi-po Hyundai EV, and confirmation of how the Hyundai Santa Fe will be equipped in this market.
The Gravity was the biggest star of the show — again, among those that got a press conference — but the Camry slipped under the radar. At least in my opinion.
I don’t really care, one way or another, that the car is going hybrid only, though I do think it’s nice that AWD becomes available on all trims. Rather, I feel that while the Lucid Gravity may be sexy — even for a crossover — with impressive numbers, the Camry is going to be in a lot more driveways. Taking trucks out of the equation, the Camry and its rival, the Honda Accord, are almost always among the most popular purchases. The Camry is, right now, the best-selling sedan on the U.S. market. So it’s a big deal whenever it’s updated, and more so when the car goes all-in on hybridization.
I don’t want to venture a guess on what that means for Toyota’s battery EV future. One could argue that Toyota has decided EVs aren’t yet worth the investment — even though the brand sells the bZ4X. One could also argue the opposite — perhaps Toyota is going hybrid as a bridge towards moving the Camry to an EV setup in the future.
Or, perhaps, Toyota just wants to sell the car on fuel economy and green cred while it works to figure out which powertrain tech is best going forward.
Either way, the Camry bears watching, even if it wasn’t the star of the show.
Other assorted musings and hits and misses:
- Kia’s really leaning into the boxy, rugged look with the new Sorento. I am sure the success of the Telluride plays a part, as does the brand’s excitement for the upcoming EV9. The next Sorento is not a bad-looking vehicle up close, but boxy can be boring, and I wish the company had borrowed more from the swoopy Sportage hybrid.
- Speaking of Kia, I am normally indifferent to design-study concepts these days, since the days of truly sexy futuristic concepts are mostly over, but the EV4 drew my eye. It looks really good up close.
- The Lucid really does look good. So does the Genesis GV80. Maybe I am just finally surrendering to market trends, but these models prove it is possible to make a crossover look stylish.
- Subaru made the Forester look even more boring, but that’s actually good in this case. It’s going to blend better and it’s easier on the eyes. Yes, you can make crossovers look cool, as I just said above, but many buyers care as much or more about utility and aren’t worried about turning heads. Having its stranger styling elements tamed down means the Forester is more bland, but bland can be good. There’s something to be said about clean lines.
- The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is cool but I don’t understand why the swoopier Ioniq 6 didn’t get the N treatment first. There’s probably a good reason (I didn’t get a chance to speak to Hyundai folks about it), but the 6 screams for “high performance EV sedan” treatment.
- If you’re going to the show, be sure to wander the side and basement displays. There are some cool cars on hand. I thought the Kevin Hart collection might be corny but the cars were fun to look at it — only the DJ was cringe. I also liked the Fast and Furious display. Well, mostly the Alfa.
- Stellantis’s presence really was missed. The company usually takes up a lot of floor space, thanks to its various brand displays and its test tracks.
- Don’t worry if you like indoor test tracks — even with Stellantis sitting out, Ford has one on hand. You can also test various EVs indoors and out.
- Even though LA was busier than Detroit, it was still a bummer to see so many luxury brands taking a pass. And not just because they often have the best free lattes on the show floor. When small luxury brands feel that auto shows are worth the spend, the industry feels healthier.
If the LA show was an indicator that the industry is moving in a positive direction, we’ll know better next year in Chicago and New York. New York, especially, is influential due to the presence of so much business and mainstream press in that city — journalists who don’t normally cover cars. Journalists that will happily cab it from Midtown to Javits for a half-day to see what’s new in the automotive world.
Again, I don’t want to overstate the meaning of one media day. But when I woke up Friday, the sun was shining seemingly even brighter than it was Thursday. Probably a coincidence, especially in sunny SoCal, but I have to admit I left LA in a better mood than when I landed.
We’ll see if the industry follows.
[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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