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Could Los Angeles eclipse Detroit? Add to ...

Detroit's January auto show may soon be eclipsed by the Los Angeles Auto Show. Now that would be something.

For almost two decades, Detroit has been one of a handful of must-see auto shows in the world. But like the Tokyo motor show, Detroit is in decline. As Detroit slips in importance, Los Angeles is working hard to take its place as America's premier auto show.

Much progress was made this year. The media pack came close to resembling a horde, in fact. The first big auto show of the season pulled in the scribblers and the bloggers and the TV types because various car companies offered some 30 world and North American debuts.

Sure, sure, some stands were empty of executives. Chrysler had models and well-lighted cars, but no one of any consequence to talk about them. But Chrysler was the exception, not the rule. Most stands were bursting with business and high-ranking corporate types.

Oddly, Nissan Motor Co. wasn't here at all, even though the company once had its U.S. headquarters here in L.A. Now based in Nashville, Tenn. - obviously the centre of automotive excellence and creativity -- Nissan USA has cut back dramatically on its auto show appearances. It's a mistake. The big auto maker was conspicuous by its absence.

Nissan aside, L.A. was a pleasure this year. Despite all the horrible sales news, despite the recession, America's twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continuing uncertainty in financial markets as politicians dither over needed regulatory reforms, despite the hollowing out of America's manufacturing industry, the asinine U.S. health care debate and lingering high unemployment, the mood here was fairly optimistic.

Many on the show floor, from the car company officials to recently unemployed journalists and consultants, seemed to feel that things were so fantastically bad in 2009, they surely will get better in 2010.

There were also those on the manufacturers' side who energetically argued that their companies are not on the road to recovery at all. There was nothing from which to recover, they said.

No, for a lucky few, this year was all about maintaining a holding pattern and preparing for growth mode. Now, with costs under control and low interest rates apparently here for the time being, some feel 2010 looks like it might be not a good year, but a great one.

Certainly there won't be any shortage of new models. Here in L.A. the new subcompact 2011 Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 were introduced to North America, as was the compact 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and an updated, more fuel-efficient Ford Mustang.

Hyundai, one of those in growth mode and whose U.S. head office is just down the road in Fountain Valley, used L.A. to introduce two fantastically important new models: the 2011 Sonata sedan and the 2011 Tucson compact SUV. Both, I predict, will be hits.

On the other hand, Kia, owned by Hyundai and with its headquarters within a stone's throw of Hyundai, showed Americans the new Sorento, the auto maker's first U.S.-built vehicle. Sport utilities like the Sorento are in decline and despite the strong styling here, the Sorento will not find many buyers.

A surprise at the show was the redesigned 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan. Toyota, of course, is in crisis mode, trying to reverse losses and reinvigorate its appeal among consumers.

Toyota, like Honda, had grown accustomed to letting people simply buy its cars. Now Toyota finds itself working hard to sell potential buyers on the merits of its new models. The Sienna is attractive enough to have a chance in the declining minivan market.

So the Sienna surprised me in a good way. So did these others:

The 2011 Buick Regal. It's gorgeous. Essentially a rebadged Opel Insignia sedan, the Regal will eventually be built in Oshawa, Ontario. It will have only four-cylinder engines, one a high-zoot turbocharged power plant.

I've already mentioned the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and 2011 Cadillac CTX coupe in a previous post. Both show that there is life inside GM.

The 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder, a stripped-down Boxster, looks good, too. And as I have said before on this site, the Mazda2, named car of the year in more than 20 countries and a sales success globally, will do well in Canada, as will its close cousin, the Ford Fiesta.

Finally, a word about the Green Car of the Year. A relatively obscure publication called Green Car Journal has been handing out this award for a couple of years now. The Audi A3 TDI, a diesel, won this time around. Last year it was the Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel.

So in California, a diesel can be a clean car. The Germans, of course, have been telling us this for years.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

 

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