The preview to the LA Auto Show for trade and press, known as Automobility LA, is a mind-boggling four-days long, and some entertaining nights. This encapsulates discussion panels on new tech and a day of design forums conducted by Car Design News. Overlapping much of this is the actual OEM press conferences. This is really what the majority of the media come for. Nevertheless, the masses attending are also tech companies, designers, developers, startups, investors, dealers, government officials and analysts. Which does make it tricky, as one size does not always fit all.
Coverage and images by John Grafman
While the conferences are highly choreographed for the press, not everything goes as planned at the LA Auto Show, however some presentations come off slicker than Wayne Gretzky on ice. And then there are some OEMs that go the extra step. Case in point, Hyundai again shows its appreciation with a little shindig on the final night that includes a performance by Alanis Morissette. Well, why not? Hyundai does have plenty to celebrate. And after all, this is Los Angeles!
To be fair, it should be about the product and not the presentation. Nevertheless, OEMs feel the need to compete on all levels. And, competition makes you stronger.
LA Auto Show Peeks Into The Future And It’s Electric
One thing is certainly clear; the battle of EV and internal combustion engines is all but over. The battery-powered devils allow for a new paradigm in transportation. Instant power and head-snapping 0-60 times, a low center of gravity, greener, quieter, and the ability to configure the powertrain around the passengers instead of the other way around. At the moment, the EVs are not as affordable, but that will change in time. In other words, EVs will rule the world!
These concepts at the LA Auto Show give us a peek at what’s coming up either literally, or at least in spirit. Those that don’t pay attention will be in for a surprise in just a few more spins around the sun.
Audi e-tron GT concept
Audi is continuing on with its pursuit of a fleet of EVs. The Audi e-tron GT concept is looking at becoming a superhero in that lineup. Helping to drive the point home, Marvel Studios is featuring the new e-tron GT in the forthcoming Avengers 4 in summer of 2019. Even Robert Downey Jr. is part of the press conference, albeit via video. This is carrying on the tradition set by the Audi R8 in Iron Man.
Audi is exploiting the electric vehicle benefits with the e-tron GT and wrapping this in a rather attractive skin. This does tick all the right boxes. 590 horsepower – check. Flat floor / low center of gravity – check. A generous battery size at 90kWh – check. 0-60 in 3.5 seconds – check!
Additionally, an 800-volt charging system will allow 80 percent recharge in 20 minutes, which can offer nearly 200 miles of driving. A full charge can yield a range of 248 miles.
The design is that of a GT – 16.3’ long, 6.4’ wide, and 4.5’ in height. The layout provides for storage in both the front and rear trunks. Generous vents allow cooling for the assemblies, battery and brakes. The hood takes cues from the Aicon and the PB18 e-tron.
Marc Lichte, Audi Head of Design, points out the roofline softly slopes almost the rear, and the full width light strip runs the width of the tail. The cabin also strongly compresses as it moves aft. Plus, the wheel arches and striking fenders become more prominent features. This sportback look will be a key point in future Audi products.
BMW Vision iNEXT concept
The LA Auto Show is the world premiere of the new BMW concept.
Surprise, BMW’s concept is also an EV. The all-electric Vision iNEXT is incorporating, for the first time into a single vehicle, BMW Group’s strategic innovation fields – Autonomous driving, Connectivity, Electrification and Services (ACES). The design lends them visual expression (D+ACES) to the future of the BMW i brand.Vision iNEXT is built to be an owner’s favorite space. In other words, this is really putting the emphasis on interiors, where one can relax and be him or herself. BMW is capturing the feel of furniture with use of Enlighted Cloudburst cloth upholstery with its intricate Jacquard weave and wood along with clean-cut lines. The floating tablets/screens almost have a tacked on, afterthought feel.
The exterior, while devoid of clutter, has a more sophisticated shape than it sibling, the i3. The body is still blocky, but the form doesn’t feel forced, and less appliance-like. The matte paint also blends nicely with the shape, and emphasizes the purposefulness of the iNEXT. The ultra slim headlights allows the overall shape to be undisturbed and thereby more readable. On the flip side of the coin, the vertical grill is not only overdone, but maybe even unnecessary as well.
Byton K-Byte concept
Early into the LA Auto Show it’s clear that Tesla isn’t the only start-up that is embracing EV technology, and willing to risk it all.
CEO and co-founder Dr. Carsten Breitfeld and VP of Design Benoît Jacob are eagerly anticipating the rollout of the newest concept, the K-Byte, as a kind of wardrobe malfunction occurs. The car cover hooks around the front wheel while the Byton rolls up a slight incline towards the stage. To unwind the car cover, the K-Byte begins to roll backwards, looking like an impending disaster. Fortunately, Byton recovered. This momentary drama did take our breath away before the actual reveal.
Byton is showing two of the more credible products coming this way from this China-based company. The K-Byte concept sedan and M-Byte SUV prototype have a hint of European influence perhaps, but these EVs are less identifiable by what they are, as opposed to what is missing. With the lack of an unnecessary grill, the Byton leans on graphics in the front. This is either uninspired or brilliant depending on your tastes. The full-width screen in the interior model could be a wonderful solution for autonomous vehicle occupants. Or, it’s overkill. Certainly, it provides ample room for all types of info to be displayed.
Icona Nucleus concept
Icona is a newer studio in Orange Country, and they are displaying the Nucleus concept at the LA Auto Show as a showcase for the company’s capabilities.
Samuel Chuffart, Global Design Director, explains, “Icona Design Los Angeles was founded in September 2016 to support our clients with engineering, clay modeling, and design. We are a family of designers who team up to give support on any given project from all three of our design studios located in Turin, Shanghai and Los Angeles. Our design team consists of skilled and talented designers from all over the world guaranteeing a diversified approach with the end result of international flavor.“
The Nucleus, a level-5 autonomous vehicle, jumps further into the future than the Icona Neo shown in 2015. While retaining a dashboard and steering wheel, the Nucleus concept sets its sights on the destination more than the drive. This explores the mobile living space over the actual driving experience. If motor homes were hip, this would be what they would look like!
California Remains A Cultural Center For Independent Car Tuning And Coachbuilding To This Day
Infiniti Prototype 10 concept
For those that love to drive, the Infiniti Prototype 10 concept might be the embodiment of that pure feeling. That hard to quantify stimulus lives in our hearts when we find an empty, twisting roadway.
Infiniti’s concept first broke cover at Pebble Beach prior to raising eyebrows during the LA Auto Show.
The Infiniti Prototype 10 is a diminutive in size, but such styling is as big as the great outdoors. This was developed with California in mind. While the fabrication was done here in Southern California, the Prototype 10’s creation has been overseen by Infiniti’s Japan design center, and designed digitally in the U.K.
“California is intrinsically linked to the speedster body style and remains a cultural center for independent car tuning and coachbuilding to this day,” says Karim Habib, Executive Design Director, Infiniti. Prototype 10 taps into this unique Californian ethos of self-expression, both in its design and its performance.”
The forms identify this as an Infiniti product, but one can almost detect a dash of Jaguar and Porsche in this concept. Flowing shapes accompanying by distinct edges give this a racing flavor. The “bathtub” effect with the driver seated down low only further enhances this.
A monoposto cockpit underlining Infiniti’s driver-focused approach “We were drawn to the idea of outlaw racers adapting their own cars for grass-roots racing. Cabriolets become roadsters and speedsters with the removal of the roof, or by fitting a smaller, swept-back windshield. Many owners even covered the passenger bay to create a monoposto competition car,” states Karim Habib.
Infiniti could create this as a production EV, but it would almost be a product without profit, given the limited number of buyers that would gravitate towards it. Then again, the Mazda MX-5 Miata found an audience. The Prototype 10 concept taps into that same vein!
Far More Than Just An Auto Show Concept Vehicle
Mitsubishi e-Evolution concept
The Mitsubishi e-Evolution is one of the other standouts at the LA Auto Show. Always being the scrappy company it is, anything is possible. Sadly, too many offerings from a styling perspective give little to be excited for. A ray of hope is the concept being unveiled by Fred Diaz, President and CEO, MMNA. This is a bold and exciting sports car, or at least appears to be one. This garners extra kudos, as it goes against the grain of all oversized SUVs and self-driving transports that offer less than thrilling drives. The e-Evolution gives us hope that hard charging, twisty canyon, slot car living isn’t dead.
Fred Diaz states, “The e-Evolution is far more than just an auto show concept vehicle. It is the embodiment of what Mitsubishi Motors will become, what we will stand for, and the type of vehicles we will bring to our customers in the very near future. The e-Evolution Concept has the performance DNA that Mitsubishi is known for evolved for today’s savvy consumer in the form of an electrified CUV.”
Right from the get-go, Rivian tickles our curiosity with what seems to be ready-for-market cars. This is in a large part to exceptional prototypes/concepts that are believable. Well, seeing is believing, right?
The Rivian is a very clean looking R1T pick-up truck, as it the R1S SUV. One could almost make the case that these need a bit of bling. In particular, this has no grill by rather just a wrap-around illuminated panel that breaks up the surface. Perhaps there’s just a hint of influence from the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica. All right, that’s probably not the case. But, this is definitely an advanced looking truck.
In looking at the pick-up truck market, or at least from the domestic players, there’s a similar cord that each plays. If it doesn’t look oversized, mean, and heavy duty, it won’t be competitive. But, does one size and shape fit all in terms of pleasing the public? The case could be made that if the public wanted less aggressive designs, all the trucks would look like a Honda Ridgeline.
The Rivian products are unadulterated designs, free of adornment and oversized chromed plastic, and maybe geared to those that simply don’t take their pick-ups and SUVs off-road. It’s not the position that Rivian is taking, at least in their marketing efforts. But, much like the buyers of Land Rovers, it’s about knowing the products are capable, even if they never encounter a situation that requires off-roading abilities.
One of the most striking takeaways at the LA Auto Show is, the demise of the auto is far from near. It might take new forms and different powertrains, but there are still more variations possible and those that are passionate enough to carve new paths to the future.