It feels like it was just a few years ago when the Los Angeles Auto Show began branding itself as the “green” show. The NAIAS still has the birthrights to the coolest of the cool concepts and inherited the opportunity to have first dibs on the most outlandish performance machines ever built. 

Coverage and photos by John Grafman

Additionally, both SEMA and the Pebble Beach Concours have carved out their respective niches and the OEMs are debuting more cars in Las Vegas and Monterey. Due to dates these events fall on the calendar, it’s inevitable that the Los Angeles Auto Show is now getting reruns that are unveiled elsewhere. As a result, a little of the shine is rubbing off of the LA Auto Show.

A little of the shine is rubbing off of the  Los Angeles Auto Show

So, what’s at the 2019 LAAS? Truly, it’s the diversity of the products. The 2019 show has a bit of everything. It’s a catch-all under the banner of Automobility LA. So, the emphasis shifts to new technology, but at the end of the day, that’s now about as abundant as mat paint finishes. In other words, nothing particularly unusual. Well, to be fair, AI and full autonomy are still a work in progress.

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Dodge

In spite of the Los Angeles Auto Show being a home to new and old OEMs alike, it’s lacking a few high-profile motorcars. Perhaps the tide is turning so much in the world of marketing that displaying cars at the convention center no longer makes dollars and sense. Good luck finding a Rolls-Royce, unless one happens to be in the parking garage.

Shaker Hoods on the EVs in the future? Magic Eight-Ball says “Doubtful”

On the other hand, one can’t help but be hooked by the likes of Dodge’s display on media day. It not only shows the connectivity with the brand’s history, it also reminds us of just how the public embraces the power and thrills of a rumbling eight-cylinder up front. Numerous Challengers, new and old,  are housed in the mammoth tent. Can we expect to see shaker hoods on the electric vehicles in the future? Magic Eight-Ball says “Doubtful.” Thankfully, the visceral thrills of a petrol-burning machine will still be a part of our lives, at least if Dodge and Exxon has anything to say about it.

And, while Dodge is leaning on its past, companies like Karma Automotive are able to carve a new path, as they don’t carry any baggage. Okay, in the case of Karma, there’s a little from the prior company (Fisker Automotive). The new, swoopy designs of the Karma Automotive Vision (a name that’s badge on several cars from various OEMs at the show) is stopping attendees in their tracks. The display models from this OC based company are no doubt highly attractive both inside and out. The Vision model is being shown in a hardtop and convertible form. These are seductive and look the part of a car that costs six-figures. Karma Automotive has big dreams and has come to play with the big boys.

These are seductive and look the part

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019

Perhaps it’s apropos that ArtCenter has a display just down the hallway. Henrik Fisker, an ArtCenter Alumni, has been a guiding design force in several brands. And, there probably isn’t a single serious car company displaying at the Los Angeles Auto Show that isn’t benefiting from an ArtCenter graduate on staff. This is one of the few schools on earth that a student can hone their talents and eventually become an integral part of a car company. And, this is one of the few places an enthusiast can interact with a representative of the school just by happenstance. This is bridge building 101.

The Audi e-tron is following the design ethos of other Audi models

Audi is making inroad towards an EV future with the e-tron SUV. As consistent as Audi is with outstanding design, we question why an EV needs to have an oversized grill up front, or any grill at all? From a technology standpoint, Audi (well, the whole VW Group) is diving into a petroleum-free drivetrain, the styling doesn’t seem to wholeheartedly embrace this fact. This is reminiscent of sticking insane aero-go-fast packages onto econocars that  can barely break a ten second 0-60 time. It’s a mismatch. A number of car companies are attempting to use one body for both and ICE and EV. Of course, the styling of one or the other will suffer as a consequence. Aside from the grill, the Audi e-tron SUV, like most Audi offerings, is an attractively styled car and is following the design ethos of other models.

Lexus is proudly displaying the LC 500 Convertible. Those that are fans of the LC 500, and the unusual surfaces of the body, mega spindle grill, and aggressive stance, should be dazzled by the top-down sports coupe. Rightly so, as this does capture the best of the LC 500 on the raised turntable and bright lights. Those that are critical will point to the awkwardness the convertible creates, such as in how the trailing top edge of the door meets up with the raised deck panel that houses the top. The lower height of the door hooks upward to make up the difference, which resolves the issue, so it looks like the convertible form was more of an after-thought. In general, the LC 500 Convertible has a similar, sporty quality that resonates in the coupe. That should result in a thumbs-up by most show attendees.

Unusual surfaces of the body, mega spindle grill, and aggressive stance

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Lexus

 

Lexus shocks us with the LF-30, which has a funkiness that’s more Tesla Cybertruk-like that probably most would care to see. Don’t let the big picture overwhelm the smaller details. It wouldn’t surprise us to see some elements of the Lexus LF-30 Concept sneak into future designs. But, it is hard to escape thinking about what was probably a nicely designed transport on paper (or, more than likely digital), and how this morphed into a full-size, chunky physical model. The Lexus LF-30 is an interesting exercise in lighting, use of a perforated surface as seen in the front, seating, and the interior elements. There’s plenty to gleam off of this once the initial disbelief wears off.

LF-30 Concept has a funkiness that’s more Tesla Cybertruk-like

On the subject of interiors, while the Mercedes-Maybach sedan will probably be eliminated, the interior should never get old. Swathed in regal leathers and contrasting stitching, and fit with rearward screens, and control options; being shuttled about in one of the Maybachs is not a bad way to get around town. And, the additional overall length beyond the typical S-Class is perfect for any NBA player, or just even just the average-sized human that likes the added room to relax. Our expectation is, the Maybach super-premium brand will be going SUV in the very near future.

The Kia HabaNiro Concept, which originally debuted in New York, captures a lot of the flavor of the Land Rover Evoque. The EV has that semi-tough look for on or off-street use. The windshield sweeps all the way back to the B-pillar. Kia also includes augmented reality. The butterfly opening doors are catchy looking but are less than practical for production. However, Kia didn’t do justice to the car by painting it in white, as it doesn’t show-off the nicely modelled body to the fullest extent possible. The red stipe crossing over the rear from pillar to pillar does add sportiness to it and provides contrast much like the vent on an Audi R8, but it’s unnecessary. Then again, it’s a concept and now’s the chance to play a bit more with design and color. One could almost see this as a youthful replacement to the aging Kia Soul.

One could almost see this as a youthful replacement

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Kia

The Hyundai HDC-7, or Vision T Hybrid Concept, depending on who you ask, is presented to the media by Hyundai Senior VP, Head of Hyundai Global Design Center, SangYup Lee. Lee and his team have developed one of the success stories at the Los Angeles Auto Show. At first glance, the multifaceted surfaces are aggressive, albeit not too far over the top. This concept’s bulging matte-green finished exterior bodywork seems a bit much for product model. However, if one squints hard, it does look like there could be a product SUV lurking beneath the cladding. Nevertheless, the Hyundai Vision T Hybrid does have a dynamic body providing lots of opportunity to reflect light in its current form.

The HDC-7 shows just what can be done at the Los Angeles Auto Show

The HDC-7 shows what can be done with the front of a vehicle. Many a designer seem to be stymied when asked to replace the grill with a new surface. In the case of the HDC-7, the triangular facets are a thoughtful substitute. The Parametric Air Shutter Grille Design is closed when the HDC-7 is not rolling. While driving, each individual cell of the grill design opens in a defined sequence, allowing for cooling and better air flow and subsequently economy. This is variation found in the Porsche 928 decades ago, but the Hyundai makes this a functional design element.

Similarly, the Hidden Signature Lamp derived from the Le Fil Rouge and Grandeur Face Liftare a deviation from most other headlights and done in an artful way. Hopefully, others take note of these features. What the takeaway should be is, there are plenty of new approaches to traditional design elements, and technology will eradicate what we considered the norm.

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Hyundai

SangYup Lee says, “We pursue innovative solutions in design and add emotional value to our product experience through sensuous sportiness design language.”

The new JCW Mini injects a boy-racer on steroids feel

The John Cooper Works Mini is hard to miss with a rather noticeably large, stylized wing on the tail end. The wheel well fender arches that formerly mimicked the shape of the wheel openings are being replaced with a more blocky-shaped part. Curiously, the edges of these stand proud of the fenders. The flairs are not necessarily in keeping with the body. The new flairs add an exaggerated contrast that injects a boy-racer on steroids feel.

On the other hand, the Mini Cooper SE, as you might have guessed, is electric. And, for the most part, the body looks similar enough to the typical Cooper with one big exception. The feature pushing forward out of the front radiator grill opening looks strange. It reminds us of the way fish’s stomach pops out of its mouth when being reeled in from a depth. In other words, not particularly attractive. This is one of those cases where new metalwork and plastic to replace the radiator grill, hood, and the bumper cover would allow for a better design resolution.

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Mini

Acura’s Type S Concept is attractive and doesn’t push the design sensibilities over a cliff. The sedan provides a premium design that’s not stodgy. The consumers are bound to see this as being a near-reality product that they could appreciate. Use of flake carbon-fiber on a few parts is one of the aspects that makes the Acura Type S Concept stand out. Coke bottle plan view does add the flair that a youthful (under 40) buyer would pick up on.

Wagons are hip once again, and the ID. Space Vizzion is indeed a wagon

Here at the Los Angeles Auto Show, wagons are hip once again, if we are to believe the OEMs. The Volkswagen ID. Space Vizzion is indeed a wagon. Audi is jumping onto the wagon bandwagon too. Even Buick’s got one. VW’s exterior effort is clean of any things that don’t belong. Door handles, who needs them? The soft, graceful panels shun the hard, flat and formless shapes of the 70s. The VW ID.Space makes good use of the forms, character lines, and creases. These visually expand the sense of length on what’s already a dimensionally long product. The perforated lower of the front bumper comes off as looking less expensive. It’s simply not as trick as the Lexus LF-30. However, the slim headlight, and the way the hood flows from the A pillar forward is a big step forward for VW design. The two-tone painted hood also creates a nice visual break in the surface.

The interior does flaunt a completely digitized cockpit. The VW does use a tablet like panel for displaying multiple functions. Again, this pulls the driver’s focus away from the road. But the tablet can convey more content (as long as the driver doesn’t need reading glasses).

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 VW

“So far, with our ID. family, we have shown what is possible with electric vehicles in each known car category. With the ID. Space Vizzion we create a new, fully electric segment,” says Klaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Design.

Ditching box-like styling at the recycling center is generating positive reactions

We are glad that VW has decided that zero emissions doesn’t have to have zero personality or style. Additionally, ditching the old box-like styling at the recycling center is generating positive reactions. VW states that a production version will follow in 2021.

While a number of OEMs at the Los Angeles Auto Show are going big, Mazda is going small. Jeffrey Guyton, President of Mazda North America Operations, introduces us to the CX-30. While not designed in the USA, this crossover is a nice fit for our market. Certainly, the public still wants something bigger than a sedan, but not everyone wants or needs a three-row monster. The black (plastic, we assume) wheel-well flairs are maybe oversized to offset smaller tires, or just appear that way. But overall, this is a design that many can appreciate and doesn’t have any blatant awkwardness. In fact, the CX-30 looks like a more expensive product.

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Mazda

Ford is showing the one EV that is getting nearly as much attention as the Tesla Cybertruk. The Ford Mustang Mach E hits the nail on the head from a tech standpoint. From a design standpoint and a marketing point of view, well, maybe this misses the nail completely. Why did Ford cheapen the Mustang name by slapping it on anything other than a sports car is beyond anyone’s understanding (regardless of Ford’s explanation). Then, there’s the styling.

Not all cars can be morphed into an attractive crossover or SUV

This is neither an obvious relative of the Mustang. Nor is the Mach E a particularly standout design, if the iconic name was not applied. Somehow, this SUV got lost by trying to make the Mach E into something it really isn’t. This is should be a lesson to all automakers. Not all cars can be morphed into an attractive crossover or SUV. And, the Ford Mustang Mach E, similar to the Audi e-tron SUV, has an unnecessary grill. Clearly, Ford has done so to draw a relationship to the ICE Mustang sports coupe. But, really, this effort  comes off as being fake and nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

The media day at the Los Angeles Auto Show has one more reveal. Genesis takes the wraps off of the mid-life remodel of the G90. Hyundai’s luxury brand has done a nice job or rounding off the hard edges of the sedan. The roof and doors remain the same, but both ends have been softened and feel fresh. This Genesis does convey a sense of upscale transportation that the brand is committed to. The powertrain remains, hence the radiator grill. Now, this is a bold, larger than life, big enough to nearly swallow up the headlights on either side chrome grill. Does it really require that much cooling? Not really. But, they’d rather go big than go home.

Los Angeles Auto Show 2019 Genesis

The 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show is a far cry from what it was just a few years ago. If our guess is correct, transportation will be continuing to morph into designs that are only possible with the changes in technology and powertrains. One thing is for certain, the future won’t be boring!

 

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