LA Auto Show 2012, Day one

Ken Block, James Bond and Homer Simpson’s Latest Creation

November 28, 2012—The tone of this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was immediately set by keynote speaker Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA: technology equals sales. And whether discussing the Lexus LFA, the Prius series or Toyota’s “Board of Awesomeness” (powered-skateboard concept), which uses hand gestures to accelerate or brake, it is clear that Toyota R&D will be busy indefinitely.

Not that this is surprising; technological advances drive the auto industry (pardon the pun). What is shocking is that few of the technologies proudly displayed enhance the emotional attachment and appeal of cars to their owners. Lentz mentioned recognition software designed to greet an owner approaching their vehicle. Pretty cool, but how is the driving experience improved?

Furthermore, the majority of press conferences mentioned increased digital connectivity. We enjoy checking Facebook, but don’t need to update our status while driving on the 101 (“just crawled by Sherman Oaks Galleria… holy traffic! LOLZ”). People do it, but with distracted driving leading to one of six driving fatalities, limiting connectivity might be a better use of technology. However, one benefit is better radio improving both spirited driving and commuting (options such as: Pandora, Spotify, etc…).

None of this is new. In the 1950’s, Chrysler’s research led to the Firedome Hemi, for instance. Cadillac showed off its Hydramatic transmission. Technology has always been key at car shows. But where is the pantomime? Chevrolet debuted a new electric vehicle—the Spark EV, claimed to have over 400 lb/ft of torque (more than a Ferrari 458!), accelerating to sixty miles-per-hour in less than eight seconds. Not bad, but when we dream of sunshine dappled downshifts and g-forces on Mulholland, a B-car isn’t going to cut it.

However, there were some standouts. First, Ford Motor Company. At an outdoor press conference following a brief intro, Ken Block came screeching on to the tarmac and proceeded to donut his way around strategically placed Fiestas. We don’t even remember what was new about the Fiestas, but we remember copious tire smoke, Ford, Ken Block and his number 43 Hoonigan ride. This is the theater, the drama that people will recall next year. My apologies to Chevy, but we don’t care about the Spark’s algorithms.

Ken Block Ford Fiesta

Hoonigan

Ken Block 43

Ken Block Monster Energy

Second, Aston Martin. No, Jeremy Clarkson wasn’t on hand to destroy a ‘caravan’ with a Rapide. But Aston did feature James Bond’s DB6 (seen in the latest Bond installment—Skyfall). What better way to sell an iconic brand than to feature their most emblematic vehicle? Moreover, Bond is fantasy and romance at its purest. I want that car, I want to be James Bond. Aston Martin understands!

Aston Martin James Bond

James Bond DB6

Aston James Bond

Third, Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes debuted the screaming yellow SLS AMG Black and the Ener-G-Force concept SUV. Both are absurd and we want them! Yes, they’re probably terrible for the environment and horrible to live with day-to-day, so what? One will suit us perfectly after the zompocalypse, the other until then.

Mercedes Benz SLS Black gullwing

Mercedes Benz Ener G

Mercedes Benz SUV

Finally, one company clearly doesn’t get it: Smart. Featuring a one-off, the forJeremy “designed” by fashion designer Jeremy Scott. Apparently the lovechild of a basketball high-top and a DUB Cadillac, this car is the reason that people go to college to become car designers and should dissuade the uninitiated from attempting their own creation. Who knows? It may have done well at the Tokyo Auto Show, but no amount of positive spin could change puzzled onlookers expressions.

Smart forJames

The Smart forJeremy certainly creates a spectacle, but it’s tragi-comedic. Regardless of technology, the car was an inappropriate exercise reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s flaccid attempt.

Technology will always lead, but Wide Open wants to imagine boundless possibilities for fun: road-trips in “fire-apple” red convertibles, arriving in a blacked-out luxobarge, jaunts in British Racing Green coupes, off-roading in Grave-Digger-like behemoths. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, simply filling a car with more info-tainment will not satisfy Drivers. We want a focus on technology that makes braking and acceleration quicker, shifting faster and handling flatter. Simply, technology that makes driving better. [kiWO]