Start Your Engines

As the world's largest car-buying market, Los Angeles boasts an annual auto show that rivals any on the planet. And with more than 1,000 vehicles on display — including more than 50 world and North American debuts — this year's L.A. Auto Show promises to be one of the most spectacular on record. 

“The difference between a show like L.A. and some of the other regional shows is that this is also an auto industry event,” explained Brendan Flynn, director of communications for the show. “People that live in L.A. really get the benefit, because [a show of this size] is a major industry happening that only happens in a few places in the world.”
 In 2006, the show was moved forward from January to November — a time of year devoid of competing auto shows. The L.A. show quickly became more important as a showcase for automakers to unveil new models and innovations to the public and media. The Los Angeles Auto Show is now widely regarded as being one of the top five automotive events in the world and rivals the North American International Auto Show in Detroit for sheer popularity.

"I think that manufacturers have been investing a lot in product development — trying harder, perhaps, than in previous eras to sell cars because of the economic downturn," Flynn said. "So the consumer benefits with some pretty amazing and innovative products."


A new kind of show

Auto shows are no longer just simple displays of shiny cars on turntables. Instead, today’s L.A. Auto Show is an imaginative and interactive celebration of all things automotive filling five halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center (located next to Staples Center) in the city’s revitalized downtown area.

"The manufacturers invest tremendously in these elaborate exhibits that really exude the characteristics of the brand," Flynn said. "They have lots of driving simulators and lots of things that you can get in and touch and feel."


This year's L.A. Auto Show has something to satisfy everyone, but three themes pervade: green mobility, in-car technology and luxury and performance vehicles.

The green scene

Hybrid-electric powertrains are finally part of the mainstream, while all-electric cars like BMW's i3 concept, which will be making its North American debut at the show, continue to capture the imagination.

"Plus you have other technologies that have been around but are getting a new look, like natural gas," Flynn explained. "Clean diesel is continuing to make inroads in the U.S.… It's becoming clear that there's no one solution to achieving lower emissions and higher miles-per-gallon."

But some of the most exciting developments on display will center on green innovations in the good old internal combustion engine. Using high-compression, direct-injection and turbo-charging technologies, auto manufacturers are producing four-cylinder engines that perform like six-cylinders, but with better fuel economy and lower emissions. For example, BMW will begin offering four-cylinder engines in its U.S. models (starting with their 2012 Z4 sDrive28i sports car and 528i sedan) for the first time since 1999.

Flynn dubbed this trend “international-combustion engine 2.0.” 

“I think we’re going to have twice the number of vehicles that fall into that category as opposed to previous years,” he said.

High-tech toys

In-car technology is really hitting its stride and will be reflected throughout the show in everything from gadget-laden luxury rides to endless aftermarket options in the Convention Center’s Kentia Hall (which is devoted to aftermarket, tuner and custom exhibitors).

For example, Cadillac’s new flagship XTS luxury sedan — which will be making its world debut at the show — features the company’s new CUE infotainment system. The system combines entertainment, communication and navigation tools with an intuitive user interface.

“Brand-new technologies … [will] connect you in ways that were previously unimaginable and also bring safety features that border on some autonomous driving characteristics,” Flynn said. “Lexus has technology that actually scans your eye and can tell if you’re tired; Mercedes has technology that, based on an algorithm, monitors your regular driving … and will warn you [of irregularities].”

In addition to high-tech safety systems — lane departure warning, collision mitigation, dual-stage airbags, etc. — a new wave of in-car technologies offers everything from medical information systems (to monitor, for example, blood-sugar levels) to pollen-level readings to self-parking.

“Really your car is becoming like a personal assistant — advisor, doctor, chauffeur!” Flynn said. 

High-end heartthrobs

The L.A. Auto Show traditionally includes a large luxury and performance component, and this year is no exception. Mercedes-Benz will unveil its high-powered ML63 AMG SUV (a world debut) and SLS AMG Roadster (North American debut), while Chevrolet will roll out its most powerful convertible ever, the Camaro ZL1 (also making its world premiere). Jaguar will be showing off its stunning C-X16 concept, while Cadillac’s retro-tastic hybrid convertible Ciel concept is a guaranteed crowd-puller. In fact, about half of the models debuting at this year’s L.A. Auto Show fall into the luxury/performance category.

Los Angeles Fiat fans have been thoroughly spoiled of late. Last year the Italian auto giant chose the L.A. Auto Show for its grand return to the U.S. market with the release of the Fiat 500. Twelve months later, they’re back at the show for the North American debut of that super-cute subcompact’s performance Abarth variant.

“It’s always this juxtaposition in L.A. of practical and green and then super-luxury performance cars,” Flynn said.

Among the more practical highlights of this year’s show will be a trio of new entries into the super-hot compact crossover segment: the latest version of Ford’s big-selling Escape (world debut), Honda’s redesigned CR-V (world debut) and Mazda’s all-new CX-5 (North American debut).

Expect a series of exciting announcements from auto manufacturers at the L.A. show. For example, Ford is expected to announce an entirely new sub-brand. 

“BMW’s going to be making a similar announcement,” Flynn said. “Now they have BMW i, which is going to be a sub-brand that’s focused on sustainability.”

With so much to see and do, Flynn recommends spending at least two hours at the show or making a day of it in combination with a visit to the neighboring L.A. Live entertainment complex (ins and outs are permitted with a hand stamp). A little research at can help visitors identify their favorite exhibitors in advance, and the site lists attractions like celebrity autograph-signings and musical events.

In addition to the many restaurants at L.A. Live, the Los Angeles Convention Center offers an array of dining options of its own — from sushi to burgers and pizza — plus a free Kids’ Fun Zone (weekends only), complete with bounce houses, face-painting and video games.

“When you look online for discount coupons, you end up paying $10 each for adults, and kids get in free,” Flynn said. “It’s a pretty inexpensive day.”

Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer