Los Angeles—I’m in the middle of a swarm of sweaty humanity. Trance music pulsates overhead. Smoke machines kick into action and a booming, deep, European voice exhorts the crowd to experience “deeply satisfying driving pleasure.”
Am I in a bathhouse?
No. It’s the Los Angeles Auto Show!
Auto shows are one of the strangest trade show experiences one could have as a grown adult on a business trip. At solar events, executives talk about cost per watt and new developments in aluminum racking. At computer events, you hear about technologies to keep in touch with your friends.
At a car show, every third sentence revolves around passion, style and a long-enduring love affair with hand-finished interiors.
“It’s simple, but passionate, with lounge-like lighting and ambience,” said Carlos Tavares, a Nissan board member, describing the Ellure, a Nissan concept car “for women in their 30s and 40s.”
The 2011 Murano “will appeal to active, optimistic couples in their mid-40s,” he added.
Who are they, I wonder, and are they as passionate about the roasted beet salad at Trader Joe’s as my wife and I are?
Porsche CEO Mathias Muller spoke of passion when he discussed how the company will come out with a hybrid Panamera next year.
“The Fiat 500 is more than just a car,” intoned Laura Soave, the head of branding for Fiat in North America, speaking of the company’s iconic economy car that barely seats four. “It exists to energize people through the Italian Spirit to live life!”
“True exclusivity cannot be measured,” pronounced Danny Behar, CEO of Lotus. To introduce its new line of sports cars, the company hired Sharon Stone, Daniel Baldwin and Paul Stanley of KISS to pull the curtain off its new models. Exclusivity? KISS? It got applause anyway, even if the Foghat bassist couldn’t make it.
As over-the-top as some auto show presentations can be, the rest of the green industry can learn from it. More reporters gather at car shows than at any other type of trade shows, and it’s not just for the free champagne at 11:00 a.m. or the USB drives shaped like the 2012 Ford Focus. These companies really know how to drive consumer lust and loyalty. One of Porsche’s exhibits is a 1954 356 Speedster: the oldest known Porsche product on American shores.
And they have complete disregard for safety rules. At every press conference, car manufacturers literally drive new cars onto a stage inside a closed room.
“Don’t these people worry about carbon monoxide poisoning?” I asked Diarmuid McDermott, vice president of business development at Tesla Motors, whom I ran into at the Mercedes booth. He nodded in amazement as the music thumped. It was 10:00 a.m.
Maybe solar panels aren’t as enthralling, but a deep backbeat and gourmet cupcakes could certainly help pump up the volume.
But I digress. The choice tidbits from the show:
--Despite the worldwide recession, car sales seem to be on the mend. Sales volume at Nissan is up 17 percent year-to-year. Audi sales are up 16.4 percent. Porsche says it is having the best year ever in its sixtieth year in the U.S.
-- The Nissan Leaf will start to ship in the first week of December, said Tavares. The company hit its goal of 20,000 pre-orders.
-- Fisker Automotive will start to produce the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma in the first quarter of 2011, a few months after the expected (and belated) 2010 debut. The first Karma off the production line was here on display.
--Fiat will come out with an all-electric car in 2012.
--Volvo plans to put an all-electric in very limited production by 2011. The first 50 cars will go to Sweden, but it will expand to the Low Countries and the U.S. after that. By the end of 2012, the company wants to start producing a plug-in hybrid. It will sell a diesel plug-in to Europe and a gas plug-in to the U.S. Like Audi, Volvo is a big fan of diesel.
A diesel plug-in hybrid emits only 49 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, according to Volvo’s Lennert Stegland, which is relatively low. (We have a video of a test drive in an all-electric Volvo coming.)
Volvo’s all-electric has a 24-kilowatt-hour battery, the same as the Nissan Leaf. The plug-in has a battery that’s half the size. Volvo will skip Prius-like hybrids and go straight to all-electrics and plug-ins, he added. Adding 100 kilos of batteries can cut fuel economy by 3 percent, which makes the carbon trade-off tricky.
--In 2011, Ford will introduce a 40-mile-per-gallon Focus. The Focus, by the way, is the focus for Ford. The company will even introduce a sporty platform for the car in the near future.
--Honda will introduce both a plug-in and an all-electric in 2012. Honda, however, still holds out hope for hydrogen vehicles. “We remain convinced that a fuel cell electric vehicle is the ultimate for future mobility,” said Takanobu Ito, Honda’s president.
The eco-mode on the all-electric gets about 17 percent better mileage, which is par for the course.
--Bob Lutz, the jet-loving former GM chairman who pushed the Volt after Tesla came out with its electric cars, is now working with Lotus.
--Toyota also talked up the 2012 RAV-4 EV, although the company gave few specifics. The first car will weigh 220 pounds more than a regular RAV-4, but Toyota will work to equalize the weight.
-Wheego will soon introduce its two-seater all-electric (video coming soon).