Outside of a Nissan-hosted panel preceding the first media day, the typically mobility discussion was muted at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show (and even that panel wasnâ€™t nearly as eye-roll inducing as the usual Ford pronouncements â€” at least this panel included actual experts making reasonable points, even if I disagree with some of them.)
L.A. was all about the cars â€“ cars youâ€™ll soon be able to buy, should you have the means.
Letâ€™s start with the Jeep. We drooled over the Gladiator as much any other outlet, and with good reason. It looks even better in person, and kudos to Fiat Chrysler for allowing stick-shift buyers to have their cake and eat it, too. You can get a manual without having to sacrifice content, so long as you buy the gas engine.
Yeah, it may just be a Wrangler with a pickup box, but thatâ€™s what most of us want out of a Jeep truck, right? Jeep had no need to get crazy here, and they didnâ€™t, and the result is something that looks pretty awesome.
(Full disclosure: Nissan hosted myself and other journalists in Los Angeles, covering our flight, hotel, parking, and a few meals.).
Moving on to the next iconic name on the docket, the Porsche 911. I didnâ€™t get much time near it, so I donâ€™t have a ton of thoughts on it, other than it looks good while still being recognizable as a 911. I canâ€™t imagine many Porsche purists will be upset with what the gang in Germany cooked up.
Lincolnâ€™s Aviator also wowed, and while I am skeptical about the use of a smartphone app to unlock and start the vehicle, everything else about it strikes me as just what Lincoln needed. It looks good inside and out, has big power numbers on tap, and is generally the powerful, midsize luxury SUV that fits the mold of what buyers are looking for these days. And it doesnâ€™t even have an alphanumeric name!
Yeah, itâ€™s probably going to cost a mint and guzzle a bunch of gas, and that latter likelihood will prove problematic should gas prices spike again. But timing is important, and right now, the Aviator is the kind of vehicle that will give Lincoln a much-needed shot in the arm. Plus, there’s a plug-in hybrid version, even if its appeal was all about power.
Another key vehicle shown in L.A. is the Honda Passport. While I am disappointed in the use of black body cladding on some models, I dig the look overall. I donâ€™t care if itâ€™s a truncated Pilot, or if itâ€™s a bit boring. Itâ€™s still good-looking, and the interior looks nice, and the tech specs look good on paper.
Iâ€™m less certain about the Hyundai Palisade â€“ it looks better in person than in pictures, but it also strikes me as a little derivative (to be fair, that charge can also be made, albeit less forcefully, against the Aviator). Still, if itâ€™s comfortable and drives well enough, it will sell. Hyundai certainly seems to have gotten the content mix correct.
I am also a little â€œmehâ€� on the 2020 Toyota Corolla â€“ it looks worlds better than what it replaces, but that said, I am not fully sold on the styling. And if it doesnâ€™t drive as well as a Honda Civic or a Mazda 3, Iâ€™ll continue to ignore it.
I know, I know, I’ve not mentioned the Kia Soul much. But I was working on posts on other vehicles and haven’t really dug into it yet. I like the updated looks, and I will have more thoughts later.
Ah, yes, the Mazda 3. The other big show-stopper. Handsome sedan, hatch that looks better up close but has an unfortunate rear end and C-pillar area. Looks to have an intriguing new gas engine and available all-wheel drive. Will continue to offer a stick, likely to still be a blast to drive. It, along with the Gladiator, is the L.A. debut that intrigues me the most, but for different reasons. The Gladiator is a clear winner, while the 3 is a bigger gamble. It appears to be headed in the right direction, but itâ€™s not as obviously a winner on paper. While I need to drive all of these to ensure proper judgment, the Mazda seems to be the most likely to go either way.
Finally, there is the Rivian truck and SUV. I donâ€™t have much to say about these vehicles other than that they look cool (especially up close) and hopefully they arenâ€™t vaporware.
However good any of these individual debuts end up on being on road, I appreciate that this yearâ€™s L.A. show was mostly stripped of bullshit. No big talks about smart cities and mobility solutions. No concepts that betrayed the heritage of a historic muscle car (yes, thatâ€™s a shot at you and your Mach 1, Ford). Even the Nissan panel â€“ it was held off-site before the media days, and instead of an exec preaching a buzzword-heavy spiel about a future that may never occur, it included questions and answers that were as grounded in reality as they can be at panels like this.
Even the corporate speak from a scooter-company exec was interesting, if not predictable.
Nissan then had a standard press conference at its stand the next day, announcing mild updates to two lineup stalwarts. While itâ€™s a tad surprising for an OEM to bother with a launch for such a mild refresh, it was also good to see that while Nissan isnâ€™t ignoring the â€œconversationâ€� around mobility and autonomy (how much of that conversation is or isnâ€™t hooey is up for debate), it was able to separate that talk from the cars, which are the stars.
Volvoâ€™s car-free press conference, which focused on autonomous-driving tech, was the only blip here. But even then, autonomous-driving tech is part of the industry now, no matter how far we are from Level 5 autonomy.
Nope, this show was all about cars â€“ cars that will be on sale soon. Few concepts, little in the way of useless chatter. Sounds simple, but sometimes simple is best.
Hopefully all auto-show media days going forward will focus as much on the cars as this one, but I donâ€™t hold out hope. And while I donâ€™t want to seem like a Luddite who ignores the future â€“ I am aware that change is coming to the automotive and transportation industries, and one shanâ€™t ignore this fact â€“ I do think we need to continue to cast a critical eye on all â€œmobilityâ€� talks until they go beyond buzzwords and get into real-world applications.
The future of the industry needs to be discussed. But some of the biggest changes are years away, and in the meantime, thereâ€™s a market of consumers to continue selling traditional cars and trucks to. The OEMs seemed to realize that this year.
Perhaps that’s the future trend Iâ€™d like most to see.
[Images Â© 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]