CAR is reporting live from the Los Angeles Auto Show 2008.
>> Click here for Gavin Green's LA show analysis
>> Click here for CAR's live blog filed from the show floor
>> Click on our A-Z links for news on each car:
• Bentley Azure T
• Ford Mustang
• Honda FC Sport
• Infiniti G37 Convertible
• Lamborghini Gallardo 560-4 Spyder
• Lexus RX450h hybrid
• Mazda 3
• Nissan 370Z
• Nissan Cube
• Porsche Boxster and Cayman
• Spyker C8 Laviolette LM85
>> Ben Pulman's live blog is below, taking you inside the goings-on at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Top tip: start at the bottom and work your way up, in blog format! All times quoted are local LA time on Wednesday 19 November 2008.
4.49pm: The press conference schedule shudders to a halt
It's my first LA show and I'm surprised how early the press conference trail finishes. I'm done for the day and reckon I've heard enough clichés from German suits and hollow claims of enviro concern, seen enough tacky dance routines and flashy strobe lighting to last a lifetime. It's a real shame we didn't see anything new from Chrysler and GM – this can only be a worrying sign. Surprises? Honda deserve credit for pitching up with the FC Sports concept as a shock world debut. I even quite like it. I really like the Cube and desperately want a Cayman, although I'd settle for the new 370Z. Biggest disappointment? The new Lexus RX. It's just dull. I'm off now to go and mop up some loose ends and probe some industry execs for the inside line on the panic gripping the auto industry. Stay tuned for more news stories from LA and Gavin Green's analysis of the show.
4.40pm: The horror of Mercedes
I arrive at Merc. It's worse than I feared. They've gone and let tuners pimp the GLK – and this is a model not unfamiliar with the ugly stick already. On display are three of the GLK cars from SEMA. There's a wide-body Brabus (understated in this company!), a red bewinged Renntech and a truly ghastly white GLK convertible on 26in Asanti rims, with a chicken wire mesh grille. I think about staging a protest, but spot the Fascination concept and the SL65 Black (both strangely shrink-wrapped... Christmas presents. Geddit?). They suffer some strange PA problems with the mic during the unveiling process, causing some wags to wonder about Merc reliability. I make a sharp exit.
4.23pm: Time for design chat and rumours of problems at Merc
I bump into CAR contributor Guy Bird, who warns me about the Mercedes stand and then disappears mysteriously. I'm intrigued. I head straight for Merc's stand and walk past the Honda FC Sport concept. It's growing on me; I love the stance and the metal rear vents, but reckon the headlights make the front look too narrow. What do you think?
4.14pm: Time to refuel
As the Bentley press conference finishes we're allowed onto the stand. But rather than make for the cars, I head for the food and grab a cookie, my first food since 6am today. Don't tell me that CAR doesn't work hard for you!
4.05pm: Bentley and the downturn
Pessimism galore at Bentley. They acknowledge that sales are going to get worse before they get better, and admit they've cut sales to protect residuals. But they're still addicted to power. The Speed version of the Conti has contributed to a 16% sales jump in that model line, they claim. Suitably enough, they have one on the stand – in mean 'n' broody black. There's also the world debut of the Bentley Azure T. Don't fret, though. Bentley will launch its biofuel models in 2009. Nicely in time for the world to have shunned biofuels? Possibly, but let's hope not.
3.55pm: A Smart move
Bored of waiting for Bentley, I nip into Smart. Nothing we haven't seen at Euro shows, but LA marks the US debut of the Brabus Fortwo. It looks tiny. It looks right for the times.
3.40pm: A Maranello 'mare
With ten minutes to spare until the Bentley photocall, there's time to reel at the Ferrari stand nearby. The California is here in white (ker-chink – show theme!), but the new Scuderia Spider isn't. What shocks me? The tacky animal print nighties worn by a couple of scantily clad stand girls. Money clearly can't buy taste... I pick up a Scion baseball cap; it appears that Toyota and youth brand Scion are spending the cash saved on the lack of a press conference on free headwear. It joins the Mustang Hot Wheels model and Cube t-shirt I picked up earlier. Sucker for freebies? Moi?
3.30pm: The new Gallardo Spyder
Despite the infamous delays face picking up cars from Sant'Agata, this press conference starts bang on time. The covers slide off the new LP560-5 Spyder. It's stunning, but looks like it's trying too hard in white. Combined with stand girls whose tiny black dresses struggle to contain the fake boobs within, and it's all a bit – whisper it – tacky. Me? I prefer the two black Murcielagos hovering menacingly nearby. Proper Lambos.
3.20pm: Lambo time
Lamborghini reside in the same hall as that ghastly yellow Rolls, the Lotus Evora and Spyker with their Le Mans-inspired C8 Laviolette LM85. Just 24 will be made and the $250,000 price appropriately enough includes a trip to Le Mans in 2009. We pass all these on the way to Lambo's stand.
2.58pm: Infiniti and beyond
I mistake musicians on the Infiniti stand for workmen carrying slim metal poles, but then they start playing them. Weird. Then the covers come off the G37 Convertible, whose roof then comes off. We'll see the folding hard-top in Europe in summer 2009, along with the rest of the Infiniti range in the UK. But I can't help feeling this is a torrid time to be launching a new premium brand into a crowded marketplace – especially with no four-cylinder power or diesels. Just as well Infiniti has very modest ambitions...
2.51pm: Kia find its Soul
Brief detour to Kia on the way to Infiniti. There's a fuel-cell electric concept version of the Borrego on display. But more relevant in these troubled times are the dozen Souls on display. Small, efficient and cool, with plenty of personalisation options. The more I see it, the more I like it. A Kia official tells me that the firm is working hard to make the two Vans-themed Souls a limited-edition production reality.
2.29pm: Audi and yet more diesel chat
Who said Germans were efficient? Audi starts four minutes late, but they redeem themselves by living up to type and mentioning 'driving pleasure' one minute into the presentation. It's a bit of a CAR in-joke this, spotting the mentions of 'driving pleasure' during German car company presentations. Lots of chat about clean diesels too – they are being pushed hard in the States right now – and the new Q5. But I'm mesmerised by the guy coordinating the press conference. He looks like Benny Hill, but with a handlebar moustache and shoulder-length frizzy grey hair. Amazing. Still, Audi's chat is at odds with Carlos Ghosn's all-electric mantra. TDI is its short-term solution to the eco crisis, says Ingolstadt, pointing out (correctly) that electric cars are all well and good but not if power comes from fossil fuels. And to make Americans take this seriously, Audi makes several mentions of oil dependency on foreign countries. No need for Audi to worry too much yet though – its sales were up 7% globally in October. A rare ray of sunshine.
2.25pm: Mitsubishi and doubts over build quality of their stand
Before dropping in on Audi, there's just time to see Mitsub. Not much of note here, but the MIEV impresses. With its lithium ion batteries, it should allow silent city running. Not like the turntable it sits on. It's creaking and squeaking like the residents of an old people's home.
Some really annoying music on the Hyundai stand. Finally it stops and the event kicks off: a deafening voiceover and blue Spandex-clad dancers run around in circles with white streamers. Is this the auto industry surrendering the only way it knows how, with large dose of pomp and show? The talking suit (afraid I don't recognise him and his name is only fleetingly flashed up) says today's show isn't about beautiful metal but something deeper. It needs to be – the Tucson fuel-cell vehicle on show is dog ugly. It's part of Hyundai's new eco-friendly Bluedrive models. And in 2012, Hyundai will launch its first fuel-cell production car. Credit to Hyundai, its new eco specials in America will be the cheapest in each range (take note, European marketing operations). The HED-5 concept car is here too, but there's a new 2.0-litre turbo engine. The suit confirms a crossover based on the concept will be built for the USA. Oh, and then he hails the company's new battery tech: lithium polymer. Hyundai says it outperforms lithium ion tech and, because it's a gel, it's easier to package. Err, sounds like the future, if true.
1.45pm: Chrysler Creek and not a paddle in sight
Just time to swing by Chrysler while en route to Hyundai. Like GM, they canceled their press conference at the last minute and there are no new cars to see. Which neatly explains their predicament. Everything bar the Challenger looks bland and boring to these European eyes. A couple of concept cars with EV written on the side surely ain't enough to save Chrysler from the scrapheap?
1.35pm: Some Italian glamour in LA
Wandering back from the west hall to the south hall for Hyundai's press call, and something strikes me. I realise what's missing from the LA show: Fiat and Alfa. Or rather, their infamous stand girls, the saviour of many a European motor expo. Maybe next time they could have a small stand with a few girls, and no cars. It might drum up some interest in the brands before any attempted return to the US.
1.30pm: Lexus. Ahead of the game (again)
The moment I arrive, the covers come off the new Lexus RX350 and RX450h. Lexus suits look suitably smug and point out that they're launching their second-gen hybrid SUV while most rivals still don't have their first. What does it look like? Very American-Japanese, with hints of the Seat Exeo and Ibiza around the nose – seriously. Lexus also confirms the hybrid-only HS250h for Detroit, the standalone model that's rumoured to be smaller like a BMW 1-series. Interesting...
1.20pm: Running late and a chance encounter with Derek Bell
Damn and blast. I'm running late for Lexus, not because Porsche over-ran but because I bumped into one Derek Bell. I gave him the latest copy of CAR Magazine and remind him of the day he spent with us in the summer when he made our assistant editor Ben Barry feel rather sick while hot-lapping Rockingham in a Porsche 911 GT2. Watch the CAR video with Derek Bell driving here. Most amusing.
12.38pm: Is Porsche immune from the global credit crisis?
It speaks volumes about Los Angeles that Porsche has a hall all to itself at the Convention Center. As soon as you walk in, you're greeted by a drop-dead gorgeous blue 356 Spider. It belongs to one Jerry Seinfeld, who's sitting a few feet from me as I type this. What of the new Cayman and Boxster, unveiled today? To be honest, I'd barely notice them were I not to read the small print. Still, they remain special cars to me and – despite the fervent debate on CAR Online's comments boards today – I deeply lust after a boggo Cayman. While I tuck into a cupcake from the Mazda press conference, I drool over the stunning ALMS RS Spyder. Enough dreaming. In its press conference, Porsche admits that for the first time in 15 years, its sales are down. And it's the sports cars that aren't selling. The Cayenne is holding up, but sales are generally nosediving. I wonder what this holds for the new Panamera, being unveiled later this year.
12.24pm: The Mazda time warp
Mazda have been waiting patiently for Ford to finish, and I scurry there next. There is no new MX-5, sadly, nor a 2 – and I could swear the intro video has an old-shape RX-8. Had I not taken a closer look at the 'new' 3, I could have sworn it was the old car. Then again, VW has not exactly set the world alight with its latest Golf Mk6, so what do I know? On closer inspection, I warm to the latest 3. It's smart and does away with the dumpiness of the old car. It looks like a shrunken 6 inside. During the press spiel, I hear one too many 'Zoom zooms' and listen instead to the car alarm going off on the Ford stand next door. Or is is it a credit siren? Time to go to Porsche.
11.50am: Dark days at the Blue Oval
Just passed Ford's head honcho of design, J Mays, on the Blue Oval's stand. Today the facelifted Lincoln MKZ, Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan saloons are unveiled – all, sadly, typically American barges, a bit tacky and bland to these eyes. And there's a palpable sense of worry on the Ford stand. You can just feel the dollar bills burning up under the bright show arc lighting. Still, American design chief Peter Horbury makes the best speech so far – peppered with real verve and charisma, rather than the mundane autocue autopilot we've heard elsewhere. What everyone is here to see is the new Mustang. Twelve are on display and it's rather lovely (if predictable). The interior still sucks though. Lucky for Ford of America, the Fiesta is on the way, but they only have one saloon concept hidden in a corner next to a Transit Connect. Shame.
11.29am: A big surprise from Honda
To Honda and a genuine surprise world debut: the FC Sport fuel-cell supercar. It's a three-seat mid-engined sports car designed for zero-emissions fun. It's stunning and tiny, but I wouldn't call it beautiful. The rear looks a bit like the rump of the Renault Ondelios concept from Paris. Together with the Insight (on sale in five months) and CR-Z hybrid concepts, it makes for one very impressive – and clean – line-up. The Insight heralds a new Eco Assist system that makes saving fuel fun, apparently. It scores your eco driving credentials. It also has a switchable ECU that allows a green running mode. Honda clearly believes in the hybrid future, but the FC Sport shows they are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Time will tell if they're right.
11.17am: Bad taste award
I'm running late for the Honda press conference, but I've been stopped dead by a custard yellow Phantom Drophead Coupe. With that silver bonnet. Truly terrible.
11.14am: Aston Martin gossip
There's no Aston Martin press conference at LA, but I've just walked past its stand complete with DBS Touchtronic and the 4.7-litre V8 enjoying their US debuts. I shared a flight to LA with chief exec Ulrich Bez and I can tell you he's quite demanding when it comes to the temperature at which the cabin crew serve his champagne. Some might call that fussy, but it's good to know there's a man with such high standards guiding a great British brand.
10.50am: Where the hell's VW's sports car?
Bump into Gavin Green on the VW stand. He's raving about the electric Mini he drove yesterday, although he had a few hairy experiences holding up the traffic for photography. The Volkswagen stand is heaving – even though VW pulled the roadster concept it had planned to unveil. So execs are banging on about the clean-diesel tech for the Jetta and Touareg. There's a Touareg Baja diesel racer here to ram the point home, but it's no substitute for a mid-engined VW Elise rival. Is it?
10.38am: The General at LA
Past GM's stands where there's a gorgeous but irrelevant Buick Riviera concept and the Opel Flexstreme repainted red and badged as a Saturn. Caddy's main star is the CTS-V and the terrible Chevrolet Malibu is plastered with stickers proclaiming it's the North American Car of the Year. If this is the best the General can do, it's no wonder they're in trouble. Tellingly, the company has canceled its press conference this year and postponed the launch of the CTS Coupe. Tough times and there's a sense of nervousness behind the facade on most staff faces.
10.11am: BMW hybrids galore
The music's started and we're off. The covers slide off the new 7-series, which still doesn't look too good (especially in beige). The 7 Active Hybride looks much better in an ice blue hue. But it drives on stage with an overactive smoke machine for company and the for the rest of the presentation, the BMW suits are cloaked in clouds of dry ice. The hybrid Seven goes on sale in 2009 – and it won't be alone. The X6 Active Hybrid concept is here too. But the big news is the world debut of the Mini E, the battery-powered hatch. CAR's Gavin Green is ahead of the game as usual, having driven the real thing yesterday around the streets of LA (click here for our first drive of the electric Mini). Some of the white-clad dancers entertainingly hits one of her colleagues in the face by mistake during the routine. And then there's a painful scene between BM bigwig Norbert Reithofer and LA's deputy mayor with a script they clearly haven't rehearsed. There's no X1 concept in sight and I haven't yet found the manual M5 I'm looking for. Apparently, the latest 335d is up for Green Car of the Year here. It and an X5 35d go on sale Stateside next month.
9.53am: An early snoop at Maserati and Infiniti
Bored by waiting at BMW, I wander over for a quick peek at the neighbouring Maserati stand with its Quattroporte and Granturismo models, and then the Infiniti stand nearby. Suits are hurriedly covering up the G37 Convertible, as press handlers realise that the world's media are descending on this corner of the hall. A few enterprising snappers rattle off some shots hours before the car's offiicial unveiling. We'll be back in a few hours' time.
9.45am: BMW press conference is next
The Nissan press conference is over quickly, I have 25 minutes until the BMW event. How very nice and relaxed. Most other global motor shows end up with press calls being run consecutively and you end up sprinting between them just to keep up. Here in LA there are 5-10 mins between each one. Very civilised. Don't tell the boss though – he'll think I'm not working hard enough if I don't arrive out of breath. It's worth sauntering over to the BMW stand early just to pick up a press pack from a brunette called Aracelli.
9.31am: Time for the 370Z
The bass kicks in and the 370Z arrives on the stand. Ghosn still hasn't made it here from his keynote speech earlier. The Z looks fabulous – I love the stumpy rear end and suddenly the old 350Z looks very old hat. Best bit? It'll cost less than £30k in the UK. Oh, and Nissan announces a new 1.6 version of its US-market Versa saloon. At under $10k, it'll apparently be the cheapest car on sale in America.
9.22am: Cubist art on the Nissan stand
I arrive on the Nissan stand with seven seconds to spare, according to the countdown clock on hand. And before I even get my notepad out, the covers are whisked off the Cube. It looks very cool in matte white – I'd rather have one over a Note or other boxy mini-MPV any day of the week. Nissan pushes its 'cool and funky' persona with five yoofs climbing out of the Cube unexpectedly halfway through the speech. I still think there's something a bit old-fogeyish about this kind of Postman Patmobile though...
9.15am: How will Nissan-Renault's electric cars work in practice?
Ghosn claims that batteries will be leased to customers, so they get the newest tech and the car maker will take care of recycling. How will people recharge their electric vehicles? Ghosn says that Israel (one of their launch markets) will have 500,000 charging points and the Nissan will guide them to each one by GPS. Neat. He's clearly drumming up interest around the globe for his pet project: Portugal is set to offer a €5k tax break for electric car, says Ghosn, while Oregon will dump its incentives for hybrids and introduce incentives for full electric cars by 2010. Then there's a brief mention of renewable electricity – wind and solar to close the electric car loop – and he's off in a whirlwind of minders and photographers. Although Carlos Ghosn's crown has slipped a tad in recent years, he's still a mighty fine operator.
9.00am: The political argument behind electric cars
Bear with us here. Carlos Ghosn is one of the great orators in the industry and it's worth repeating this argument. He's talking state help now. It's not just up to auto makers to push electric cars – governments must help too. He takes the example of a typical European country that spends €50 billion on oil, and half of that on new cars. If that country's leader spends €1-2bn on tax incentives, he reckons they'll save €5bn on their oil bill. Hmm, not sure how well that will go down with Darling and Brown. But Ghosn clearly thinks it's an advantage for western Governments to reduce their dependency on oil...
8.50am: Here's the plug for Nissan
Keynote speeches are all well and good, but Carlos Ghosn obviously wants to pat himself on the back. And we're back on one of his favourite hobby horses: electric cars. Nissan-Renault will produce a lithium ion electric car for the USA in 2010 and worldwide by 2012, he proclaims. They will be zero-emissions car, all the time not just in urban mode like hybrids (cue dig at Toyota and Honda). Ghosn promises there will be a range of electric cars, not just city vehicles. Each must be good looking and great to drive, he vows. Electric cars must sell on their own merits, not just because they're battery powered. Take note Toyota; your next Prius must be interesting.
8.45am: Ghosn is going on a bit...
He's on to a bit of crystal ball gazing now... By 2050, Ghosn predicts there might be 9 billion people on the planet and 2.5bn vehicles, up from 600 million today. Now that's a scary thought. And if China reaches the same consumption level as the USA today, we'll need another planet. If the whole world matches the US's appetite for cars/fuel/consumer goods, we'll need another 11 planets. Thought-provoking stuff.
8.34am: An industry in crisis
Carlos Ghosn doesn't muck about. He admits we're in uncharted waters but is relieved that now – at last – everyone realises how dire the situation is. He says US sales in October 2008 were down 35%, the worst drop in a quarter century. Ghosn's top tip for survival? To make sure that cash flow is positive, so money is only spent where it is needed – without penalising themselves in the future if/when the crisis finishes. Thing is, there's little light at the end of the tunnel. He admits that he just doesn't know when confidence will return and people buy cars again. Grim times, and yet Ghosn points out that there will be no direct replacement for the car in the next 15 years.
8.29am: The Nissan stand
Sharp-suited as ever, Ghosn is introduced with a joke that he's the only auto industry CEO not making a speech in Washington today trying to secure government funding. Incredible to think this man used to work at Michelin, before turning his hand to Nissan and serving up treats like the GT-R.
8.12am: What will be the big story?
The city of Los Angeles has been bathed in sunshine for a few hours and journalists from across the world are packed into the Convention Center to hear Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn deliver the Motor Press Guild's keynote speech. Will it be all doom and gloom, the industry going down in flames like the hills surrounding LA? We'll let you know in half an hour. While we're waiting outside, the elevator music being pumped out the loudspeakers is getting on my goat: If You Don't Know Me By Now...
8.04am: The bling arrives
Maybe not everyone in America is affected by the credit crunch. I've just walked past four matte white Brabus Mercs (an SL, GL, S and CL). A tasteless display if ever there was one. But then perhaps the people who buy these cars aren't the ones who actually have to worry about money.
7.52am: Huddling outside
We're here and have made it through the dense fires engulfing this extraordinary part of America. Press accreditation is simple and sorted easily, but us journos aren't allowed in the halls for another 45 minutes. It's designed to stop us snooping too early. Looks like we'll have to wait for King Carlos's speech at 8.20am...