LA Auto Show // On The Run

Yesterday I snuck into the industry-only press day at the LA Auto Show to bring you the really real on what's happening with the auto industry that appears to be in freefall. Considering the grim news coming from the right side of the country, kickoff day was relatively upbeat, with an opening keynote from Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. He spoke briefly about the economic problems facing the industry, but was perhaps overly upbeat about the potential of the industry to bounce back.

Some highlights (and lowlights) from my 5-hour tour:

Nissan's booth was the most interesting to me personally, having been a 3-time Nissan/Infiniti owner. I finally got to sit in the GT-R, which is pretty damn amazing. I got three speeding tickets just sitting there.

The long awaited 370Z is beautiful, but the big news for me was the very Scion-like Cube. Just about five years too late to be interesting, the Cube is sort of a nicer, less youth-friendly xB. The Nissan rep told us that the target was "bi-modal," which basically means they want kids and boomers to buy the same car. Sounds like a bit of a recipe for disaster to me.

She went on to say that Nissan's marketing will target Gen-Y through the look and feel of their advertising. When I pressed for specifics, I got a semi-cryptic answer that led me to believe their commercials will contain short codes to enable young people to interact with the brand through SMS.

Sounds like the good people at Nissan need to come to grips with the quote I love to throw around from Anne Busquet, former CEO of American Express: It's not the age of the internet, it's the age of customer control.

VW's presentation was a lot more upbeat. It's Jetta TDI diesel was named "Green Car of the Year," and the presenter said "This (Jetta) model doesn't know there's a recession," citing the company's relatively healthy .6% drop in sales and 14% gain in market share.

Honda emphasized the company's eco-friendly cars, from the relaunch of the Insight — the cheapest hybrid on the market — to the hydro-powered FC Sport Concept, which looks like a cross between the Lamborghini Reventon and a Transformer. Interesting, I just wish they didn't have to tell us it was "cool," because then suddenly it wasn't.

BMW introduced the plug-in Mini E. Very hot.

Mazda made some significant upgrades to the 3, adding in some luxury-level amenities that should appeal to folks who may be trading down. They also gave out Sprinkles cupcakes.

The Ford booth was the only domestic I got to visit. GM and Chrysler decided not to hold press conferences this year. The upbeat presentation from EVP Mark Fields and (former Scion head / Rebel client) Jim Farley emphasized the fun of driving the redesigned Mustang and eco-friendliness of the Fusion hybrid, which along with the Milan, Farley said, will make Ford the #1 producer of hybrids in America.