2018 Los Angeles Auto Show Recap - Move Aside, Mobility, the Cars Were the Stars

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

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 wasn’t nearly as eye-roll inducing as the usual Ford pronouncements — 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 – cars you’ll soon be able to buy, should you have the means.

Let’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 that’s what most of us want out of a Jeep truck, right? Jeep had no need to get crazy here, and they didn’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 didn’t get much time near it, so I don’t have a ton of thoughts on it, other than it looks good while still being recognizable as a 911. I can’t imagine many Porsche purists will be upset with what the gang in Germany cooked up.

Lincoln’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 doesn’t even have an alphanumeric name!

Yeah, it’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 don’t care if it’s a truncated Pilot, or if it’s a bit boring. It’s still good-looking, and the interior looks nice, and the tech specs look good on paper.

I’m less certain about the Hyundai Palisade – 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 it’s comfortable and drives well enough, it will sell. Hyundai certainly seems to have gotten the content mix correct.

I am also a little “meh” on the 2020 Toyota Corolla – it looks worlds better than what it replaces, but that said, I am not fully sold on the styling. And if it doesn’t drive as well as a Honda Civic or a Mazda 3, I’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 it’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 don’t have much to say about these vehicles other than that they look cool (especially up close) and hopefully they aren’t vaporware.

However good any of these individual debuts end up on being on road, I appreciate that this year’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, that’s a shot at you and your Mach 1, Ford). Even the Nissan panel – 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 it’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 isn’t ignoring the “conversation” around mobility and autonomy (how much of that conversation is or isn’t hooey is up for debate), it was able to separate that talk from the cars, which are the stars.

Volvo’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 – 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 don’t hold out hope. And while I don’t want to seem like a Luddite who ignores the future – I am aware that change is coming to the automotive and transportation industries, and one shan’t ignore this fact – I do think we need to continue to cast a critical eye on all “mobility” 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, there’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 I’d like most to see.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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4 of 26 comments
  • Carlson Fan Carlson Fan on Dec 02, 2018

    "Let’s start with the Jeep. We drooled over the Gladiator as much any other outlet, and with good reason. " LOL! Why? because of all the new tech in it? The ground breaking design/styling? You can't even get a V8 in it, so in IMO it's underpowered for any type of real towing. Who gives a rats a$$ that they offer a manual. The take rate on that will be zero and they'll discontinue it in a year or two anyways. I had a manual 5sp in my compact Toyota PU & after towing with it for a 11 years I came to hate that manual. Well hate is kind of a strong word, but you get the point. A manual was awesome in my BB Trans Am, they suck in a PU truck. Give me automatic or give me death! A V8 with an auto is lot more fun to drive in a truck than any V6/stick anyways.

  • Rasputin Rasputin on Dec 03, 2018

    Full disclosure: "Nissan hosted myself..." --> "Nissan hosted me..." I know it's petty, but me/myself and fewer/less are the two grammatical mistakes that stick in my eye throughout an entire article. They give me a negative opinion about the intelligence of the author. Probably undeserved, but there you have it.

    • See 1 previous
    • Brn Brn on Dec 03, 2018

      Authors make mistakes. Editors are supposed to catch those mistakes. In most Internet blogs, the editor is the author. Mistakes don't get caught.

  • Philip I love seeing these stories regarding concepts that I have vague memories of from collector magazines, books, etc (usually by the esteemed Richard Langworth who I credit for most of my car history knowledge!!!). On a tangent here, I remember reading Lee Iacocca's autobiography in the late 1980s, and being impressed, though on a second reading, my older and self realized why Henry Ford II must have found him irritating. He took credit for and boasted about everything successful being his alone, and sidestepped anything that was unsuccessful. Although a very interesting about some of the history of the US car industry from the 1950s through the 1980s, one needs to remind oneself of the subjective recounting in this book. Iacocca mentioned Henry II's motto "Never complain; never explain" which is basically the M.O. of the Royal Family, so few heard his side of the story. I first began to question Iacocca's rationale when he calls himself "The Father of the Mustang". He even said how so many people have taken credit for the Mustang that he would hate to be seen in public with the mother. To me, much of the Mustang's success needs to be credited to the DESIGNER Joe Oros. If the car did not have that iconic appearance, it wouldn't have become an icon. Of course accounting (making it affordable), marketing (identifying and understanding the car's market) and engineering (building a car from a Falcon base to meet the cost and marketing goals) were also instrumental, as well as Iacocca's leadership....but truth be told, I don't give him much credit at all. If he did it all, it would have looked as dowdy as a 1980s K-car. He simply did not grasp car style and design like a Bill Mitchell or John Delorean at GM. Hell, in the same book he claims credit for the Brougham era four-door Thunderbird with landau bars (ugh) and putting a "Rolls-Royce grille" on the Continental Mark III. Interesting ideas, but made the cars look chintzy, old-fashioned and pretentious. Dean Martin found them cool as "Matt Helm" in the late 1960s, but he was already well into middle age by then. It's hard not to laugh at these cartoon vehicles.
  • Dwford The real crime is not bringing this EV to the US (along with the Jeep Avenger EV)
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Another Hyunkia'sis? 🙈
  • SCE to AUX "Hyundai told us that perhaps he or she is a performance enthusiast who is EV hesitant."I'm not so sure. If you're 'EV hesitant', you're not going to jump into a $66k performance car for your first EV experience, especially with its compromised range. Unless this car is purchased as a weekend toy, which perhaps Hyundai is describing.Quite the opposite, I think this car is for a 2nd-time EV buyer (like me*) who understands what they're getting into. Even the Model 3 Performance is a less overt track star.*But since I have no interest in owning a performance car, this one wouldn't be for me. A heavily-discounted standard Ioniq 5 (or 6) would be fine.Tim - When you say the car is longer and wider, is that achieved with cladding changes, or metal (like the Raptor)?
  • JMII I doubt Hyundai would spend the development costs without having some idea of a target buyer.As an occasional track rat myself I can't imagine such a buyer exists. Nearly $70k nets you a really good track toy especially on the used market. This seems like a bunch of gimmicks applied to a decent hot hatch EV that isn't going to impression anyone given its badge. Normally I'd cheer such a thing but it seems silly. Its almost like they made this just for fun. That is awesome and I appreciate it but given the small niche I gotta think the development time, money and effort should have been focused elsewhere. Something more mainstream? Or is this Hyundai's attempt at some kind of halo sports car?Also seems Hyundai never reviles sales targets so its hard to judge successful products in their line up. I wonder how brutal depreciation will be on these things. In two years at $40k this would a total hoot.So no active dampers on this model?