2023 Los Angeles Auto Show Recap -- Stepping in the Right Direction

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
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2023 los angeles auto show recap stepping in the right direction

It was gloomy when I landed in Los Angeles last week. Gloomy enough that it put me in a sour mood -- despite living in the Midwest, I like sun.

The same cloud cover that prevented me from getting a view of the city upon approach to LAX painted downtown in a shade of grey that would be right at home in some depressing movie about urban malaise.

Then, on Thursday, the sun came out. Just in time for this year's sole media day.

I am flirting with a cliché here, I know, but the weather seemed to be a metaphor for how the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show media day drove perception of the automotive industry's health.

One doesn't want to make too much of one day, of course, and I am on the record, as I've written multiple times on this very Web site, that auto-show media days aren't what they used to be and probably not a good indicator of industry health -- and also, even if media days look morose, it doesn't mean consumer days aren't successful.

I won't continue to beat that drum -- put away that Simpsons meme you were about to post, you know the one -- but I did notice that LA was more vibrant than Detroit. And had Stellantis not pulled out due to the uncertainty around the UAW strike, it might have felt like the old times were almost back.

More to the point, conversations I had with OEM reps and analysts and others seemed to suggest that some of the COVID-era issues that have bugged the industry over these past few years might finally be going away.

I had reps for more than one brand suggest to me that supply-chain and production issues, for example, were easing.

As I said, the amount of activity at any one given auto-show media day might not provide great insight to the bigger picture. It works both ways, too -- this year's grim Detroit Auto Show doesn't necessarily signify a larger doom and gloom. Heck, a given media day might not even be an indicator of the health of that specific auto show.

And, as I've said multiple times -- with OEMs looking to capture the news cycle, media days may be, going forward, reduced in influence. Even if a particular auto show is bringing a mass of car-buying humanity through the door during public days.

All that said, the show felt busy enough to give me the feeling that perhaps the industry is moving in a more positive direction, post-COVID. Or at least moving back towards the way things were in 2019.

Putting the big picture aside, each debut caught my interest, but it was a car that didn't get a presser that really had me thinking -- the Honda Prelude.

I wasn't alone in that -- everyone over the age of 30 was fawning over it, thanks to fond memories of the '90s car. That said, it also looks good up close.

Yes, there is an element of disappointment in the fact that Honda has indicated it won't be a true sports car. Still, it was a hit among attending media, based on conversations I had.

As far as the big intros go, we had the new Camry, the updated Forester, a new Kia Sorento (plus two concepts), a debut from Genesis, the Lucid Gravity, a hi-po Hyundai EV, and confirmation of how the Hyundai Santa Fe will be equipped in this market.

The Gravity was the biggest star of the show -- again, among those that got a press conference -- but the Camry slipped under the radar. At least in my opinion.

I don't really care, one way or another, that the car is going hybrid only, though I do think it's nice that AWD becomes available on all trims. Rather, I feel that while the Lucid Gravity may be sexy -- even for a crossover -- with impressive numbers, the Camry is going to be in a lot more driveways. Taking trucks out of the equation, the Camry and its rival, the Honda Accord, are almost always among the most popular purchases. The Camry is, right now, the best-selling sedan on the U.S. market. So it's a big deal whenever it's updated, and more so when the car goes all-in on hybridization.

I don't want to venture a guess on what that means for Toyota's battery EV future. One could argue that Toyota has decided EVs aren't yet worth the investment -- even though the brand sells the bZ4X. One could also argue the opposite -- perhaps Toyota is going hybrid as a bridge towards moving the Camry to an EV setup in the future.

Or, perhaps, Toyota just wants to sell the car on fuel economy and green cred while it works to figure out which powertrain tech is best going forward.

Either way, the Camry bears watching, even if it wasn't the star of the show.

Other assorted musings and hits and misses:

  • Kia's really leaning into the boxy, rugged look with the new Sorento. I am sure the success of the Telluride plays a part, as does the brand's excitement for the upcoming EV9. The next Sorento is not a bad-looking vehicle up close, but boxy can be boring, and I wish the company had borrowed more from the swoopy Sportage hybrid.
  • Speaking of Kia, I am normally indifferent to design-study concepts these days, since the days of truly sexy futuristic concepts are mostly over, but the EV4 drew my eye. It looks really good up close.
  • The Lucid really does look good. So does the Genesis GV80. Maybe I am just finally surrendering to market trends, but these models prove it is possible to make a crossover look stylish.
  • Subaru made the Forester look even more boring, but that's actually good in this case. It's going to blend better and it's easier on the eyes. Yes, you can make crossovers look cool, as I just said above, but many buyers care as much or more about utility and aren't worried about turning heads. Having its stranger styling elements tamed down means the Forester is more bland, but bland can be good. There's something to be said about clean lines.
  • The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is cool but I don't understand why the swoopier Ioniq 6 didn't get the N treatment first. There's probably a good reason (I didn't get a chance to speak to Hyundai folks about it), but the 6 screams for "high performance EV sedan" treatment.
  • If you're going to the show, be sure to wander the side and basement displays. There are some cool cars on hand. I thought the Kevin Hart collection might be corny but the cars were fun to look at it -- only the DJ was cringe. I also liked the Fast and Furious display. Well, mostly the Alfa.
  • Stellantis's presence really was missed. The company usually takes up a lot of floor space, thanks to its various brand displays and its test tracks.
  • Don't worry if you like indoor test tracks -- even with Stellantis sitting out, Ford has one on hand. You can also test various EVs indoors and out.
  • Even though LA was busier than Detroit, it was still a bummer to see so many luxury brands taking a pass. And not just because they often have the best free lattes on the show floor. When small luxury brands feel that auto shows are worth the spend, the industry feels healthier.

If the LA show was an indicator that the industry is moving in a positive direction, we'll know better next year in Chicago and New York. New York, especially, is influential due to the presence of so much business and mainstream press in that city -- journalists who don't normally cover cars. Journalists that will happily cab it from Midtown to Javits for a half-day to see what's new in the automotive world.

Again, I don't want to overstate the meaning of one media day. But when I woke up Friday, the sun was shining seemingly even brighter than it was Thursday. Probably a coincidence, especially in sunny SoCal, but I have to admit I left LA in a better mood than when I landed.

We'll see if the industry follows.

[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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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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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 20, 2023

    Of the vehicles you mentioned, none is more important to a company's survival than the Gravity. I'm glad to hear it looks good in person as well as in photos.

  • Redapple2 Redapple2 on Nov 20, 2023

    HK is mentioned a lot because they are doing a lot (of new product). I like the daring of the styling (but not the product) Subaru FAIL with the new Forester. The grille theme of the long leg- short leg hexagon was "a thing." going for 10 years. Even toyota copied it. Now it has a Ford edge front AND back. The floating roof slash was a thing 8 years ago. Doing away with 95% of the knobs - NO!

    PS- so cal area is great this time of year. SEMA and LA so close together.

  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.
  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.