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Los Angeles auto show 2009: news, blogs, reviews

Mon, 07 Dec 2009

The Los Angeles auto show 2009 is underway! CAR's staff writer Ben Pulman and CAR Online reader reporter Car4mh are blogging from the LA Convention Center – and you can follow their live feeds below for all CAR's LA motor show news, analysis, photos and opinion in the CAR live blog. NB Newest updates added at the top, so scroll to the bottom to start on day one; all times below are local LA o'clock (eight hours behind GMT); BP is Ben Pulman, MH is Mark Hamilton

4.00pm: Stopped at the South Hall
MH Never mind, it's shut. Probably a good thing, any more Zoom-Zoom juice and Tim would be staging an intervention, but it did mean missing out on a close look at the LF-A and production Cadillac CTS coupé I missed earlier in the show. Oh dear, how sad, time to get back to the press center and finish this up before they close as well. That concludes the LA show blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as Ben and I enjoyed covering this most media-friendly of motor shows.

3.50pm: Designer dream flashback
MH Uh-oh, got to get back into the South Hall one last time so I'm in a rush out of Kentia – just enough time to catch a glimpse of the Art Center
College of Design displays and remember when I dreamed of studying there, or at the Royal College of Art in London. The daunting concept of studying abroad and the high tuition and living costs deterred me from turning school notebook sketching into a pathway to a career, before even considering the entry process. But no time to dwell on past choices, I've got to get to the South Hall...

3.45pm: CHiPs and the world's fastest AA car
MH If any of you are interested in taking your California Highway Patrol fantasies from the 70's TV show and making it a reality, you'll be delighted to know they are currently hiring. I'm also impressed that the American Auto Association hsponsors a funnycar dragster and a NASCAR – far more impressive than the motorist's association in NZ. Hopefully their breakdown response service is as speedy?

3.40pm: Crimes against good taste 2: I've got a bad case of GAS
MH Galpin Auto Sports have been 'Galpinising' cars sold at the Galpin dealership empire (including the world's largest Ford and Jaguar dealerships by sales volume) for decades, but most readers will know them as the current tuners of choice for MTV's Pimp My Ride TV show. On their stand they have the good, bad and horrendously ugly. You get a prize if you can identify what the Scythe custom car started out as. Around the back of their large stand are the completely over-the-top US Airforce customs they did last year, which I like for the sheer complexity of the redesign – the Mustang-based X1 features a central driving position with flight joystick shift, a concealed retractable central steering wheel and ejector-seat styled chair for the 'pilot'.  Something for the 12-year old boy in all of us.

3.35pm: Crimes against good taste 1: The Bentlex
MH I walked out of DUB magazine pavillion (named for 20-inch wheels, as they're known here) and happen upon what I thought was a tastelessly lowered Bentley Flying Spur, but from the side the windowline indicates it's a previous-generation Lexus GS, or is it? It's Whiter-than-White with Radiation Green trim highlights, and has a Winged-B/Lexus L mash-up logo. Whatever it is, there ought to be a law allowing a mercy crushing for the car and trial for the creators of this poor mutant vehicle.

3.30pm: The Kentia Hall Freaks and Geeks
MH It wouldn't be one of my reports if I didn't take a stroll through the auto show you don't normally see in magazine coverage, and at LA that area is housed underground in the Kentia Hall. It's a riot of pornstar alloys, vivid colour schemes and emphatic graphics, yet in the home of hip-hop and custom car culture it seems the local muscle cars and trucks carry the look off in a way the tawdry tuner cars in Geneva didn't. Which isn't to say that amongst all the modern and classic rides there weren't some serious lapses of taste and decency.

3.15pm: Piloting the Cayenne Hybrid
MH It's only afterwards that I've had a horrible realisation: my first drive of a Porsche and it's the bloody Cayenne. A hybrid Cayenne. I may need therapy to deal with this, but first some impressions of the drive. This may well be the same vehicle Ben Pulman tried years ago, and it does feel like it's had plenty of miles. The hybrid displays are also a little behind the times compared to the X6 (much less the starship FCX) but nonetheless engagement of the electric and hybrid drives occurs smoothly, and after the CHP officer stops following us the acceleration is useful as well. As with the X6, it manages to handle well for a 4WD wagon, but hopefully the production version coming with next year's model update will offer an improved driving experience. Now to see if the press center has a therapist on call... why oh why didn't I ever blag a drive in a 911 or Boxster before this...

3.00pm: Mr Hamilton, engage warp speed... NOW!
MH I arrive right on time to take the helmsman's station on the bridge of Honda's hydrogen fuel-cell electric shuttlepod, the FCX Clarity. In limited
production and available through a lease programme in California, the FCX can get around 250 miles from its 'stack' before requiring a refill of
hydrogen from a specialised filling station. The infrastructure is the chief limitation to this elegant and clean power system. The Honda minder
gives me the all-clear to leave the parking garage and I struggle not to make spaceship noises while piloting the futuristic vehicle towards the
outside roadway. Once on the street I am authorised to engage warp drive, sorry, test the acceleration. A suitably high-tech whine and much digital dashboard activity is pushed into the background by the instant shove of the electric motors, which is great fun. I spend the remainder of the circuit squealing around corners on the low rolling-resistance tires and harrassing the Cayenne Hybrid in front of me. Where's the photon torpedo launchers when you need them? Marvellous stuff, and the future feels brighter having driven the FCX.

2.45pm: Concourse Hall again
MH OK, a quick stop here, to sit in the Evora (love it and manage to enter and exit it without drama), frown at the Spykers and wonder if SMS's Steve Saleen (Mustang tuner and supercar developer) is America's Lee Noble equivalent by leaving his eponymous company and starting a new venture. Then I move swiftly over to the parking garage to take my turn in the fuel-cell FCX.

2.30pm: A quick peek at the Boxster Spyder
MH I'm back at Porsche on the way to my date with the Clarity FCX. As you enter the Petree Hall stand, you're greeted with a rousing soundtrack of Porsche racing engines, and a classic Spyder on display.  Inside I want to get another look at the Boxster Spyder with the top up. Sadly the 'cap' doesn't look like it'd work in countries where there's decent rain, making this definitely a plaything for Porschephile collectors at the exhalted price being asked for it. I avoid staring too long at the Martini Racing merchandise and head out for the Green Car drive area.

2.15pm: Entering the Raptor's lair
MH Where are the pick-up trucks which made Ford's profits soar and then bought about the rapid decline in the firm's fortunes as energy shocks and financial crisis rocked America? They're out the back, hidden from the Fiesta-friendly centre stage. Go to the far corner and into a cavern-like room to see the SVT Raptor. It's an F150 pick-up tuned for offroad racing and it looks great – a far more fitting performance upgrade than its street-tuned predecessor, the SVT Lightning.

2.00pm: Ford's extended family
MH Over at Ford I apply a potential shopper's eye once again to the Mustang (it's either this or the Camaro in my new muscle car lap of America roadtrip plan), which now has a powerful, economical V6, and six-speed manual transmission to emphasise the cost-cutting anachronistic live rear axle. I also look at the Fusion Hybrid, by all accounts an impressive vehicle but one that still looks like a needless reinvention of the prev-gen Mondeo. Ford has two additional US brands – the Mercury seems to amount to a change of grille and smarter interior than the equivalent Ford these days, but Lincoln has been given some individuality with its MKS sedan and MKT crossover wagon. Both feature distinctive styling and nice interiors but aren't the vehicle that fans of the sharp '60s Continental sedan would be hoping for. Still, a step in the right direction for this erstwhile luxury brand's return to a Cadillac CTS-level competitiveness with the European and Japanese elite brands.

1.50pm: Honda's web2.0 pariah
MH The Accord Crosstour is a fussily-styled take on the 5GT/X6 school of elevated hatchback-cum-coupe crossoverdom. However its greatest claim to infamy is the well intentioned web2.0 campaign Honda used for the car on Facebook. A vehicle that charitably could be said to be difficult to photograph optimally was savaged on its Facebook page when photos were released, so much so that Honda had to provide copious additional photos and activate maximum PR damage control. As with most web commentary, the reality is not that bad, but I'm struggling to see the point of this particular genre.

1.45pm: Interviewing Honda's spokesmodel
MH As I move from the P-Nuts gallery towards the controversial US Accord Crosstour, I meet Luna, Honda's spokesmodel (canine edition) who has been demonstrating a dog ramp and kennel conversion for the Element van. Attracting more smiles and attention than Chrysler's forlorn spokesmodels, I wonder if Sergio Marchionne will have puppies to go with the sex kittens at Chrysler's Detroit stand. He may need all the help he can get if they don't bring new products to show. For those concerned about the welfare of the spokesdogs, Honda has had two dogs with handler, they work in shifts and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

1.40pm: It's a Personal Neo Urban Transport, Charlie Brown
MH Good grief. It's another flight of fancy from Honda's advanced design team that looks interesting on the stand but won't be making production anytime soon. I've been waiting for a 1+2 city car since BMW showed us the Z13 concept in the early-90s, but the seating layout seemed doomed to remain a designer's daydream unless Gordon Murray's T25 series features it.

1.30pm: Peace and quiet at Chrysler
MH Almost as a pennance, I stop by Chrysler after a quick peek at Kia's new Sorrento and Mr ff-C's favourite mobile iPod dock, the Soul. The place is largely deserted, and I have plenty of space to see the Vipers, Challenger and Charger SRT-8. Jeep has placed a red Wrangler on monster-truck tyres, and called it the Lower-40. While the spokesmodels do their best to attract attention by valiantly standing next to a Challenger and Chrysler 300, it's painfully clear that there is nothing substantially new here to report on. I move on – for Chrysler's new owners Fiat I hope all the customers haven't as well.

1.00pm: Hard choices
MH I have two hours until my next drive, in Honda's futuristic FCX Clarity fuel-cell car – but the Design LA symposium is starting. If I go I miss out completely on browsing the stands because the halls will close by the time I'm done with test drives. So I will have to leave the designers (Ian Callum of Jaguar, Franz von Holzhausen of Mazda then Tesla, Derek Jenkins from VW then Mazda) to their panel discussion on the future of automotive design. Annoying because I like the work credited to all three of them, but them's the breaks. Off down to Kentia Hall, where the tuners are lurking, via a quick stop in the Concourse Hall to hear about the Allard, parked mysteriously next to the Morgan yesterday.

12.15pm: Sympathy for the devil?
MH Lurking in a corner of the Convention Center garage is an X6 ActiveHybrid with my name on it. Along for the ride is BMW media man Matt, who is prepped for ultimate spin on this saintly-sinner in the BMW range. He normally handles motorsports communication for BMW, knows CAR's Road Test Editor Ben Barry, loves the M-cars and BMW's latest diesel cars. He's also been driving the hybrid X6 for around 2000 miles in recent commuting and proclaims it a 'light truck that thinks its a big sports coupe'. I climb into the driver's seat (situated ideally within the wheelbase to minimise pitch and yaw) and we glide off silently under electric power until a bit of enthusiastic throttle-prodding activates hybrid drive. My 15 minutes of test drive fame around the convention center neighbourhood was thankfully not recorded for laptimes (slow) but also didn't cause any damage (relief). Hybrid transition was smooth and the twin-turbo V8 provided a satisfying surge of acceleration when required, the seven-speed auto making the manual shift paddles largely redundant. I can see how journalists become X6 apologists once they drive it, because it presents all the BMW nice-to-drive attributes in a new way, which you don't notice so much from the driver's seat (truncated rear vision aside, and that's a common complaint in many modern cars anyway). I could even sit comfortably in the back when I rode along for a second lap of the venue. Dammit. I'm still not a fan of the X6, and I continue to believe that one of BMW's excellent turbodiesels in a 5-series Touring is the best bet for eco-aware fun and practicality. But I can at least grudgingly admit that the ActiveHybrid tech, while complex, works fine and doesn't compromise the driving experience. 

12.05pm: Off to meet the saintly sinner
MH I really dislike the BMW X6. An X5 without the practicality, pointlessly extravagant, completely out of keeping with the times etc. So it seems fitting it'll be my first ever motor show drive/road test. Best head down to the venue, while applying brute-force to lever open my closed mind on the Munich Monster.

11.50am: At the Press Center again 
MH I've skipped Fisker's press conference which does seem like a shame, but I wanted to catch up on coverage where the wireless is free and I have a decent-sized screen and keyboard sized for human fingers to type on. My first road test is at 12.15pm. It's a shame it has to be the evil X6 ActiveHybrid but it will test my objectivity while I test its overcomplicated fuel-saving hybrid drive. I am laying off the Zoom-Zoom juice today, just water and a soft drink, so I should be OK to drive.

10.45am: It really is about a winning personality
MH I'm over at Subaru now, which doesn't really have much to say, surely? We've seen their Brera-like Hybrid Tourer concept, and the homely new Legacy which makes my Subarental look like a design classic. Yet Subaru, the little company with the increasingly ugly model range and that has left its rallying fanbase behind, is in fine form here in America. In 2008 Subaru posted increased annual sales, apparently the only manufacturer to do so here. In 2009 they've already passed their 2008 sales and are potentially looking at their best US sales record ever this year. Subaru buyers are apparently incredibly loyal and through improved advertising and focusing on their product they apparently are doing better than ever.  Insert 'the one you love versus the one you marry' analogy here.

10.25am: It's an Insignia Tim, but not as we know it
MH I missed Buick's press presentation but arrive to find eager journalists bustling around what looks like a Vauxhall treated to a luxuriant chrome grin. It is of course the Insignia-based Buick Regal, which will be marketed with turbocharged four-cylinder engines without hopefully cannibalising sales from the slightly larger Lacrosse. It looks good, as the Insignia generally does, as does the LaCrosse. The interior of the LaCrosse is uncharacteristically swoopy for a brand I equate with conservative, upright Americana. I note the HarmonKardon speaker system and wander over to the more stereotypically bulbous Buick Enclave crossover SUV, almost tumbling into the trench surrounding the Buick stage.  Enclave indeed...

10.15am: Look out LA, it's car4mh vs the green machines
MH As predicted when I get to the frazzled registration table staff I could have a Golf TDI all day if I wanted, but other vehicles are rapidly running out of 15-minute drive slots. There is the Design LA panel discussion this afternoon I don't want to miss so I grab a lunchtime slot for the saintly-sinner X6 ActiveHybrid, and after-3pm slots for the FCX (yay!) and Cayenne (frowns). Mixing my media outlets, dare I provoke a 'dab of oppo' in any of them? I will certainly try driving the X6 the full 1.6 miles under electric power.

9.35am: A slice of Britain in Los Angeles
MH I am in a queue, if you're wondering what that slice of Britain is. A queue for the Green Cars Ride & Drive Programme, hoping for a drive in Honda's FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell car. But the queue is a long one (apparently the registration area had five lines last year but only one now... a sign of cost-cutting that is most inopportune given the eco-friendly zeitgeist) and I fear that I will end up with a drive in a Golf TDI, if anything. One hopeful soul in front of me is crestfallen when told there are no Chevy Volts to drive (not everyone here is in the specialist motoring press), but is offered a fuel-cell Equinox crossover SUV instead. As I consult the list again I ponder being anti-green and going for the evil X5 ActiveHybrid, and the Cayenne Hybrid. Ben Pulman drove the Cayenne prototype soon after joining CAR... in 2007. It enters production next year. Put that another way, two Prius generations later.

9.30am: I'd like to thank the Academy, my agent, and Emperor Piech
MH The US Green Car of The Year 2008 was the VW Jetta TDI, which I think will have many European readers nodding knowingly and muttering about the American preoccupation with hybrid and electric vehicles. This year the winner is... the Audi A3 Sportback TDI. So essentially the self-same Jetta donned its most elegant Sportback evening gown and won two years running. Not the new Toyota Prius? Much like voting at the Oscars, perhaps the pious Toyota has to wait for a lifetime achievement award.

8.50am: Bacon makes everything better
MH I run as if being chased by Emperor Piech and an army of baby-poo brown Audi QE7 TDIs towards the sanctuary of the breakfast buffet.  Continuing a concept I spotted on my holiday in the US South last week, I construct what amounts to a couple of bacon & egg scones (biscuits in American) and grab some coffee. I have thus made a key evolution in my understanding of event journalism – any opportunity for free food should be vigorously pursued. You never know where you next grub might come from. 

8.00am: Hurry up and wait
MH Oh crap... A second day mistake on the commuter departure time sees me snarled in traffic between my base out near Santa Monica and the downtown convention center. LA commuters are remarkably understanding about letting traffic merge and cross five lanes of crawling freeway traffic. Or perhaps it's the 'Tourist Alert Beacon' (aka sat-nav unit) I have affixed to the dashboard of the Subarental. Thankfully, the show starts at 9.00am, with the Green Car awards. But more seriously, breakfast buffet ends at 8.55am. The sat-nav gives an ETA of 8.30am... no, it's now saying 8.40am. High drama!

6.45am: The alarm call
MH I bailed on the Hyundai 'Rock the Kazbar' party last night... I don't know if a Hyundai press party is cool or not these days but it wasn't for me. However, I still feel like I'm suffering from either a Zoom-Zoom hangover, or perhaps Zoom-Zoom withdrawal? No more mystery energy drink for me then. Still, free brekkie beckons and so I get ready for a more leisurely trip in to the Convention Center for the second press day.



3.45pm: An emergency recharge
MH I need a crash cart, stat! My phone had died during the Rev Robertson's Eco Sermon and I was frantically thinking I had to run to the press center. Thankfully, as the Mazda Maidens offered me another can of Zoom-Zoom (sorry Tim) and debated the merits of Patrick Dempsey, I realised that nearby Jaguar were using iMacs as info terminals. A moment later my iPhone is connected to a free USB port and I'm configuring a new XJ while it grabs some extra juice. Hopefully I haven't just synchronised my phone's contents with said XJ... I am missing the Mitsubishi press conference as a result, but will catch up with them tomorrow. It's already feeling like it's been a long but civilised press day, with Rolls-Royce still to come. Just another couple of minutes pondering XJ interior trim options and I should have enough charge to get
mobile again.

3.15pm: Green BMWs leave me blue
MH The BMW press show feels very much like a lecture on modern business practices, and the podium lends global sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson's presentation something of a sermon from the pulpit. Then they pull the sheet off the Vision ED and I can enjoy the details of BMW's Frankfurt star close up (it's literally a couple of metres from my seat). Then it's back to the sustainability sermon with the Mini E pilot programme. Sustainability is an admirable trait but does it, or can it ever, be the overriding message by a manufacturer? Sorry Reverend Robertson, please continue.   

2.55pm: And the hits just keep on coming
MH BMW has had a 15% climb in share of the luxury sector and has 17 new models ready to flood the US with in the coming year, say the bigwigs. BMW is spinning its ActiveHybrids as fuel savers rather than absolute economy cars, and how wonderful that the hybrid 7-series can still carry four golf bags in the boot. The X5 diesel is apparently the market leader here for premium diesel vehicles, but please hurry up and give me another look at the fascinating Vision EfficientDynamics concept. I'm sat right next to it...

2.50pm: Joy is (not) waiting
MH Sitting here at BMW staring at a stage full of Efficient Dynamics role models and the big bad X6 ActiveHybrid is good for my feet, but the rest of me and my depleting cellphone battery beg to differ. A quick catch-up session then. After enjoying lunch with Porsche, I skipped Kia's conference and thought I'd download and recharge at the press centre, only to spot Ben P doing the same thing. Since he has all the official photos to download and a plane to catch the decision was simple – and yours truly legged it next door to the south hall (free press centre soft drink in hand, cheers) for more press conferences. Now BMW are counting down to start...

2.45pm: Ben Pulman skives off early
BP I'm done for the day. Not because the LA show is over – there are many more press conferences to come – but because I've got a flight to catch at 5pm for another top-secret CAR job and need to leave. So you're in the very capable hands of Mr Mark Hamilton, the CAR reader blogger veteran of several motor shows. Over to you Mark.

2.37pm: Hacking about
BP Realise I can hear snoring in the media centre. The Japanese journo on the table next to me is fast asleep.

2.27pm: The fallen empire strikes back
MH Audi's deathstar hangar has returned, but on the way in I am distracted by humble Chevrolet, who have arrayed a rebel strike force of Camaros, Corvettes and the mighty Holden Statesman (err, Caprice Police Car) against the monochrome forces of Vorsprung. The Jay Leno Camaro concept, with sharpened contemporary performance styling cues and blown direct-injection V6 in particular makes a compelling reason to turn my back on the Quattro brigade.

2.17pm: I find your lack of faith disturbing...
MH As if guided by an unseen hand around my neck, I am forced away from the plucky local heroes to attend Emperor Ferdinand's four-ring circus at Audi. Ingolstadt's impressive momentum in Europe is continuing here in the US. I hear that A3 sales are exceeding supply, and the A3 TDI joins its sister Golf in the running for Green Car of The Year. US debuts for the R8 Spyder and E-Tron follow.

2.16m: Audi they do that?
BP Mark is in the media centre, too. I take the executive decision to send him to the Audi press conference that's about to start, so I can get these pics over to you. Delegation is great.

2.10pm: More photos to upload
BP Back to the media centre to ping over more photos back to CAR HQ. Don't forget to visit our gallery by clicking on the top left link on this page. We've stopped overloading this page with pics as it kept crashing at previous motor shows. So far (touch wood, desk, anything...) we haven't suffered any major IT gremlins. Strange.

2.05pm: Back to the grindstone. To grind some peanuts. Or something
BP Not a very long lunch. I head back to Honda to have a second look at the P-Nut. I spot the dog basket option being demonstrated in an Element. Honestly, Aston trained some dogs on stage at Frankfurt with the Rapide, now Honda using dogs again at a motor show. Poor pooches.

1.50pm: My first ever lunch at a motor show
BP I leave the Honda stand behind and bump into fellow blogger, reader Mark. We head over to Porsche for some grub. There's a bit of a queue, but this is the first time I've ever stopped to have lunch at a motor show. Told you LA was civilised like that.

1.10pm: Back to the future with Honda
BP Director of advanced design Dave Marek pulls the sheet off the P-Nut. It's Honda's take on a 2025 car designed purely for city life. It's a 2+1 with the driver up front solo. There's a huge glasshouse, massively flared wheelarches and a minimalist interior. It's rear-engined too. Interesting. Sharp-edged. A little bit weird.

1.05pm: I say Honda you say Hahnda (let's call the whole thing off?)
MH it's intiguing to see how familiar brands look when portrayed in different markets. Honda tend to get portrayed as an eldsters' brand (freaky VTEC cult excepted) yet here in the US the Jazz is a car for young people, not grandma. Honda itself has made the US its adopted home, and its Accord and Odyssey minivan have grown for local consumption. They also offer utilitarin vehicles beyond the CR-V, with the boxy Element and Ridgeline (a pick-up truck for people who don't really want a truck). Something small and aerodynamic sits centerstage, and I'm hoping I am not allergic to P-nuts...

12.55pm: Honda and a world debut
BP One of very few surprises of the show: the P-Nut, or Personal Neo Urban Transportation. Still under a sheet, but it's tiny and quite sleek.

12.55pm: Time for some Peanut Butter
BP Over to Honda, via Saab. They've got the new 9-5 on show. It looks good, but will we ever get to drive it? I do hope so. Most hacks over here reckon it's most likely to be snapped up by a Chinese car maker looking for a quick-fix premium model line.

12.51pm: It's Fiesta time
BP The wraps come off the new US-spec Ford Fiesta. The five-door looks predictably cool and very Euro-like, but I just can't get on with the rump of the saloon.

12.45pm: Fiesta comes to America
MH I'm at the Ford press conference, hearing Mark Fields (who looks a bit like Steve Carrell from the US version of The Office from this distance). The hipper-than-hip Web 2.0 phenomenon 'Fiesta Movement' involved giving Fiestas to people who you expect to see on Mini promo videos and letting them blog about their experience with the car. It seems to have rubbed off on the Dearborn HQ, with the booth featuring a DJ station and mobile phone Fiesta Live games. The Fiesta has clearly enjoyed the copious amounts of food available here in the US. Definitely carrying a bit more weight around the jowls, and I'm afraid the Fiesta sedan's boot does make its bum look big. Still it's a big move by Ford to bring such a small car Stateside and it deserves to sell well. Bring on the Focus next. I'll come back later to look at the other US Fords. Honda press conference next. Oh wait, there's the Fiesta hillclimb car. No, got to go... once I've pored all over the new V6 Mustang...

12.35pm: He bangs the drums
BP CAR contributor Guy Bird has a quick go on that now vacant drum kit lying around on Porsche's stand. He's pretty handy with the sticks, I'm impressed. But a Porsche beefstick isn't, and he's turfed off stage. Good effort, Guy!

12.26pm: Porsche optimism
MH Despite the crowds in the foodcourt on the way over, it's packed at the Porsche Pavillion. In hushed, German accented reverential tones, the Frankfurt debuts are introduced to the gathered crowd. Porsche is cautiously optimistic sales will rise in 2010. Now the Boxster Spyder arrives to the sound of a drum solo. I like this car but it should be an entry-level special, not a Porschephile profit grab. All power to them if it grabs buyers though.

12.26pm: The Porsche press conference is going on a bit...
BP Twenty minutes of not very much and then... at last, the covers come off the Boxster Spyder. It's one of the few real world debuts at the show, yet I was expecting to be quite cynical about this. Yet another sign that Porsche is becoming focused on rinsing out maximum mileage from every range (qv 911 Sport Classic and other money spinners). But you know what? It looks dashingly good in the metal.

12.20pm: Porsche, a retrospective
BP Porsche gives us a nice reminder of what it's done this year: Panamera, 911 Turbo, GT3s this and that, and now the Boxster Spyder. Not bad in a year in which you lost your CEO, attempted and then failed to buy Europe's biggest car maker and then got bought yourself. Whoever said 2009 would be a quiet year? There's also a prototype of the Cayenne S Hybrid, but we'll have to wait for 2010's new Cayenne before it goes on sale.

12.10pm: The Porsche news conference
BP Porsche's presentation starts with a video of a GT3 RS sliding around a track. Very nice.

12.03pm: Another snippet on VW and their motorsport plans
BP Flicking through my notepad, just remembered a few bits from Volkswagen R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg's interview. He says the board has yet to take a deicison on whether VW should supply an F1 engine, but admitted it's something they're always thinking about. Meantime, he does want to do a new 2.0-litre engine for use in global motorsport in different states of tune. Game on, VW.

11.57am: What really happened in the Concourse Hall
BP As I leave Hyundai's smart new Sonata, I pass through the Concourse Hall which sits between the two main show arenas. Last year Lambo and Ferrari starred here, but in 2009 it's left to Fisker (with its beautiful Sunset convertible), Spyker (now confirmed as a proper Saab wooer) and the Brits: Morgan, Lotus, Rolls and Aston. I could spend hours in this hall if I didn't have a slavedriving news editor chasing my heels...

11.51am: The perils of the interweb at a motor show
BP Just sent my latest update to my cousin by mistake. So she's heard all about the Concourse Hall instead of you. Woops.

11.50am: The Sonata swoops in
MH Hyundai unveils its new Sonata, a vehicle they've managed to sell 1.2 million of in the US since the first one landed in 1989. While the swoopier styling catches the eye, the improved interior volume and fuel efficiency are being touted as class leaders versus the US Camry, Accord and Nissan Altima. Add lithium polymer battery hybrid and direct-injection turbo fours at Hyundai prices, and it stacks up as a compelling package to attack the current market leaders. Off to Porsche now, and the Boxster Spyder.

11.47am: Detoxification at Hyundai
MH Nothing like a Hyundai to eliminate any energy drink hyperactivity. Hyundai, however, is a brand on the charge, and as occurred with the Japanese brands in the 70s, Hyundai is getting a positive reception from American buyers. Thanks no doubt to not selling many large vehicles or trucks, Hyundai claim US industry leading average fuel consumption at 30.1mpg for their entire range. Neat.

11.42am: Mczoomy
MH I believe in my zoom-zoomy haze I actually saw Patrick Dempsey himself standing next to the Mazda 2. The Grey's Anatomy star and Mazda racer did not raise too much of a  frenzy amongst the journalists, but will no doubt provoke interest when mentioned to wives and girlfriends once they get home.

11.40am: Hyundai on the prowl
BP Hyundai is very proud, claiming it's the only manufacturer to have a fleet average above 30mpg (US), and has increased its market share from 3 to 4.3%. Goes to show that the Koreans are still on a roll, even if they did announce they were pulling out of the Japanese market this week.

11.37am: Ohmygodmazdaisthecoolestever
MH So I went to Mazda and they had this energy drink and it was really good so I had some more and Mazda is so cool and the Mazda 2 is awesome and the dance music is pukka and Patrick Dempsy racing an RX8 is Mcdreamy and Zoomzoom! Zoomzoom! ZoomZOOOOOM!! [That's enough fizzy drinks for today, Mark – a concerned editor!]

11.35am: Los Angeles – a civilised motor show
BP I said it last year and I'll say it again – LA is the most civilised motor show on earth. There's food all day in the media centre for journos, a five-minute gap between one press conference ending and the next beginning, and all the manufacturers in one hall do their presentations in the morning, the rest in the other hall in the afternoon. Porsche have the lunchtime slot in a small hall between the two bigger halls. It's like someone's actually thought about the schedule. For once.

11.30am: A new meaning to heel and toe
BP Back on the press conference trail – and off to Hyundai. I'm following a poor show stand girl between halls; she's walking barefoot, lugging a ludicrous pair of manufacturer-mandated high heels.

11.10am: Zoom-Zooming along...
MH Mazda CEO Yamanouchi-san has flown over from Japan to unveil the Mazda 2 and announce a return to profitability two quarters ahead of schedule. He's promoting fuel-efficient drivetrains, aerodynamics, light weight and low rolling resistance rather than hybrid tech and fireworks whizz-bang solutions. The Mazda 2 goes on sale Stateside late summer 2010 and already has youth appeal built in, Mazda claiming they have the second youngest buyer profile in the industry. Another can of energy drink? Don't mind if I do...

11.07am: Zoom-Zoom concentrated
MH Mazda are offering free cans of energy drink, and US indie rock plays while the video screen shows footage of Mazda's involvement in local motorsport.  I will laugh if they too unveil a minivan. But since I'm drinking their mystery energy drink I may well end I mindlessly singing Mazda's praises even if they roll out the latest instalment of Bongo Friendee campervan. 

11.00am: Photos coming soon!
BP A quick detour to the media centre so I can email Tim Pollard back at base some photos. You'll soon all be able to see what we're seeing!

10.43am: Lifestage Vehicles at Toyota
MH Industry sales in the US climbed in November above the 10 million level year-to-date, and Toyota sales rose 10%, a faint glimmer of recovery? Now they are proudly unveiling the Sienna minivan, a US market model with which Toyota hopes to capture more share as others desert the minivan market. It's a lifestage vehicle – a quite clever way of saying 'you're a parent now, deal with it'. So, driving out onto the stage comes the fun new Sienna, in a fetching shade... of beige. Oh dear. It looks alright from the front though and will no doubt faithfully serve its owners. There's even a sports model with bodykit and 19-inch wheels, which perhaps illustrates that Ford should hurry up and sell the S-Max over here.

10.40am: The world debut of the new Toyota Sienna
BP Well, it's big and beige.

10.37am: The American appetite for MPVs
BP Apparently, there are 12.6 million minivans on the roads of America, and with other manufacturers leaving the segment, Toyota reckons the demand will rise for MPVs.

10.34am: Toyota pulls the punters in
BP Big crowd for the Sienna. It'd better be good.

10.31am: Green promises and the shattered reality
BP It's still five minutes before I get to see the new Sienna minivan (can't wait!). A chance then to reflect on the day so far. Chevrolet once again crowed about the Volt, but it's at least 12 months away, and any hi-tech, low-emission VW is further still. Like 2013... With the pace of change from consumers, and the demand for change from governments, car companies are struggling to keep up, and not because some of them aren't trying. I wonder how many eco concepts we'll see before there's a truly ground-breaking eco car on sale, that the mass markets want, and can afford.

10:30am: Giving Toyota a chance
MH I feel like I'm suffering for my sins but here I am sitting near the front at the upcoming Toyota press conference. I remind myself that although the company could offer a free beige cardigan and slippers with most of its current range (Prius buyers get a Fair Trade poncho and sandals), they did once have exciting cars. They are also a powerhouse here in the US market, so I will think of Toyota-owning forum regulars Trocadero and Robby1977 and listen intently.

10.25am: Toyota and beyond
BP Off to Toyota for the world premiere of... the Sienna minivan. The one we've all been waiting for!

10.15am: Uplight and still standing...
MH Dr Ulrich Hackenberg is on stage to introduce the new concept Up! Lite – hosting the L1 concept's miserly 800cc TDI drivetrain. VW claim it's the most fuel-efficient four-seater in the world. Then Klaus Bischoff wanders onstage to talk about the concept design. Good on them all for speaking in English, but it does feel a bit like a German-accented infomercial. The Up! Lite refuses to open its aero-shielded bumper intake and bonnet on cue, so it's clearly something of a diva. Saving further embarrassment, the hatchback does open on command. Because it's based on the New Small Family subcompact architecture, Dr Hackenberg claims the Up Lite could make production very much like you see here.

10.05am: Das Auto in Der Haus
MH Over at the VW stand, the whiter-than-white theme continues. Media scrum in full effect. TDI tech is the news at the moment, the Jetta TDI being current US green car of the year and the new Golf TDI is in the running for this year's prize. Volkswagen's US plant in Chatanooga will be  up and running in 2011, producing a midsize sedan (it too will be available with electric and hybrid tech, Ben Pulman tells me). First up, the final edition of the New Golf. Come on – we know there's a diesel electric hybrid Up! waiting to be shown. Bring it on!

09.50am: 'Gas friendly to gas-free'
MH The Volt is on schedule for production in the fourth quarter of 2010 with 80 pre-production vehicles currently out testing (and no doubt ferrying influential journalists around for the long-lead prototype ride story). You'll be pleased to know that the Volt's efficiency display features vines with green leaves, now de rigueur for hybrids to encourage one to drive economically. The Volt online colour naming contest is discussed: Viridian Joule looks remarkably like silver to me, but when you put the politics of the drivetrain aside, the Volt is a far better looking vehicle to my eyes than the Cruze which is currently on stage. I am still struggling to see how an average-looking budget sedan is supposed to be a game-changer, even here in the US. But nonetheless at LA the Cruze is one of Chevrolet's halo cars.

09.51am: VW's electric car plans
BP LA is yet another show obsessed by electric cars. I'm just out of a round-table interview with VW R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg. A few gems came out of it: he confirmed a full electric Volkswagen Up EV by 2013 (prototypes on the road now; best prompt our scoopsters to try harder!); Seat and Skoda can access the EV tech for their own version if they can make the sums add up; he ruled out hybrid super-sports cars for Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti – rather, they'll pursue a full EV strategy like the Audi E-tron; expect to see more aluminium in mass-market cars, although the carbonfibre from L1 and the new Up! Lite being shown in an hour is unlikely; Hackenberg also hinted that GTIs could downsize too, we shouldn't rule out a three-cylinder GTI (presumably on an Up or Polo mini).

09.40am: Theme tune trickle-down
MH At the Chevy press conference the Volt is onstage and a video showing prototype Volt production features U2's 'Elevation' as the soundtrack. Where else have I heard that tune? That's right, Lamborghini had a promo video of the then-new Gallardo prowling through New York in 2003 to the same twangy tunes. See, supercar technology does fillter down to mass-market brands!

09.15am: The future's electric
MH It's all about the Volt in the Lutznote™ now. GM will launch theIr EREV (extended range electric vehicle) next year here in California. GM is working with the Department of Energy and local energy utilities on pilot projects to monitor EV usage (with 100 vehicles) and support charging infrastructure. Questions now about the Volt. They're looking at producing 8000 Volts in the first year, ramping up to a projected 50,000-60,000 annually. Expect demand to outstrip supply, warns Lutz. This all feels like too much ammunition for the Crunchwatch keyboard politician bashers, so I'm going to leave the Q&A and head to Chevrolet for their first press conference.

08.49am: At the Lutznote™
MH Bob Lutz, GM vice-chairman, marketing chief and much-quoted gung-ho car guy at the post bankrupcy GM, takes the stage. He would have drawn a crowd anyway thanks to his reputation as a straight-talking raconteur. But everyone is here hoping for some news on Fritz Henderson's sudden departure. Bob pours water on that immediately, pointing out he won't be talking about that ('we have to wait for his next book') and proceeds to talk about the new 'May the best car win' ad campaign.

08.47am: Sunpat peanut butter, anyone?
BP As I hot-foot it over to the VW stand, a few UK hacks laugh at the name of the Honda P-Nut, the new small eco coupé we'll see in a few hours' time. They've locked down all details and photos of the car. A rare instance of a non-leak. Is the opposite of a sieve a safe?

08.40am: VW's brainboxes beckon
BP There are a few speakers on before Bob Lutz – and I have a 9.00am interview slot with VW R&D chief Ulrich Hackenberg. So I'll leave you in the capable hands of Mark Hamilton. Shame I'm not going to get to hear him speak at this crossroads in GM's future. As I leave, veteran Lutz fires up, apologising tongue-in-cheek for the lack of news generated by GM in the past month (Magna sale cancellation, Saab's life support, CEO resigning) and vowing to use 'great skill' to avoid answering any questions about Fritz Henderson's departure.

08.37: Breakfast bonanza
MH Naively, I was expecting a coffee pot and a plate of stale pastries at the press breakfast, but am greeted with a ballroom full of eagerly grazing journalists devouring a free full buffet. I'm glad I didn't eat beforehand, and may well not need to refuel until dinner tonight. I meet CAR Magazine staff writer Ben Pulman at the entrance to the Lutz keynote venue. Ben is in the midst of a hectic schedule of activities for the print edition as well as CAR Online, and has to leave the show later today for his next top-secret assignment. (Don't feel too sorry for him. It involves driving a sports car!)

08.30am: Bumping into CAR's reader reporter
BP Just crashed into our star reader blogger Mark Hamilton, who's flown in from New Zealand to help out with our show reports. He's equally surprised that Fritz Henderson was ousted last night. We're enjoying a muffin – LA is the first motor show I've found to put on a free breakfast for us hacks.

08.15am: At the convention centre...err, center
MH Thankfully the sat-nav didn't send me on a slow crawl along the 405 freeway and I am now in the Media Center. The drive to the venue wasn't too bad, although some of the aged, twisty freeway junctions are only lacking road graffiti and a vanload of Germans barbecuing sausages at the roadside to resemble the Nurburgring. Good car spotting for the automotive tourist included a California Highway Patrol car pulling over a speeding MkV Golf GTI. When a Smokey & The Bandit-era Pontiac Trans Am blasted past it was a full-on 70s nostalgia moment. Registration went smoothly, and there is free wi-fi and lockers so I can store my computer while strolling the halls. Off to grab a bite to eat before Bob Lutz opens the show.

08.10am: We're there
BP Going through security; American auto shows have heavier security than anywhere else on the planet. Bags searched, sniffer dogs on patrol. Guess such displays of capitalist excess can attract the wrong sort of attention...

08.00am: En route to the Los Angeles Convention Center
BP I think I must be staying nearer the show venue than Mark Hamilton, as I'm only setting off now. I guess he needs to queue up for his credentials which have gone walkabout. I'm looking forward to hearing 'Maximum' Bob Lutz's keynote speech; word has it, the GM veteran is stepping into Fritz Henderson's shoes, vacated when the General's CEO stepped down last night. Interesting times at GM. Again!

07.03am: It's showtime!
BP Time to get ready for the LA show. I came last year when it was a show on borrowed time. The full extent of the industry crisis was rapidly becoming apparent – GM and Chrylser were stuttering towards bankruptcy and the Chrysler stand didn't even have full lighting on it. I wonder if LA 2009 style will reflect the revived fortunes of these two former giants of American industry. We'll find out in the next few hours.

06.44am: Réveil
BP Alarm goes off. Still haven't quite adapted to the time zone, despite flying out from the UK on Sunday. I've been over in Miami for a couple of days, seeing the new Audi A8. It's quite a tech showcase, in a very Audi way.

06.25am: Off to the venue
MH My press pass didn't arrive in New Zealand before I departed – I have visions of it arriving after I return home, like a postcard sent while on holiday.  With this in mind, I'm heading over to the LA Convention Center early to pick up a replacement at onsite registration. The kind souls of the LA auto show are also putting on breakfast, before Fritz – sorry, Bob Lutz – delivers the keynote. I'm comfortable driving over here, but part of my journey into town involves the 405 freeway, which is known for its congestion. I may well end up serving up my first batch of coverage from a parking lot rather further from the venue than I'd hoped... My wheels for this trip are a smurf-skin blue Shelby GT500... Sorry, it's actually a prev-gen (thus good-looking) Subaru Legacy rental car. I don't think I need 4WD here in LA but given the unappealing alternatives from old GM and Chrysler at the rentacar lot, it seemed like an excellent choice.


By Ben Pulman and Mark Hamilton