GM, Chrysler Keep Low Profile At L.A. Auto Show
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The dark cloud hanging over the U.S. auto industry has taken some of the glitz out of the Los Angeles Auto Show that opens tomorrow. GM and Chrysler will barely be there. Of the Detroit companies, Ford is the only one with a major presence at the auto show. NPR's Carrie Kahn went to a preview.
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CARRIE KAHN: Under bright lights and blaring music, Ford tried to stir up enthusiasm on the center stage as it unveiled the new hybrid version of its popular fusion car.
Mr. MARK FIELDS (Executive Vice President, Ford Motor Company): We're coming after the midsize segment with a world-beating product that delivers outstanding fuel economy, unsurpassed quality, and a fun-to-drive experience.
KAHN: The experience wasn't so fun for Ford Executive Mark Field who was pounced on by the press as soon as he stepped off the stage. Reporters asked, why was he the only one of the Big Three holding a press conference?
Mr. FIELDS: I can't speak for the rest of the industry.
KAHN: They also asked, why should U.S. taxpayers bail them out when the Big Three focused on building SUVs instead of more efficient cars? Did Field wish Ford had switched its business model sooner?
Mr. FIELDS: I wish I was about three inches taller and 20 pounds lighter, but you know, I can't have everything I want. But we have a plan. We're executing it. We'll see if the market rewards us for that.
KAHN: Field was hesitant to predict what the U.S. car industry would look like next year. Reporter Mark Rechtin of Automotive News wasn't.
Mr. MARK RECHTIN (Reporter, Automotive News): It's going to be a bloodbath the next couple of years, and I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of the automakers were out of business by then.
KAHN: Looking down the display hall, it wasn't too hard to imagine a world without at least one of the Big Three. Asian and European carmakers easily overshadowed Detroit's subdued presence here, presenting their newest, brightest, and greenest.
Mr. SAUL IBARRA (Product Specialist, Toyota): My name is Saul Ibarra, and I'm a product specialist here with Toyota. We're standing in our Hybrid Synergy Drive area.
KAHN: Along with the newest Prius and Camry hybrids, Toyota also unveiled a concept car that runs on compressed air. Nissan touted a new electric car that would run a hundred miles on a charge. And BMW unveiled an electric two-seater Mini Cooper. Mark Rechtin of Automotive News says for cutting edge carmakers, the L.A. show is more important than the one in Detroit.
Mr. RECHTIN: In fact you're seeing companies backing out of Detroit because Detroit is not as important a market as Los Angeles. California sells many more vehicles. It's been, you know, long been much more open to the import brands.
KAHN: Nissan picked the L.A. show for its North American debut of the Cube, an even boxier, if that's possible, competitor to the popular Scion. But despite the emphasis on green and lean, that doesn't mean there weren't plenty of SUVs and high-end luxury cars on display too, both still popular in Los Angeles.
Mr. NICHOLAS ANDREWS(ph) (Barista, L.A. Auto Show): I arrived via my '03 Impala two days ago.
KAHN: Nicholas Andrews, who was making my complimentary latte at the Jaguar booth, was thrilled by the new Ferrari and the GMC trucks, although both were out of his price range. So in your salary at the coffee bar, how long would it take you to buy a Ferrari?
Mr. ANDREWS: I could afford the headlight in 10 years.
KAHN: Despite the slump in sales, organizers of the L.A. Auto Show say they expect as many as a million people to check out the cars on display. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.