USA TODAY auto team members James R. Healey, Chris Woodyard and Judith Barra Austin are in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Auto Show press preview days. Here, you'll find reports from them and from our wire services on the cars and trucks being unveiled at the show, which opens to the public Friday and runs through Nov. 25.
2008 Toyota Sequoia: So here's an issue.
The Los Angeles Auto Show is known as a haven for sexy convertibles that celebrate its cruise-by-the-beach image, or eco-friendly fuel sippers that trace the path of the future. Not giant SUVs.
But that's what Toyota TM chose to introduce here: the new version of its biggest eight-seat SUV, Sequoia.
Toyota division chief Bob Carter did his best to dress up the introduction. He opened the presentation by recounting the Alaskan adventure of a Toyota fuel-cell vehicle that made a long, ecological trek through the great white north. But the Sequoia was the star of the show, bigger and huskier than ever.
It did have one strong environmental card: the available 5.7-litre V-8 gets 12% better fuel economy despite a big horsepower increase. At 381 horsepower total and 401-foot pounds of torque, plus a six-speed transmission, it can tow a 10,000-pound trailer. Plus, it's available in an E85 ethanol configuration.
Maybe because of the good press it's gotten on its Priuses, Toyota says the Sequoia attracts some of the youngest buyers in the segment, with an average age of 40.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution: As street-friendly race cars go, it's hard to beat the new version of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The new Evo, due at dealers at the end of January at a price yet to be determined, has a brisk new engine, a 295-horsepower turbocharged and intercooled beast. The other new feature is the Super-All Wheel Control, a fancy name for the handling system that allows drivers to set the responsiveness of the car to different conditions to a degree never possible before.
The car's racing roots are evident from its stance, equipped with 18-inch tires and flared fenders.
It comes with a five-speed transmission or, for the first time, paddle shifters as part of the new 6-speed Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission.
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI: For another weekend racing option, Subaru introduces its latest version of the Impreza WRX STI.
And it looks the part, with styling features from stem to stern like flared fenders, rear-quarter panels, front fascia brake cooling scoops and rear spoiler.
The five-door STI has a 305-horsepower boxer-style engine and lets the driver adjust the car's handling. The car starts at $34,995 when it becomes available in January.
Nissan GT-R: Just what the world is crying for, "an affordable, everyday supercar," says Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.
That's the GT-R, the car you can race to the track, to work or the supermarket depending on your tolerance for speed and speeding tickets.
The car made its official production-version debut at the Tokyo Motor Show recently. But the Los Angeles show gets perhaps the most critical information of all: when you can buy one and how much it will cost.
The answer: On sale next June for $69,850.
Yeah, it's sure to make a dent in bank accounts, but it is less than other near-racing machines dubbed supercars, which typically cost in excess of $100,000.
Ghosn stressed its accessibility. GT-R is "a car to be experienced by anyone, anywhere, anytime." And it's not a necessary part of the automaker's lineup, but just an interesting one. "We are not bringing GT-R because we have to."
The twin-turbo V-6 produces 480 horsepower, clearly in the supercar range, combined with a six-speed transmission.
Hyundai Genesis coupe: For a more affordable sports car, here's an entry from Hyundai. Racy looks, 300 horsepower and less than half the projected price of the Nissan GT-R.
The rear-wheel-drive Genesis coupe will arrive in showrooms in early 2009 as a 2010 model. And it will be priced at about $25,000.
Genesis is "the most emotional" Hyundai ever with its graceful curves and powerful 3.8 liter V-6, says Vice President John Krafcik. It will have a six-speed transmission.
The version presented at the auto show is a concept, but Krafcik says that it's 90% close to the basic design of the production version. The concept had a carbon fiber hood and other elements, and Krafcik says he is not sure yet which of those elements will make it to the final production version.
It will be preceded by a sedan version that will make it to showrooms next year as a 2009 model.
The two-plus-two sports coupe Genesis is a product of Hyundai's Southern California design lab under former GM designer Joel Piaskowski, which is cranking out an increasing number of products for the South Korean automaker.
Volkswagen space up! blue: Imagine it without the emblems, and you think you're looking at the old Scion xB "box."
But you're not. Volkswagen introduced a fuel-cell concept vehicle called the spaceup! blue — yes, that's lower case with an exclamation mark in the middle.
It's meant to be reminscent of a VW microbus, with lots of space inside.
The four-seat space up — who named this thing? — has what is billed as the world's first high-temperature fuel cell coupled with 12 lithium-ion batteries. Having the cell work at higher temperatures allows it to be more efficient and compact, VW says. Besides the fuel cell, its batteries can be charged from a wall socket.
But wait! There's more!
The space up also has a solar panel on the roof that can supply a bit more energy to the battery.
Space up can be driven up to 65 miles on the electric motor alone. The fuel cell is good for another 155 miles for a combined range between the two power sources of 220, VW says.
The "green" theme carries through to the interior, which makes extensive use of recycled materials.
Honda FCX Clarity: Honda hmc showed off its latest hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan that looks nothing at all like the small, boxy FCX currently in use.
Honda will start leasing Clarity in the Los Angeles area early next summer. Leases will be for three years at $600 a month. Honda won't say how many will be available until closer to the launch.
Despite its larger size, Honda says Clarity makes significant improvements over the current-generation FCX: a 20% increase in fuel economy to what Honda estimates will be the equivalent of about 68 miles per gallon; a 30% increase in range to 270 miles; a 25% improvement in power-to-weight ratio, in part from an approximate 400-pound reduction in fuel-cell powertrain weight; a 45% reduction in the size of the powertrain to about the size of a gas-electric hybrid powertrain; a lithium-ion battery pack that is 40% lighter and 50% smaller; and a single hydrogen storage tank with 10% more capacity.
Lincoln MKS: Ford Motor's f luxury brand Lincoln unveiled its new 2009 MKS flagship sedan at show Wednesday. Lincoln says the car is aimed at bringing in new and younger buyers. It stressed that a well-equipped base model will be priced less than $38,000. It will have 3.7-liter V-6 engine, six-speed transmission, Microsoft's Sync voice-activated media system, Sirius satellite radio, heated and cooled front seats and heated back seats. The top-of-the line model will be priced less than 0$50,000.
Mark Fields, president of Ford's North and South American operations, says Ford wants to make Lincoln the bigger-selling brand at its Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Mercury has perennially ouTsold Lincoln. But, "as we go forward, the Lincoln brand is going to be the volume brand for the (Lincoln-Mercury) franchise. That's very different," Fields says.
The MKS will include a keypad that is embedded in the side pillar of the car. It won't be visible until it's touched. Then the owner can punch in a five-number code to unlock the car. Peter Horbury, Ford's executive director of design for the Americas, took a swipe at rival General Motors' OnStar security system, noting that with the keypad system, Lincoln doesn't need a satellite and operators to take calls about unlocking cars.
Lincoln says it expects 60% of those buying the MKS will be new to Lincoln. The car is expected in showrooms next summer.
Big SUVs, trucks go green: Some of the largest pickups and sport-utility vehicles will soon come in hybrid versions. Chrysler will show its first two hybrids — both SUVs — at this week's Los Angeles Auto Show, while General Motors gm will unveil its hybrid Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Even the mammoth Cadillac Escalade is getting a hybrid option.
Although specific numbers aren't being released yet, the new hybrids will cost more than models with conventional engines. And industry analysts are wondering just how much demand there will be for the new power systems.
A hybrid system developed by GM, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and BMW will debut on 2009 models of the Chrysler Aspen, Dodge Durango, the Silverado and the Escalade. The automakers say the hybrid system — called a two-mode hybrid — improves fuel economy by 25%, or between 40% and 50% in city driving. For the Silverado, which now gets 15 miles per gallon in the city, that could mean an improvement to 21 miles per gallon, similar to the Toyota Camry in city driving.
The system can operate in electric-only mode at low speeds or with a combination of the gas engine and electric assistance at higher speeds. Like single-mode hybrid systems now used by Toyota Motor tm, Ford Motor f and others, the two-mode runs without the gas engine at low speeds, but at higher speeds the electric motor contributes more power. Single-mode systems also have heavier motors, making them less ideal for towing.
Hybrid versions of the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs are scheduled to arrive in showrooms in the middle of 2008, Chrysler said. The SUVs can use an engine-only mode when conditions demand the full power of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine, such as climbing a steep hill or pulling a trailer. The Aspen and Durango are capable of towing 6,000 pounds.
Chrysler wouldn't say how much the hybrid Aspen and Durango will sell for, but there will be a premium.
GM already has introduced the two-mode hybrid system in its Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs, which will be available in early 2008, and it had a less efficient hybrid system on earlier versions of the Silverado. But the 2009 Silverado will be the first full-size, full hybrid pickup on the market when it goes on sale at the end of 2008.
GM said the hybrid Silverado can drive up to 30 miles per hour on electricity alone and, with the electric assist, allows the 6-liter, V-8 engine to operate in its more economical V-4 mode. It can tow up to 6,100 pounds.
The Escalade hybrid, which was introduced last week at the Miami Auto Show and will also be in Los Angeles, could get attention from wealthy buyers who aren't concerned about the price of gasoline but consider the vehicle a status symbol. The system improves the Escalade's fuel economy rating from 12 miles per gallon to 18 miles per gallon in city driving.