LA Auto Show 2019: Highlights

Electric cars and plenty of innovation at the California car conference

The 2019 LA Auto Show is on now through 1 December, running concurrently with China’s Guangzhou Auto Show. While Los Angeles has long been one of the world’s most diverse automotive landscapes, southern California no longer leads the way regarding how cars are marketed and sold around the globe. More forward-thinking and maturing markets such as China are actually in a better position to predict and dictate the cars Americans will be driving. So while we attended this year’s Auto Show in LA, we also kept a close eye on the happenings in China. Here’s what caught our attention.

Courtesy of VW

VW I.D. Space Vizzion

There’s no more groundbreaking movement in cars than EVs, and Volkswagen group (including Audi) is focused on the long game; showing innovative and interesting cars that are thinly veiled as concepts. The VW I.D. Space Vizzion, a station wagon slated for production in 2022 is the latest in that range. It’ not a coincidence that VW of America CEO Scott Keogh believes tastes are swinging back to sedans and wagons, due to crossover vehicle fatigue.

Beyond the glitz of a very upscale interior (which likely won’t see production), VW is touting realistic goals in this electric vehicle, like a two- or AWD-configuration and a range of up to 300 miles. That range is the big challenge for all mainstream automakers that want to compete with Tesla, and do so at around $30,000.

Courtesy of Audi

Audi e-Tron Sportback

The Sportback is the second all-electric Audi EV (following the e-tron) to come to market. Its sleeker and more appealing design loses some trunk space for the sake of form though there’s still plenty of room for passengers. With an expected price near $80,000 and range unlikely to exceed 230 miles in US testing, it remains to be seen how the car will be received in the market. While we have enjoyed driving the e-tron and find the notion of range anxiety to be over-emphasized, this is still a niche decision by Audi—something much more difficult to sell than an electrified Q3.

Courtesy of Ford

Ford Mach-E

Harnessing the Mustang’s appeal and creating the all-electric Mach-E SUV is Ford’s game attempt to deliver a desirable, affordable and fun electric vehicle to market in the same spirit as the original Mustang. With a starting price of $36,000 (before incentives) and touting Mustang-like performance, this vehicle is an appealing option for consumers. Despite a tie-up with VW’s platform to build more EVs, Ford is using its own propulsion system here, as they will on the forthcoming electric F-150.

This vehicle could prove wildly successful, especially when considering Ford’s massive dealer reach. F-Series trucks alone account for nearly 900,000 vehicles a year. By comparison, despite being larger globally, total US sales for all of the VW Group—everything from Audi to Bentley to Bugatti—saw 350,000 sales last year. Ford has a huge audience for a crossover that looks classic, even among buyers who may balk at Tesla’s “gentrification” vibe, while thinking a Mustang signals brawn.

Courtesy of Mercedes

Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600

At the LA show, Mercedes-Benz debuted both rebooted AMG GLE and GLS SUVs, while in China they made bigger news in the form of the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600. This is not only a shot targeting Bentley and Rolls-Royce SUVs, it’s a car packed with exclusive technology with a focus on Chinese luxury consumers (though the glam SUV will be sold in the US and other markets in 2020). Features include a second row with first class-style seating, running boards that deploy when doors are opened and microphones at every seat (because you never know which passenger’s connected phone is going to ring). Front passengers get what Mercedes calls kinetics functions—basically both seats constantly move in tiny increments, so you’re forced to engage postural muscles and remain alert. While brands like Rolls-Royce and Bentley like to tout their exceptional bespoke woodworking, the Maybach utilizes 10-year aged wood that’s milled to within a single millimeter in depth to allow light to penetrate the veneer.

While it’s easy to think of this vehicle as super-niche, there are several features that are easily envisioned on future cars—including pairing with a smart watch to better understand the physical alertness of the driver, and an air filtration unit that not only “sniffs” for external air quality but is also integrated with the GPS system to automatically recirculate air in case you’re about to drive into a tunnel. The suspension also tilts in opposition to g-forces caused by cornering, a system that any Mercedes or other car with an air suspension could deploy.

Courtesy of Aston Martin

Aston Martin DBX

Adding to the super-high-performance SUV segment is Aston Martin’s long-awaited DBX, a crossover that the carmaker unveiled at an offsite event in LA and concurrently in China. At $189,000 it’s more affordable (but also far smaller) than the $325,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan—perhaps a closer size and price target is the $200,000 Lamborghini Urus. Performance comes via the same 542-horsepower V8 engine as the Aston Martin DB11 coupe (sourced from Mercedes AMG). The DBX is fast, hitting 60mph in 4.3 seconds, though the Lamborghini Urus is faster. Still, given Aston’s knowhow with handling it’s reasonable to anticipate they’ve built something that corners beautifully, and its interiors are sophisticated and stylish.

The DBX is handsome and more in line with the heritage of the brand itself—both qualities competitors have yet to achieve in this segment. There are lovely touches inside, including a panoramic ceiling that’s completely lined in leather, and gorgeous linen and wool surfacing.

Courtesy of Mini Cooper

Mini Cooper SE

While the new 300hp John Cooper Works GP debuted as the latest Mini Cooper SE in LA, the more important future of the brand was hiding in plain sight: an electric version of the Mini Cooper. Priced at $29,900 (and offering $7,500 in tax incentives) and in many states up to a few thousand dollars more off the sticker price, the Mini EV was designed as a grocery-getter that many existing Mini customers will find appealing. The sell from Mini isn’t just that this will be (with the aforementioned incentives), an EV that’s around the same price as the base car, but that the motor fits in exactly the same place as the existing gas engine, and absolutely none of the interior space has been consumed by batteries.

Expected range is around 167 miles (likely lower for the US market). It’s promised to handle like a Mini too—with taut handling and sub-seven-second zero to 60mph acceleration. It will be interesting to see whether Mini can succeed with this lower-range and more affordable EV.

Courtesy of Lexus

Lexus UX 300e

This first-ever electric Lexus, the UX 300e debuted in China and is strictly targeted first at Chinese, Japanese and then European buyers. This could be just as well, since the UX 300e hasn’t sold well in the US, possibly because Lexus’s styling is still divisive and looks better on some models than others.

Lexus will need more range, too. The UX 300e has a relatively small 54.3kWh battery (the Audi e-Tron has a 95kWh battery, and the Hyundai Kona EV, which is about 500 pounds lighter than the UX, has a  64kWh battery). This alone illustrates the conundrum of many carmakers that want to go electric in the US, but have been slow-walking their way, hoping that better battery tech as well as efficiency gains will enable more range at a reasonable price.

We’re excited to see these new vehicles hit the road and shake up an increasingly dynamic marketplace.

Hero image by Michael Frank