The Auto Industry 3.0 – An Enthusiast’s Review of the 2016 LA Auto Show

Editor’s Note – while this website concentrates on factual reports, the following is an editorial.  The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by myself as author and any forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of any of our partners or sponsors.  In fact many of us disagree.

Passion.  A strong word and an even stronger emotion.  Yet last week I was struck by the divide in our industry – some have it but unfortunately many don’t.  At the AutomobilityLA prequel to the Los Angeles Auto Show we got a first hand opportunity to see, listen to and meet the  people who have the reins – they are shaping our future. So read on if you want to hear about who I think has it, and who doesn’t, and see my choice for the 3 stars of the show.  dscn0052

The future is autonomous, it is inevitable

and the automobile industry MUST change because

‘cars and trucks waste time, pollute and are dangerous’.

dscn9949We heard this over and over all week, presented as common sense and supported by a Morgan Stanley research publication.  And while these facts are clear and unassailable, the vision most people have of the future with 100% autonomous, electric shared vehicles is not one I support.  Aside from the obvious benefits of these technologies, its misses the most obvious point of buying a car for most people – automobiles are fashion and which one you purchase is usually not a rationale choice.  I am not the only one who is espousing this – check out one of my favorite Peter Delorenzo Rants here – 15 High-Octane Truths.   So while many continue to pursue becoming a mobility supplier, I would counter that this is the equivalent of being the power cord supplier for a smart phone.  Every time I see a company buy another startup for $500 million I cry a little – because the unabashed truth is that equals $500 million less to be spent on the next Mustang.  To me there will always be a large part of the market available to car companies that clearly identify their brand and deliver the things both rational and emotional that consumers long for.

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Sorry – for some of us it IS about the driving                  Photo Credit: AACS

In the airline industry companies like Airbus and Boeing produce the machines and many, many other companies like Delta and Virgin brand them.  Your experience is related more to the brand name painted on the side of the plane than it is to the company that produced the plane to begin with.   Seat Pitch, Customer Service, Safety, and On Time Arrivals all have an influence on consumer opinions and help people choose flights but they typically buy based on cost alone.  And most flyers have little to no understanding or even care about the differences between the airframe manufacturers.  On a side note I never understood the attention to on-time departure, isn’t arrival time more important.  On the other hand you can be like the motorcycle industry, where they have moved beyond just providing transportation, they now provide entertainment.  Please note that while these have always been my thoughts, I give credit to Star #3 below for helping my put them into perspective and putting words and images to my ideas.

Honorable Mention – The Team behind AutomobilityLA

I have always looked forward to the Los Angeles Auto Show because as I have written before I think they “get it” much more than the team in Detroit.  By “get it” I mean that the show managers seem to have the clear understanding that they are providing a service.  And not just the standard service of  bringing potential buyers to see the manufacturer’s complete product line during the public days, but also the service to bring the entire auto industry together, from consumers, to manufacturers, to suppliers, to dealers, to entrepreneurs, and finally to people like me, the enthusiasts.

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Breakfast Trucks at AutomobilityLA                                 Photo Credit: AACS

The team started with an idea to open up the show to new people. And if there is one thing I have learned after 30 years in this industry – its not about the profit or the product, its about the people.  Since the first Connected Car Expo in 2012, the teams from more than 100 companies have been introduced to the traditional auto industry.  This year the Advanced Technology Show Days, Connected Car Expo and normal press days were combined into the 4 day AutomobilityLA.  As AutoMobility LA and LA Auto Show President and Chief Executive Officer, Lisa Kaz said “We’re excited to continue to connect brands, whether established or start-up, with influential people and provide engaging experiences with the world’s leading companies.”  That is brilliant and shows someone who totally understands the needs and wants of their customers.  I am more engaged at the LA Auto Show than any other show I attend.

Need proof?  If you register far enough in advance the AutomobilityLA show is FREE. Not because it has no value, but the team behind the show sees the value of having thousands of people there sharing ideas and refuses to do things to keep people away, like charging for the industry preview event.  To make it even worse, the people these other shows keep out are Suppliers and Entrepreneurs.  Suppliers are the people who at the core, make this industry happen.  And the entrepreneurs are the people who need access to the experts to make their ideas viable yet can most often not afford the cost of admission.  My feelings?  Keep these people out at your own expense.

 

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Michael DiTullo/Chief Design Officer at Sound Unitied takes a picture as Sketchbattle contestants envision the ultimate automotive sound system         Photo Credit: Ted7

As a side note and not influencing their inclusion here – The team at AutomobilityLA supported the most notorious and UNOFFICIAL event from Detroit, by bringing it to LA and making it the OFFICIAL event of the auto show.  (Full disclosure, I am a partner in this event).  Read more about the Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment™ here.

Honorable Mention – Beau Boeckmann and Galpin Motors

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History of Galpin Motors                        Photo Credit: AACS

The Los Angeles Auto Show is in many ways your typical show with a floor full of current production vehicles and a few new models and concepts sprinkled around.  But in the basement you will find The Garage where custom cars and automobilia can be found.  In years past the Galpin collection has displayed cars in this area.  However, for the past couple of years Beau and the team have displayed their cars in a large room on the main floor.  And bring cars they did in the Galpin Hall of Customs.

 

dscn9888I met Beau many years ago when he made a presentation in Detroit, and have been in touch with him on occasion since.  Like when my company made parts for the Ford Flex and he was the only dealer in the country that was selling them at a good pace.  I still remember what he said, that the Flex was unfortunate looking but the interior was a dream.  So he started letting people drive them home overnight for free.  He told me very clearly, ‘If I can get them in a Flex, I can sell them a Flex’.  

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And this year was no different.  Standing in the hall chatting with Beau about the Pink Panther and Chad McQueen stops by to share a few words.  Beau gets it.

Star #3 – The Team behind Mazda Design

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Mazda RT24-P IMSA race car debuts at the 2016 LA Auto Show     Photo Credits: Mazda

Over the years we have seen concept vehicles slowly disappear from the stands of auto makers as budgets have been reduced and management support for “flights of fancy” has all but disappeared.  These days a concept car is most likely a lightly disguised production vehicle and looking towards the future is limited to digital renderings.  The same can be said for racing.  Few manufacturers support racing except as a marketing activity like NASCAR.  Then there is Mazda…..

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There is no legitimate reason for the time and expense a small manufacturer like Mazda puts into top flight racing other than it is part of their DNA.  You expect it from Porsche, but the fact that Mazda continues to do it restores my faith in the industry.  At the LA show they showed a concept that clearly identifies their passion, the new Mazda RT24-P that will race in the IMSA Championship.

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Race Cars are form follows function beasts, but Mazda was able to incorporate their KODO—Soul of Motion design philosophy.  “KODO design is at the heart of any vehicle that carries a Mazda badge, and that is very evident in the design of the 2017 Prototype,” said Ken Saward, senior manager of Design at Mazda Design Americas.  “Working with Multimatic’s aerodynamicist and engineers, we discovered that applying the KODO design philosophy to the surfaces and the silhouette of the car enabled us to create a dynamic, purposeful-looking design and a very aerodynamically efficient one.”

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Introduce a race car that showcases your design language at the show known for hybrids and electrics = a Star!  Thank you.

Star #2 – The Team behind Alfa Romeo

Part of the title of this editorial was taken from the presentation by NextEV’s CEO and CTO Padmasree Warrior.  During her talk she identified Car 1.0 as the mechanical and hydraulic systems, Car 2.0 as the debut electronic systems and Car 3.0 as the digital revolution and that is where the problem starts.  Time and time again during the show we ran into more and more speeches, presentations and press releases where the same theme kept being pushed forward – technology is the be all end all.

20161115_160632We even heard it from Mark Fields at Ford.  On the heels of the recent investments at Ford and the stated move to be a mobility company Ford introduced bike sharing.  I could almost understand it if it was a cool bike like the McLaren or one of these other ones, but just putting your brand on a shared bike like this is sad.  And even worse was the answer Mark Fields gave when he was asked what Ford would look like in 10 or 20 years.  The response?  A manufacturing company, a technology company and an information company.  Not a single comment about product and making people happy.

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The Montreal outside set the tone for the Stelvio introduction inside       Photo Credit: AACS

At the opposite end of the spectrum was the launch of the new SUV from Alfa Romeo, the Stelvio.  Named after a famous mountain road in Italy, the Stelvio’s introduction was everything Mark Fields was not.  “Things that have more to do with the heart than the mind”.  It is no small coincidence that the infamous Alfa Grille is shaped somewhat like a heart.  The Stelvio meets this to a “T”, you can find more rationale choices, but the question is why.  I for one, prefer not to be bored with a vehicle.

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Not your normal family SUV, the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio                Photo Credit: AACS

That passion for automobiles runs through the entire Alfa Design and Engineering Team and can be seen in their vehicles.  From the 4C, to the Giulia and now to the Stelvio.  In all my years I have never seen anyone move to the United States and live it with more passion than Head of Fiat Alfa and Maserati Design, Klaus Busse.

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The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio                                      Photo Credit: FCA

At the Stelvio unveiling Klaus was asked about living in Italy – his response included comments about how great it was living in The States.  Who moves to Italy and still finds living in this country awesome?  And no conversation with his boss Ralph Gilles is boring either.  I for one am glad to see there are still people like this in our industry.

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The Giulia looks good in blue too                                    Photo Credit: AACS

Star #1 Sebastien Stassin

Thoughts of the future of our industry have plagued me for the past few years.  First the Media reported that gas powered cars would be replaced by hybrids, and then electric cars.  And more recently autonomous cars have become the rallying cry as more manufacturers invest in this space instead of investing in their products.  It took the surprise of the show, a presentation by Sebastien Stassin, Chief Creative Officer of KISKA GmbH to bring it all together for me.  “What is going to be the brand experience in an autonomous future?”

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Sebastien’s presentation struct exactly the chords I have been feeling, that our future is not pre-ordained and these car companies have a choice with where the market is going.  I won’t spend a ton of time here reviewing his presentation – I would suggest you get in touch with him directly as there is no way I can do it justice in a few words here.  But a few points in his presentation bear repeating:

  1. Technology advantages erode over time

  2. Brand value is earned over time

  3. What you earn as a brand cannot be taken away

In summary, in a world of white goods, is there a place for orange?

 

Here are a few other things that made me happy

at the 2016 LA Auto Show

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Volvo’s new Autonomoose Vehicle

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Just the fact that Mazda thought about this made me happy

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Lucid’s car is real

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Nissan brought a life size replica of a Tie Fighter for their Rogue Press Conference

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Galpin strikes again

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Does anyone even have to ask.  Upstairs at the BMW booth

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Exposed suspension on the Mono Speedster

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It has hips, the new mid-engined 911 race car

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An electric Targa

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The color fits this highly modified Pantera

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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