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From the Field
The 2002 Cars!
By Steve Parker
The Car Dude

Soon, you'll be able to visit your friendly neighborhood Dodge dealer and buy a full-sized rear-drive van made by Mercedes, sold to you as a Freightliner.

Confusing? Yeah. Which is why you must Get Thee to the Auto Show. It's New Year's, and that means Auto Show Season is officially open! Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago --- all the big ones are opening their gates to millions of car nuts in the coming winter months.

The two best shows in the country are Detroit and Los Angeles. We're lucky in LA to have a really nice crew putting the show together, and they're pros at working with all media. VL Communications does show PR (they're out of Sacramento) and Barry Toepke is the key person there. (VL stands for Vector and Lamborghini, the company's first two automotive clients. Remember the wild Vector?). Contact VL for credentials. Andy Fuzesi owns and runs the show and is one of the best in the business.

The Los Angeles Auto Show opened January 5th and runs through the 13th at the LA Convention Center, and it's a good place to get a close look at some of the new vehicles without the hassle of salespeople lurking around.

Best time to go to the show is actually its second weekend. This is becauseof an ongoing scheduling battle between the LA Show and the Detroit Auto Show.

The Detroit show, held in that city's Cobo Hall, has grown in stature and prestige in recent years and is now officially known as the North American International Auto Show. The Detroit car-makers finally figured out that it would be nice to have a "world-class" show in the "motor city", and started spending a lot more money on displays and promotions than in past years.

So the Detroit show is now held in generally the same high regard as shows in Paris and Geneva, and Tokyo and Frankfurt (those last two shows so large they are held only once every two years).
The Japan and German shows are more than auto shows --- the are used to billboard and promote every aspect of those nations and cultures. Of course, in both those countries, the auto industries are the single most important part of their economy, both at-home and abroad.

Generally, the two top American shows are held on the same days each year, the LA show opening a few days before the Detroit extravaganza.

For manufacturers showcasing and debuting new production models and those all-important concept cars and trucks, they want the prestige of having the introductions reported in the world press from Detroit. It doesn't really mean much to the public, but it's a big deal among the auto execs.

But manufacturers from around the world don't want to insult their Southern California buyers, either --- the California market is more important to the sales end of the industry than Detroit, because LA show-goers are a much more important bellwether for future products than a Detroit audience.

LA, after all, is where the trends start, and where a new trend can be killed quickly by a finicky audience. So here's what happens: Manufacturers will show many of the same production and concept vehicles at both Los Angeles and Detroit, but they won't put them on the display stands in LA until they have been "officially" introduced to the media at the Detroit show.

When it comes to the LA displays, many times those cars and trucks will quietly be rolled onto their stands with little or no prior notice.

And many times, those vehicles will not be on display during the LA Show's press days, run the two days before the show opens to the public. So, for that (lengthy) reason, it's best to visit the LA Show on its final weekend, not the first.

Why not change the dates? The manufacturers would love to. But the promoters of both shows claim, among other difficulties, they have to book the convention center facilities years in advance (as much as 5-10 years).

This means that the manufacturers have to come up with at least two of whatever concepts they are planning to display at Detroit and LA. And they have to build two displays, some of which cost upwards of (sit down) $6 million.

The concept vehicles, built by one of just a few companies which specialize in constructing these things in secret to the manufacturer's specs (one of them is somewhat local to lovers, called MetalCrafters, in Costa Mesa, CA), can cost nearly the same as the gigantic displays.

The world's car companies try and provide some of their top executives at media days and opening days at both Detroit and LA. The overlapping days mean a lot of time on the corporate jets, and if one show is going to get short-changed as far as execs and interviews, it's LA.

Displays at Frankfurt and Tokyo, the world's biggest shows, can be three or four levels and have full kitchen facilities for entertaining media and clients. Some of these amazing (and portable) displays have been showing-up at the LA Show in recent years, a particularly nice treat for the ever-hungry press.

(Note to media free-loaders: If you do hit press days at the LA Show, get there early and immediately seek out the Mercedes-Benz exhibit. Can't promise anything, but for the past few years they have provided a hot, complete breakfast for those media folks "in the know").

Another LA Show alert: Parking in the Convention Center is $6 per vehicle, no in and out allowed. And EVERYONE pays. Your live truck won't get in free, you won't get in free with your "press photog" plates or your credentials. Even government "E" or "exempt" license plate-bearing vehicles pay the tariff. Thank the LA County Board of Supervisors for this next time you speak with one of them.

Oh, and park somewhere illegally within the Convention Center and they WILL tow you (especially in these paranoid times). Try explaining that to your assignment editor when he or she asks where your live truck is.

Now the good part. The cars.

We mentioned that full-size Freightliner/Mercedes van to be sold at Dodge dealers. TV news crews might want to take a close look at this very popular (in Europe) van for use as a remote truck.

Important vehicles? The Cadillac CTS is by far the most important sedan on the floor for America. This all-new car, replacing the ill-fated Catera (why does Cadillac stick with these "C"-based names?), is a 200 horsepower V6 rear-drive model with sharp-edged styling and a stick shift, the first one in a Cadillac in almost 50 years. Most of the engineering was done in Germany and the car was developed and road-tested on some of Europe's best race tracks.

This is one of those cars where the manufacturer will place "spies" in the crowd around the display stand, striking up conversations with onlookers, listening to (and even recording) comments from viewers.

If this car doesn't grab the younger import-loving crowd, Cadillac is going to be in an even deeper hole than it is now. CTS is a crucial, critical car for this General Motors division.

Mini Cooper is back! Now owned by BMW, Mini Cooper, still built in the UK, will go on-sale this spring starting at about $17,000, and is going to be a sales smash, the VW New Beetle of 2002.

Next year (2003 model year) there will be a Mini Cooper S high-performance model available.

The Mini was built originally in the UK in 1959 as an answer to the fuelcrisis of that time, this one caused by the Egyptian blockade of the Suez Canal. It gained a reputation for its fantastic handling, and with a larger engine and in the hands of professional drivers, it was able to beat almost any other car on a road racing course, even the dominant Porsches of the time.

The Mini entered popular history in two ways. First, Brit designer Mary Quandt named her new dress design after it (remember the Mini Skirt?) and Michael Caine led a fleet of them on the rooftops, streets and through the sewers of Turin, Italy in a great heist movie called The Italian Job.

Anyone who was hip in swinging, mod London of the '60s had one, from Peter Sellers to John Lennon. Not many were ever sold in the US, but millions were in the UK and throughout Europe. It became one of the top-selling cars in the world, right up there with the Model A and VW Beetle.

Most cars have a life cycle of 4-5 years, these days even sooner with some models. The Mercedes-Benz SL, originally introduced in the mid-'50s as the famed "Gull Wing" (which are now worth over $1 million), has had a slightly longer street life.

In fact the all-new SL, which will be intro'd at the LA show, replaces the current model which has been on the streets for an amazing 12 years. What that says is the car was so far ahead of its time when it first hit the streets, it was over a decade until the public starting clamoring for a replacement.

This new 2002 SL, available in V8 and V12 versions, is the fifth generation SL model. This new model has a retractable hardtop (like its smaller SLK cousin, which is a Mercedes but is actually built under license by Karmann) and the world's first "brake by wire" system, which does away with the brake master cylinder. Pricing starts around the $80K mark.and goes up from there.

SL remains ahead of its time. (By the way, the DaimlerChrysler division which builds World Champion Formula 1 race cars for Mercedes, the UK's McLaren, is working their own magic on the new SL. The SLR supercar will be available in 2004 or 2005 for $275,000 for a select few).

Another car not announced yet but perhaps to be displayed by M-B is their Maybach, aimed smack at the middle of that audience able to purchase a $300,000 chauffeur-driven sedan. Mercedes has brought back the Maybach name (it was the make of choice for Kaisers and top Nazi officials before 1939) and applied it to this, their answer to the Rolls-Royce (now that Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, it only makes sense, right?).

I first saw a version of the Maybach at the Tokyo show a few years ago, and have seen various iterations of it at shows throughout the world since. Check out my website ( for the latest spy photos of Maybach (click on "Cool Cars and Hot News").

Speaking of exotic European supercars no one can afford, the new Lamborghini will be shown for the first time in the US at the LA Show. The Murcielago has a 570-horsepower V12 engine and looks which can kill.

The car's 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds should bring that old drag strip excitement back to the Pasadena Freeway's on-ramps. How about the Thunderbird? It's the 2002 Motor Trend Car of the Year, but it
was at last year's show and has been on-sale for some time now.

There's the H2 HUMMER -- the new, smaller less-expensive Hummer from GM. Maserati is back, too.

Not sold for the past decade as a new car in the US (the company couldn't afford to develop the emissions systems mandated by the Feds), Maserati is now owned by Fiat and has been made a division of Ferrari.

Maserati is the "presenting manufacturer" for the LA Show this year, meaning they'll have a large exhibit of their famed race and street cars from years past (Jaguar did it last year).

All the hoopla will serve to introduce the new Maserati Spyder, which will be sold at select dealers throughout the nation.

Then, there are cars for the rest of us.

Honda will roll out their Civic hybrid, the gas/electric version of one of the country's best-selling cars. It'll do 100 on the freeway all day (if you live in my neighborhood, out near Palm Desert), get you 50 miles per gallon and the air coming out of the tailpipe, on a smoggy day, will be cleaner than the air coming into the engine.

We recently bought a Toyota Prius, a four-door gas/electric hybrid. After 1500 miles, we're averaging 43 miles per gallon and NOT ONE THING has gone wrong with the car! Very impressive.

Toyota has plans for a hybrid minivan (they are already selling it in Japan to rave reviews) and may show a concept version of it at the LA Show.

Hybrids are here to stay, the natural stepping stone to all-electric cars and trucks powered by fuel cells. Look for the first production fuel cell models from Nissan and DaimlerChrysler around 2004 - 2005.

A couple of other "don't miss" LA Show regulars:

The Porsche exhibit: It takes up an entire hall of its own. No matter what you may think of Porsche owners in LA, the cars remain amazing, fantastic pieces of rolling technology, and their LA Show exhibits in recent years have been world-class. (You know the joke: What's the difference between a Porsche and a porcupine? On a porcupine, the prick is on the outside).

Last year they showed the first concept version of their coming supercar, the V10-powered GT2. Porsche sells (get this) 20% of their worldwide production within 30 miles of downtown LA, so they like this show.

They'll probably show their Cayenne SUV (yes, Porsche is building a sport/ute, sharing it with VW, who will call it "Colorado". But the VW won't have a V12 like the Porsche might).

Kentia Hall: Downstairs, a little hard to find, but this is the place to spend a few hours, whiling away the time. A not-so-miniature version of the gigantic SEMA aftermarket products show held each year in Las Vegas, Kentia Hall has every automotive doo-dad and knick-knack imaginable, and some you never thought of.

If you're looking for motorcycles, speed equipment and all the new high-tech stuff, plus the tuner cars and all the parts which go into them, Kentia Hall is your ticket.

Also there you'll find the hottest new audio technology, satellite radio (XM is already on-the-air, Sirius and their 100-channels of nearly commercial-free CD-sound quality shows start in February. In fact, I'll be on their Speed Channel {formerly Speedvision} every day with The Car Nut! Hey, gimme a break! I learned a lot about shameless plugs working at KTLA Morning News).

I'll be taking a bunch of my listeners to the show this year on a bus trip from Palm Springs, probably the last say of the show. I might also attend one of the two press days (depending on the food and the gifts.) so maybe I'll see you at the show!

About the Author
Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist living in Palm Springs, CA, where he produces and hosts automotive-related radio and TV shows) Steve Parker THE CAR NUT / THE CAR DUDE. Over 30 Years of Emmy-Award Winning Automotive Journalism on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines.