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California and the West

Car show gets boost from new date

Participation is up at the L.A. event, which no longer competes with a big Detroit exhibition.

December 01, 2006|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

When the Los Angeles Auto Show opens today to the public, it will celebrate 100 years of motoring in one of the biggest car markets in the industry.

But it's not the years that are significant for this year's event: It's the month.

Organizers have moved the show up five weeks to avoid competing with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Their goal was to escape that event's big shadow -- the two shows usually run back to back -- and thus to land more automotive debuts and international press coverage.

The change seems to have worked, with 35 vehicles making their world or North American debuts at the show and a throng of about 2,500 print, broadcast and Internet journalists at the Los Angeles Convention Center during two days of media events.

Show organizers say they issued about 25% more media credentials than last year, including almost double the number for overseas auto writers.

"It's a new beginning for us," said Andy Fuzesi, the show's general manager, before this week's opening. "There's increased commitment from manufacturers, and we are all anticipating more growth in the future."

The Los Angeles Auto Show has long been a commercial success. From its start -- when 99 cars were shown inside a skating rink in 1907 -- it has grown to an event that displays 1,000 vehicles and attracts 1 million visitors. Still, the show hasn't made much of an imprint on the industry.

Although car show owners make their money from paid attendance and exhibitor fees, it is media mention -- the more the better -- that makes the shows important to automakers.

"It was very difficult for carmakers to justify putting up big, expensive displays and showing off important new products at Los Angeles, only to have to tear it all down and move it across country a few days later for the Detroit show," said industry analyst George Peterson of AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin.

The public generally attends for one of two reasons: to ogle futuristic concepts and expensive exotic sports and performance cars, or to comparison shop in an environment free from sales pressure.

That's because the L.A. show, unlike the Detroit event, isn't owned by the local automobile dealers group. It was started by area dealers but they dropped out in 1972, when a sagging economy made it too expensive for their association to continue to run the event.

A private organization, ANSA Productions Inc., picked up the rights that year and has kept the show going without interruption, said Fuzesi, one of the company's owners.

Automakers seem to be enthusiastic about the change in timing.

"We are very, very excited about the new dates," said Kurt Antonius, assistant vice president for public relations at American Honda Motor Co. in Torrance. "It's perfect for the L.A. show to have its own slot that doesn't conflict with other major shows. It's now the first big auto show of the season, and having it here in our own backyard is just perfect for us."

Indeed, the Japanese automaker, which had never made much of the L.A. show in the past, is staging world debuts of two Honda concept cars and an Acura concept. The concepts are show cars used to gauge consumer reaction to new styling, technologies and other trends displayed on the fanciful models.

Among the most prominent world debuts at the show, which runs through Dec. 10: the redesigned BMX X5 sport utility vehicle, Audi's second-generation TT roadster and General Motors Corp.'s Buick Enclave SUV and GMC Yukon Hybrid SUV. BMW is unveiling the production model of the hydrogen-fueled 7-Series sedan it will begin leasing in limited volume next year in the U.S. and Europe.

Vehicles making their first auto show appearances in North America include the Audi R8 SUV, the Volvo C30 hatchback compact, Jaguar's XKR performance sports car, Porsche's Targa 4 and GT3 models and Ferrari's 599.

john.odell@latimes.com

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