Toyota showcases the new RAV4, the first redesign of the hot-selling small… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
The flurry of new models unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday underscored increasingly fierce industry competition on all fronts, from technology to efficiency to horsepower.
The show's opening day featured major debuts including the long-awaited redesign of the Toyota RAV4 sport utility, the new Porsche Cayman and Acura's flagship RLX. Meanwhile, Audi unleashed new diesel versions of four models and Ford offered a Fiesta with a turbo three-cylinder engine small enough to fit in a suitcase.
Sitting in front of Chevrolet's new Spark EV — a sub-$25,000 electric car with more torque than some Ferraris — General Motors North America President Mark Reuss said automakers have emerged from the economic downturn leaner, with sustainable operations making large investments in innovative products.
PHOTOS: 2012 L.A. Auto Show
"You can look around this show and basically see yourself driving anything here," Reuss said. "I'm not sure I could have said that at any auto show in the past."
Even as technology and fuel efficiency grabbed the spotlight, Reuss and other auto executives remain keenly aware that consumers still focus on the fundamentals. Asked what factor most determined what consumers buy, Reuss didn't hesitate: "Reliability and durability."
"No one wants to be accused of buying something stupid," he said.
Consumers will benefit from the rising competition, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at auto information company Edmunds.com. "You just can't assume that your customers will come back," she said. "Assume now that every car will have good quality, and that puts the automakers on a level playing field."
Here's a rundown of some of the major debuts from the show, which opened Wednesday to the news media and will open Friday to the public.
The day's back-to-back news conferences began with the unveiling of the Toyota RAV4, the first redesign of the hot-selling small SUV in seven years.
Among the new features was an intelligent all-wheel-drive system, offering three driver-selected modes, a first for Toyota. The biggest mechanical upgrade is a six-speed automatic transmission.
Toyota also subtracted options: A V-6 engine will no longer be available in the interest of fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive models of the new RAV4 rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive model gets 22 mpg and 29 mpg, respectively.
Toyota offered no specific pricing, Expect the base to be similar to the outgoing model's $23,460.
Among the Toyota's many competitors will be the redesigned Subaru Forester, with better fuel economy and more power in the turbo version.
The Forester retains a tall-wagon profile, with some changes to the front and back. Fans of Subaru's oddball styling may lament the passing of the hood scoop on the turbo model.
Whatever it may lose in styling flair, it gains in power. The turbo version now packs 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, enough to escape most mud bogs and more than enough to navigate the suburbs. That's up from 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque in the current model.
Porsche's new rear-drive coupe is essentially a closed-roof version of the Boxster convertible on sale earlier this year. It comes in two forms, the Cayman and the faster Cayman S.
The base model has the Boxster's 2.7-liter, direct-injected flat six-cylinder engine. But it's been tweaked in the Cayman to make 275 horsepower and 213 pound-feet of torque. The spicier Cayman S shares an engine with the Boxster S and the base Porsche 911 Carrera. It's a direct-injected 3.4-liter flat six making 325 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque.
Both Caymans come standard with a six-speed manual transmission; the hyper-quick PDK seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual will be optional. The car, available in April, will sell at a base price of $52,600.
As more American buyers choose diesel version of Volkswagen cars, the company's luxury brand, Audi, rolled out a diesel engine option on four of its high-end models. The models getting turbo diesel variants are the A6, A7, A8, and Q5. All four will share a 3-liter turbocharged V-6.
The A8 sedan will have 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, while still achieving estimated 24 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.
The models will go on sale in fall 2013. This engine is already in the updated 2013 Q7 TDI, Audi's seven-passenger crossover.
Chevrolet Spark EV
Hoping to ease consumer worries about the hassle of charging electric cars, Chevrolet offers a system on the Spark EV that officials say will charge to 80% capacity in just 20 minutes.
Chevrolet's Reuss concedes the Spark will probably sell in only small volumes, but it could nonetheless be an important bridge toward more affordable and marketable electric cars.
Chevrolet said the Spark EV would be priced at less than $25,000 with federal tax incentives in the U.S. and would be eligible for high-occupancy vehicle lanes in California.
The Spark will probably appeal to consumers buying a second or third car, Reuss said. "We're unveiling it here in L.A. first," he said, "because people tend to get it here."
Times staff writer Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report