The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

LA Auto Show: Do we have a theme yet?

The 2011 LA Auto Show is in many ways more about what's going to happen with the car business in 2012.
The 2011 LA Auto Show is in many ways more about what's going to happen with the car business in 2012. Matthew DeBord

Yesterday, on KPCC's AirTalk, I said that the 2011 LA Auto Show would be about the revival of the small car in America — by American automakers! — and the return of Detroit, after the worst couple of years in its history. You know, that whole bailout-bankruptcy thing.

The mood at the actual show is more one of expectation. On balance, while 2011 was a lot better than 2009, it was a dismal year by the historical standards of the auto industry. Even setting aside the major disruption of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which created a crisis in the global automotive supply chain, the industry is on track to sell only about 13 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. this year.

Contrast that with the 17 million it sold in 2005.

The hope is that the worst has passed and that 2012 will see the market return to something that more closely resembles normal, even it's a New Normal of around 14-15 million new cars sold in North America.

As a result, the LA Auto Show this year has been a bit less gimmicky than in past years. There's less focus on alternative transportation, electric cars, and in-vehicle infotainment technology and more on good old fashioned product.

Metal. Glass. Rubber. Leather seats. Shiny, shiny objects of beauty and desire.

It's a back-to-basics approach that presages the mass consumer returning to the auto market, in strength, for the first time in three years. No carmaker wants to miss out on that. 

We'll still have out sideshows in the car business. But 2012 is shaping up to be the year in which the big tent is once again pitched in the USA. I motto fot the business will be "Let's get out and sell some cars!"

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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