Explaining Southern California's economy

LA Auto Show: More Priuses than you know what to do with!

The Toyota Prius defines "hybrid" in the popular consciousness. If you live in LA, chances are very good that you've owned a Prius, want to own a Prius, will soon own a Prius, have ridden in a Prius, or will soon ride in a Prius. If you're none of the the above, you probably have a Prius or three or eleven in your neighborhood.

I should add that the Prius is the default automobile of public radio, so I'm obligated to visit its home at the LA Auto Show. I used to be obligated to visit Volvo and Subaru, but times change!

A look what I discovered! Every since it arrived on these shores in the early 2000s, there has been basically one Prius model. Now, suddenly, there's a whole happy Prius family. The Prius V is a larger, more wagon-like version of the original. The plug-in Prius allows owners to recharge the car's battery, rather that relying on hybrid gas-electric mode. 

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LA Auto Show: The great Buick comeback

Not long ago, Buick had been basically left for dead. Bob Lutz, the legendary product czar at General Motors, infamously called Buick and its now-deceased stablemate, Pontiac, "damaged brands." Everyone though that Buick was, no offense intended, a car for the AARP set. And the demographics didn't lie: the average age of a Buick owner in the mid-2000s was 65.

A lot of carmakers would have sent Buick — which had always been a mid-luxury brand, a stepping stone on the way to lordly Cadillac in the GM hierarchy — to that big junkyard in the sky, to join Oldsmobile, a brand that GM had already taken off life support.

Problem was, Buick was big — very big — in China.

In fact, it was the cornerstone of GM's whole China strategy, both before and after the 2009 bailout and bankruptcy of the company. GM's U.S. business may have been in decline from the Golden Age 1950s, when it held half the market. But in China, business was booming.

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