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Detroit automakers battle for L.A. Auto Show spotlight

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Detroit automakers will battle for the Los Angeles Auto Show spotlight this week with a mixed bag of car and truck introductions.

General Motors Co. is leading with world premieres of the high-performance V-Series model of its Cadillac ATS and a Chevrolet concept race car designed for the 15th anniversary of the PlayStation racing game "Gran Turismo."

Ford Motor Co. is taking the wraps off its 2016 Explorer SUV for the first time, and rumors are swirling about the possible appearance of a new Mustang GT350 following a series of online "Ford Performance" videos that tease a high-performance car.

"It's very important for us to have the street cred to be able to back up what you see in our vehicles in terms of performance, with actual results in how we do in racing around the world," Ford CEO Mark Fields said in one video. "We can compete with anybody and win."

The car is expected to be unveiled Monday in connection with the show, which starts Tuesday for news media and opens to the public Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Chrysler Group is driving to the West Coast with a refreshed Chrysler 300 sedan and the North American debut of the all-new Fiat 500x compact utility vehicle, which looks to carve a niche for itself in the increasingly popular segment.

"The three big domestic automakers are as healthy as they've been in probably a couple decades," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for California-based Kelley Blue Book. "They're putting plenty of product and resources into L.A. this year."

Detroit automakers are expected to unveil at least six vehicles. More than 60 cars and trucks in all are expected to debut, including dozens of world debuts, according to event organizers.

Auto show president Lisa Kaz said, "With this debut lineup, Los Angeles will deliver the best of what's to come in the automotive space, and we're eager to see how it all unfolds."

More than a decade ago, the Los Angeles show was known for high-performance luxury vehicles. But in the 2000s, it turned into a "green show" with hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles dominating the headlines. This year, the show appears to have done a U-turn back to high-end performance and luxury cars, according to Brauer.

"For a long time it was the flashy show, the show that was very premium upscale or performance-oriented, and then it kind of got that green image," he said. "Now, it absolutely feels like it's gone back before that green movement."

About 20 of the global debuts are expected to be luxury and performance vehicles. Highly anticipated unveilings from foreign makers include the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5, Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, Honda HR-V compact crossover and concept vehicles from Audi, Scion and Lexus.

The 2015 Green Car of the Year award will be announced Thursday at the show. Finalists include the Chevy Impala Bi-Fuel compressed natural gas sedan, BMW i3 plug-in, Audi A3TDI, Honda Fit and Volkswagen Golf.

Before the debuts, the show will hold its second "Connected Car Expo" on Tuesday featuring dozens of speakers and panelists to discuss the convergence of technology and transportation in the automotive industry.

"These are discussions that have to take place," said Brendan Flynn, senior director of marketing and communications for the show. "The auto industry is really transforming."

The L.A. Auto Show is considered the start of the auto show season, followed by the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, Chicago Auto Show in February and New York International Auto Show in April, with regional shows in between.

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