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CUVs shine during Los Angeles Auto Show

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — America's love affair with capability and performance is alive and well judging by debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Dozens of vehicles debuted this week, but crossovers and utility vehicles really stole the headlines.

"They're just driving the market right now," said senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. "For the subcompact SUVS, that's a market evolution. They like the SUV, but they want good fuel economy and they do want that more flexible utility."

Popular debuts for the growing CUV segment included the 2016 Honda HR-V, 2016 Mazda CX-3 and Fiat 500X.

The Honda HR-V will serve as the entry point to the Honda light-truck lineup, positioned below the CR-V in both price and size and competing in an all-new segment for the brand. Exact details are expected closer to the vehicle's release in 2015.

The Mazda CX-3 is the fifth model in Mazda's line-up of new-generation vehicles. The global introduction will start in Japan in the spring 2015, and in the U.S. during the summer.

Olivier Francois, Chrysler Group LLC chief marketing officer and head of Fiat brand, called the Fiat 500X subcompact its "answer to the American market," showing numerous playful ads during the vehicle's unveiling Thursday.

"America has influenced Fiat," he said. "America is making us better. America is pushing us. It's forcing us to listen and be heard."

Ford Motor Co. also showed off its redesigned 2016 Ford Explorer SUV with a new engine, new technology and a new "Platinum" trim level. Other debuts from Detroit automakers included the 2015 Chrysler 300, 2016 Ford Shelby GT350, 2016 Cadillac ATS-V and two Chevrolet concepts — an aggressive-looking, off-road capable Colorado ZR2 and Chaparral 2X Vision Gran Turismo (VGT) concept, which Chevy calls an "interpretation of the ultimate race car."

Other popular concepts included the Audi Prologue, hinting at the luxury brand's future design, and Scion iM, previewing a new compact five-door hatchback for the Toyota Motor Corp. brand.

Edmunds' Caldwell pointed out an increasingly important trend of the show that is expected to continue into the North American International Auto Show in January: in-vehicle technology.

"Technology is becoming that new thing," she said. "It's playing a more prominent role. Everything that's introduced has some technology that is pointed out."

Hyundai even had its own display showcasing its new 2015 Sonata, which when released will have Apple Inc.'s CarPlay and Google Inc.'s Android Auto — two infotainment systems that analysts expect to become dominant infotainment players in the auto industry.

Cason Grover, Hyundai senior group manager of cross-carline planning, said the plan is to roll both systems across its lineup along with its own Blue Link system.

"It's about customer choice," he said. "We see these all working well together."

Blue Link, Grover said, is really complimentary technology that does things the Apple and Google systems can't do such as remote start and emergency services.

The LA 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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Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Burden contributed.