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Compact SUVs are the stars at LA Auto Show

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — The all-new Ford EcoSport debuted ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Monday, one of five crossovers and smaller utility vehicles to premiere this week.

Ford will sell the EcoSport in the U.S. starting in 2018.

As the U.S. market continues to shift away from cars, compact sport utilities are a fast-growing segment. The latest generation of the EcoSport, which has been sold in foreign markets for more than a decade, will arrive in U.S. dealerships in early 2018. Other small SUVs being shown in Los Angeles are the Toyota C-HR, Jeep Compass, Mazda CX-5 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

The Alfa Romeo SUV is particularly important for the brand as it attempts to continue its growth into a global brand and make a return to the United States that started two years ago.

“That’s going to be an important one for them,” said auto expert and Kelley Blue Book managing news editor Matt DeLorenzo. “If anything is going to bail them out, it will be getting them into one of the hotter segments of the business where they haven’t been before.”

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The Stelvio is expected to compete in the mid-size SUV segment. Its name has not been confirmed by Fiat Chrysler. However, earlier this year CEO Sergio Marchionne said it would be called the Stelvio.

The SUV is Alfa Romeo’s second all-new vehicle since its return to the United States in 2014. The first was the Alfa Romeo Giulia, which recently arrived in domestic showrooms after several delays.

Ford’s small EcoSport SUV to hit U.S. in early ’18

DeLorenzo says Alfa Romeo is likely hoping the SUV helps spark broader interest in the famed Italian brand, somewhat like the Cayenne and Macan SUVs did for traditional sports car maker Porsche in recent years.

“People want something new and different, and it’s a brand people don’t necessarily know about,” Caldwell said. “Anything that comes out in the SUV domain definitely has a chance. I think that’ll definitely be one to watch.”

Toyota will unveil the C-HR this week at the LA Auto Show.

Besides compact utilities, the Los Angeles Auto Show will focus on mobility.

“LA is usually a pretty green show, but the green cars seem pretty quiet,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com executive director of industry analysis. “It’s morphed from a green car show to more of a mobility show.”

The show’s press days, now called Automobility LA, will feature a new conference dedicated to auto mobility on Tuesday with Ford CEO and Chairman Mark Fields and more than 50 vehicle debuts Wednesday and Thursday, including 20 global reveals.

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Confirmed debuts, including some eco-friendly vehicles, are the turbocharged Civic Si from Honda, the fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery and the pocket-size smart ForTwo Electric Drive cabriolet. Mercedes-Benz will show three models for the first time in the U.S., including the AMG GT Roadster, G550 4x4 Squared and the track-ready AMG GT R.

General Motors Co. plans to take the wraps off a “significant new addition to their truck portfolio,” but it declined to provide details. Its Cadillac luxury brand will showcase the Escala concept — a large luxury sedan — at an auto show for the first time.

Teaser photo of the Mazda CX-5, to be unveiled at the LA Auto Show this week.

Acura will preview its future interior human-machine interface design and technology direction, which strives to achieve a seamless connection between man and machine. Infiniti will feature its new SUV vision, the QX Sport Inspiration. Subaru’s global concept reveal will uncover a new line of vehicles for the brand, according to show officials.

Speakers joining Fields for the mobility conference range from executives of other “traditional automakers” such as Mercedes-Benz to Facebook, Intel and Lyft.

mwayland@detroitnews.com