LA Auto Show a chance for Detroit’s Big Three to shine

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — The 2018 auto show season begins this week with a roll-out of flashy new luxury vehicles and electrified powertrains at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

At least two of Detroit’s Big Three are expected to lean into legacy vehicles here to create buzz ahead of the Detroit auto show in January.

The fastest, most powerful production Corvette ever – the 755-horsepower 2019 ZR1, will have its U.S. debut in Los Angeles.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will introduce its next-generation 2018 Jeep Wrangler in Los Angeles. The model already is generating excitement, and carries one of the most devoted fan bases of any modern vehicle.

General Motors Co., meanwhile, will bring its fastest Corvette ever, the new ZR1. Chevrolet rolled out the front-engine 755-horsepower stunner in Dubai earlier in November, but this is the first time it will be shown in the United States. The automaker is expected to debut a mid-engine Corvette next year.

Ford Motor Co.’s luxury brand, Lincoln Motor Co., has the most to prove. As has become standard for the Dearborn-based automaker, it’s kept plans secret. Lincoln announced a refreshed MKC crossover ahead of the show.

Asian and European carmakers will be in Los Angeles in force.

Subaru will debut the three-row 2019 Ascent, its biggest SUV ever. Lexus will roll out its own three-row SUV, the all-new 2018 RX 350L; a hybrid model, the RX 450hL, also will be announced. A redesigned Mazda6 will be shown.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, to be shown in Los Angeles.

Porsche will introduce a plug-in hybrid version of the Panamera Sport Turismo, and BMW premieres a sport version of its electric i3 hatchback. Audi will show off a fourth generation of its flagship luxury sedan, the A8. And Mercedes-Benz is expected to show its next-generation CLS sportback sedan.

The Detroit automakers would hardly stand a chance to upstage the Europeans here if not for the U.S. consumers outside the Golden State and their love of SUVs and old-fashioned muscle.

The U.S. market largely rejects sedans, opting instead for trucks and SUVs, because gas prices have stayed low and there’s little incentive to sacrifice utility. Even as electric vehicles have yet to gain the traction automakers that anticipate in the global market, new or refreshed news about electrification is expected to resonate on the West Coast this year, experts say.

Higher-end domestic makes like Lincoln, Buick and Cadillac have to figure out which customers to target. It’s foolish to go head-to-head with upscale foreign brands like BMW, Audi and Mercedes, according to Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for domestic luxury carmakers.

“Lincoln needs another SUV-type vehicle,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “Maybe a Lincoln version of the EcoSport? That would be smart for them to hit. You can’t go wrong with anything that’s between $30,000 and $60,000 that looks like an SUV shape.”

Subaru will debut the three-row 2019 Ascent, its biggest SUV ever, at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

If Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler don’t show up in Los Angeles with big news, the companies could miss a chance to build a customer base on the West Coast, where foreign automakers are king.

“A few years ago, there was a push to grow market share on the coast. That’s still a valid strategy,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. “You don’t see a lot of domestic cars on the coast, and I imagine that’s something they would like to change.”

LA Auto Show

The Los Angeles Auto Show begins this week. Technology is the focus Tuesday, while carmakers take the wraps off new vehicles on Wednesday and Thursday.

Follow Detroit News automotive reporter Ian Thibodeau on Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau and Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne on Twitter: @HenryEPayne for updates throughout the show. Find reports from the show throughout the week in the newspaper and at