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Los Angeles Auto Show preview: Detroit is back

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
Two special-edition Jeeps, including the 2016 Wrangler Backcountry, will debut at the Los Angeles auto show this week.

Los Angeles —The auto show circus rolls into environmentally conscious Los Angeles this week, but the emphasis will be less on green technology and more on making the cash registers ring green with cash.

Manufacturers, led by resurgent Detroit automakers once left for dead in import-friendly California, will lure crowds to the Los Angeles Auto Show with meat-and-potatoes vehicles such as small sedans and SUVs, while catering to one of the nation’s richest luxury markets. Green tech, long an LA showcase, will take a back seat.

Riding a Pacific wave of 2015 sales gains, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will debut a variety of vehicles during media previews Tuesday through Thursday.

Ford announced its compact crossover Ford Escape at the Los Angeles show in 2011. The 2017 Escape — a mid-cycle refresh of Ford’s best-selling vehicle after the F-150 pickup — will take the stage again this week for its latest act.

With Chevy sales up 13 percent out west, GM will put the focus on its other three brands: Buick, Cadillac and GMC.

The 2017 LaCrosse will feature many Avenir-inspired design cues and introduce the new face of Buick with an extreme makeover.

Swimming against the SUV tide, mid-luxury brand Buick will unveil an extreme makeover of its flagship Buick Lacrosse.

Cadillac may have moved its headquarters to New York, but its upscale buyers are bi-coastal. GM’s luxury brand will debut an all-new version of its best-selling SUV, the SRX — including a new name: the XT-5.

And GMC will roll out a new Denali offering — likely the Canyon Denali pickup. Denali sales represent about 20 percent of sales for the truck and SUV brand.

The show also will mark the debut of two special-edition Jeeps: the 2016 Grand Cherokee Night and 2016 Jeep Wrangler Backcountry. The Night edition is clad in stealth black, while the Backcountry is geared up for winter. The Backcountry is available in eye-catching Xtreme Purple.

To slake California’s thirst for sports cars, Fiat Chrysler will roll out its “Fiata” — the 124 Spider, a Fiat-badged variation on Mazda’s popular Miata.

Japanese automakers will hardly be wallflowers at the Los Angeles show. California’s best-selling car is the Honda Civic, and the automaker will debut an all-new coupe version of the popular compact. The car is based on the radical Civic concept coupe unveiled at the New York International Auto Show earlier this year.

With sport-utility sales surging to 57.4 percent of the U.S. market in October, Mazda will show its remade, midsize SUV, the CX-9. And Subaru will roll out a concept version of the 2017 Impreza.

There’s gold in Hollywood’s hills and supercar makers will be on hand with higher-priced fare. Audi will showcase three new performance models including the $200,000, 610-horsepower R8 V10 Plus. A rear-drive version of the all-wheel-drive Lamborghini Huracan also is expected to take a bow.

In the luxury SUV space, Infiniti premieres the all-new QX30 small SUV. Range Rover debuts the quirky Evoque convertible crossover. And Jaguar stages the U.S. introduction of its first SUV, the F-Pace.

While the green presence is less pronounced this year than in the past, there are a few exceptions.

Green vehicle headliners include the Cadillac CT6 plug-in and Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle. Notably absent is California’s home team, green electric-car maker Tesla, which only attends the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

But even the Los Angeles Auto Show’s signature Green Car of the Year Award will include two gas-powered nominees: the Civic and Hyundai Sonata.

Reflecting national trends, buyers of alternative fuel vehicles in California have been in decline despite an increase in offerings. Sales of electric cars for the first six months of 2015 dropped two-tenths to 2.9 percent of the market, while hybrid sales fell 13 percent to 5.5 percent.

“California is not a monolith,” says AutoTrader.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs. “Like the rest of the country, buyers are very diverse and they want more than electric cars. So the LA show is having to reposition itself.”

Henry Payne is The Detroit News auto critic and can be reached at hpayne@detroitnews.com.