Los Angeles Auto Show 2002

As a world-class automotive exhibition, the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show has been eclipsed by Detroit's North American International Auto Show, but that doesn't mean that LA doesn't get its share of important debuts. Southern California is too big an automotive market to go without some important introductions, and this year's LA show, which featured new General Motors North American chairman Robert Lutz as its keynote speaker, drew greater-than-expected press attendance, though in honesty many of the so-called press in attendance never wielded a word processor or microphone in any professional capacity.

While the Big Three manufacturers have chosen to favor Detroit with many of their top offerings, the Los Angeles Shows was still laced with some tasty new product and some interesting concepts from the domestic car makers. Here, reported right on the spot, are a smattering of the top vehicles from this year's LA extravaganza:


Chrysler Crossfire

As is fitting from a German-American company, the new Chrysler Crossfire is being billed as appropriate for both "America's classic Route 66 and Germany's legendary Autobahn." Maybe this makes the new sports coupe the first real DaimlerChrysler, because it seems to be an amalgam of the big-engined Chryslers of the past and the latest thinking from Mercedes-Benz. Dieter Zetsche, president and CEO of the Chrysler Group, says, "It's an American dream machine come true," and who would know better? The low-slung, two-seat coupe has a carved, sculptured appearance that seems much more refined and Germanic than the concept car that spawned it. Under the hood is a 3.2-liter 90-degree V-6, 18-valve SOHC engine offering 215 horsepower available with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Oddly, Chrysler will build the American dream machine in Germany in conjunction with Karmann, a long-time DaimlerChrysler partner with more than 100 years of manufacturing experience.

Pontiac Vibe

GM is putting a lot of stock in its new Pontiac Vibe, hoping that this tall crossover vehicle will bring home the bacon in a way that the Pontiac Aztek was designed to but failed to achieve. The vehicle "resounds with relevance to a new, younger audience," says GM. What the world's largest auto maker hopes the Vibe will do is put some vigor into its lackluster line of small cars, which make the Ford Focus actually look good. The key selling point of the Vibe is its versatility, offering a spacious, functional interior in the guise of a compact car, and the features of a sports car, sport wagon, and SUV all at the same time. Like Gary Cooper, it rides tall, but unlike the late film star it also has available all-wheel drive, offers innovative storage systems and cargo-hauling capacity, and delivers decent performance with a 180-hp engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission on GT models.

Hummer H2

General Motors has been fairly low-key about acquiring marketing rights to the Hummer brand up until now, but those days are over. This summer, the General will spring the H2 upon a largely unsuspecting public, and we predict it will have a hit on its hands. Inspired by the Hummer H2 concept vehicle that appeared at the 2000 North American International Auto Show, the production H2 adopts the rugged characteristics of the original H1 military vehicle, especially in terms of exterior design, and gives them a user-friendly civilian spin. While the H1 is perfectly suited to carry combat troops in Afghanistan, the H2 is much better suited to taking the family to a foray on the local shopping mall. Still, GM claims that off-road, it is almost as fiercely utilitarian as its famous progenitors -- capable of traveling through streams 20 inches deep, climbing 16-inch steps and rocks, paddling through deep sand, and outdistancing competitors in high-speed desert pre-runs. None of which you will likely encounter on your way to Target or Sam's Club, but so what?

Lincoln Continental Concept 2002

Lincoln is trying to collect and clone its styling DNA, and the first result of this new effort led by chief designer Gerry McGovern is the slab-sided Continental 2002 Concept. The concept vehicle does echo the look of the Continental Mark II and the early '60s Town Car with its high beltline, short windows, and "suicide" rear doors, but we wish we could agree with McGovern that it is a thoroughly modern execution. It seems to us the concept is half-retro, half-reach-out, and neither era is well-served by that fence-sitting stance. (Another, even more appalling example of this is the new Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible that features a targa bar. A targa bar on a Forties throwback? Come on!) While the exterior failed to leave us breathless, we did warm up to the interior, which, like the Mark II before it, seats but four people in a immense amount of space. Now that's luxury, American-style! Truer than the red, white and blue.