It’s that time of year again for anyone interested in cars, as the LA Auto Show revs up with two days of press, starting Wednesday, then runs full throttle for the public starting Friday through December 9. Aside from the “dozens of luxury cars” being introduced on a wave of reported rising consumer confidence, the overriding theme of the show seems to be clean and green, notwithstanding doubts even from the maker of the new all-electric Fiat 500 that will be on display (it turns out Californians have been big buyers of the remake of the little biddy classic Cinquecento). Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne “has dubbed battery cars “economic lemons,”says CNBC in “a reference to the reality that the underlying technology is so expensive manufacturers have to absorb a significant portion of the price tag in order to win over consumers.” (Image, left, from Fiat’s web site).
Such concerns have not deterred inventor and impressario Elon Musk, whose all-electric Tesla Model S defied skeptics to win numerous awards this year, including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. Tesla won’t have a presence at the Auto show but you can hear from Elon and his chief designer Franz Von Holzhausen on this DnA. Not only do they explain — in a language non car-geeks can understand — how the car works but they also tell the fascinating story of creating a car company from nothing, starting out in a corner in the back of the Space X headquarters. They talk about keeping the faith while being labelled “losers” by critics not to mention presidential challengers, and they explain how the design problem in an age of electrification is not merely one of designing the car but also the infrastructure that will support it (chargers and charging stations and, in Tesla’s case, main street stores for direct distribution). Also on the show, a personal take on how it feels to drive a car designed by ones child, from Franz’ father Frank.
This is a time when a chunk of the population has lost interest in the automobile. Gen Y is buying fewer cars than its predecessors, and growing numbers see them as a blight to air and land. Moreover many cars have lost the style sizzle they once had; even the creators of the new James Bond flick, Skyfall, omitted to feature a really spectacular contemporary car. Against that context Musk and Von Holzhausen’s story is an optimistic reminder of the excitement of entrepreneurialism, and inspired car design.