Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Measured Buildup Field Trips to LAIAS

Can you say drab? Try 7 hours of it.
Well, the two humble writers of this illustrious blog smashed both of their piggy-banks and were able to put enough coinage together to make a little weekend road trip, one that proved to be better than advertised, but not quite what had been hoped. We ventured from the picturesque flatlands of the great San Joaquin Valley over the hill to the Metropolis that is Los Angeles. We made the trip in the Measured Buildup offical car which is an ordeal in itself with its clunky rear end and dreadfully drab interior. We will let you in to tell you that not only is the official car a domestic piece of iron, it also happens to be a Cadillac of Art and Science fame.

Well the show had a $10 Dollar entry fee which both me an JB had to panhandle by the Staples Center for all morning until we could collect the twenty to gain admission, although we couldnt buy programs which was a travesty in itself. Anyways we attended on Sunday Dec. 3rd which was the third day of the show. First things first was some exotics from a short movie coming out in February that were on display, one of which had been involved in a pretty harsh crash. It was there on the floor of the show in its semi-mangled glory. Took a quick gander at the cars, watched the advertisement for the movie and we were on our way to the West hall of the show containing Ford Motor Company products in all of their greatness along with Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Mercedes/Maybach.

I will describe Ford with a couple of words:repetition and uninspiring. They took a good approach to flooring their cars which was put a multitude of the same cars across the floor across the brands. Multiple Ford 500s, Lincoln MKZs, and Mercury Milans. None of these cars are particularly interesting, I do think the Lincoln has a decent view from the side, just dont look at the grill or the tailights or you may get the same response I had, an upset stomach. I was also surprised at just how much fender-gap the Mustang GT500 had. It had to be 3.5 inches at least. In this day in age I would think that 2-2.5 inches would be the max. It baffled me a bit, but most know I am not a big Mustang guy being that I have owned both a 94 Z28 and Y2K SS. The GT500 is a nice car though. The Mazda Nagare concept was there, it is a rather odd looking thing that I cant describe, but they are supposed to be using styling cues from it on new models. It had a ripple effect going down its side that was pretty cool methinks, but I dont see how it fits into production vehicles.

Near Mercury and their atrocious lineup was Suzuki, sadly they did not bring any sportbikes. Therefore, we did not visit for long. Honda was next to Suzuki, with a special variant of the FCX fuel cell car. They also had the Remix concept, and otherwise, former truck on van chassis of the year, the awesome(for a woman who wants a truck) Ridgeline, and the usual suspects the civic, accord, and hybrid variants.

The Lexus section was boring because Lexus designed cars are a direct result of Toyota, the master of nothing designs. If the soon to be seen at Detroit IS500F was at the show it would have been a point of excitement because I am interested to see how the Lexus performance variant is taken and how agressive it looks. Dont get me wrong I like the IS350 but the cars that Lexus throws out there dont distinguish themselves enough for me to really take a liking to them.

On Mercedes-Benz/Maybach where they had a multitude of cars, most of which arent that special, but of note for me was the S63 AMG and CL63 AMG. Of those two im partial to the SL63 which sported an interior more to my liking. I also like the LED backlighting, it added a nice touch to an already well though out interior design. Of the S550 and the CLS500, one has to lean towards the CLS for the simple fact that the sweeping greenhouse lends itself to the CLS design, and also style points to it for the front end design along with its lighting layout. The S550 and its Maybach roots may be a positive direction in the eyes of some enthusiasts, but the Measured Buildup crew of two are not takers on the styling direction much at all. The Maybachs are worth looking at because how often do you get to see them when you live in the flatlands like us backwards hicks. After the West hall, we headed to the Concourse hall to check out some high class offerings of only one we could ever be in the market for, Lotus.

Ferrari had the new 612 Scaglietti in attendance, along with 360 and a few other cars. Bentley was next to them(didn't pay much attention, but when we turned off of Wilshire to our sister/brother in laws place, there was a Continental GT there on the side, apparently using his navigation for the first time). Lambo was next to them, and we did not really look at them much... Gallardo, Murcielago, again, the usual suspects, nothing we haven't seen there. The Bugatti Veyron, in all of its 1000hp glory, was there. Spyker was there with the C8, and a weird looking SUV type offering, which I greatly hope was a concept. Lotus was last in the Concourse Hall, the one we truly looked forward to seeing. They had a few Elise, a few Exige, and they also brought the Lotus girl, who was definately photogenic. I didn't know they had Lotus, but everyone was quite grateful! The Lotus lineup looks awesome, they had about 8 cars, in all the colors of the rainbow, baby blue, silver, yellow, orange, and others. They are cool little cars.

Moving onto the larger South Hall, we knew there was a little to look forward to. I was looking forward to Audi, their latest generation of cars has really grown on me. And BMW was also there to make a strong showing, as always. As we entered the Hall, we immediately set eyes on the STS V8 they had there, while a formidable car, it is 3 years too late. Time for a redesign Cadi-guys or you will be smoked again by the Asians and Germans as usual. I hopped in for a second to investigate the latest Nav screen offering from Cadillac, played with the XM, could not get it to play XM 48 Squizz, and left. We went and looked at the V-Series lineup, and laughed at the people who thought they were nice even though the CTS-V is on its 4th year(we like to bash what we can have, or the "horse" we rode in on too, not just what we can't have). The color choice for the XLR was interesting to say the least, it may have ruined it actually, but Pac-Man would have loved it. They had at least 4 Escalades, surrounded by people. They should be, they are best in their class in pretty much every aspect, no matter what toyota reports says. Oops I meant to say consumer reports, a faux paux or no?

Next door was Saturn, about the only lineup GM has to offer with product that can compete with its foreign competitors. The Aura was there, the Green line Aura made its debut, as did the Outlook, and the Vue. The icing on the cake was the Sky Redline(Thats a Saturn?), a car MB would own right now had he not second guessed a purchase of a 2-seater convertible. Let me be the first to say, good choice. Then we headed to Pontiac, for some ungodly reason. Buick was next door, and both were desolate because they took the anti FoMoCo approach. That was the approach where you put very few of each model on the floor and leave plenty of empty space. FoMoCo just packed as many cars in as they could to appear as though there was more people and product. I dont blame the folks for not clammoring to be near Buick and Pontiac, there was only about 4 reasons to visit the two. If any 2 divisions needed a time machine to get new product, it is these. Buick at the very least, was showing the Production Enclave, and Pontiac has the Solstice, and GXP variant as well. We went to look at an important car next, the Camaro.

Chevrolet had the Corvette, the new tahoe, Cobalt a bunch of other throw away cars(who wants to talk about volume cars?). The Camaro was swarmed, I could barely see it from 50 ft away there was so many people around. By the way, do something about the interior Chevrolet. You want this car to appeal to the younger crowd so you dont go 100% retro exterior ala Challenger. Then you go ahead with the retro interior. I think that is an error in judgement myself but I will withhold full damnation of it until I set in a production version down the road. That led us to Dodge/Chrysler. With enough new product to make your head spin. We stopped at the Nitro, probably one of the best decisions we had made. Dodge did a hell of a job casting their women to speak about their cars on the turntables, they were the hands down winner if I had to give out a trophy, not flashy or trashy, purely elegant and tasteful like a well crafted Syrah. To say it in a more simple way, the Nitro girl was hot. She had a timeless look about her, piercing eyes, a perfectly proportioned body, a well chosen attire, the necessary height, a great public speaker, and she had that "it" that people talk about. She was the kind of woman that Iam sure would just love to accompany me in my luxury sled back to the flatlands to meet mom and dad, at least dad would be thrilled, right? Best looking gal at the show. Next we went to the Challenger, retro "muscle." Retro is not so good. More on that in a second.

We finally had made our way to Audi. The have a nice lineup of cars, but Measured Buildup thinks these cars are priced 20% too high for the common folk. The RS4 is a particularly nice sedan, but drop the price and they may hit a homerun, its only a 2-bagger for now. I also like the S8 which has its Lamborghini soucred V-10 under the hood. Both cars had nice stances and very well put together interiors, interiors much too nice for anyone to actually sit in because lets face it these cars are too upscale for 98.5% of those attending the show. Now comes a truly bright spot and pleasant surprise in the show. Thats right the Audi R8, a truly amazing car when seen in its entirety in person. I had seen photos online and a magazine spread too, but this car in person was without a doubt a winner. The car is smaller in person than pictures seem, and the overrall view of it is stunning. The rear end ties in very nicely, and everything seems to flow together and make a truly formidable package. If this car would start at 75-85K instead of 95-105K it would be a wise decision by Audi. They seem to take the Caterpillar (Industrial machinery for those of you who arent following) approach to pricing their cars, which is build something equal or slightly better than your competitors but price it no less than 10% higher than them. Well played Audi, indeed youve done it again. One can only think back to the stunning Cadillac Cien concept, which was also a mid-engine car, with nearly the exact same proportions. It has to be JB's favorite concept car of all time, and its a shame such a beautiful car could not make it to the showroom. Perhaps some day they will have something similar to it, as the general is always known for having equal to better performance, with a cheaper price tag.

Now Infiniti, which although having a formidable lineup, does not have what I would call an eye catching lineup. When you place magazine ads of the G35 sedan comparing it to a boat, it cant be a good thing to describe appearance. Predictable, boring, uninspiring are some things that come to mind. I like the M35 and 45 too, but they arent jaw-droppers, they are well thought out machines though. The new G35 sedan was there in all of its Infini-glory, or was that the previous one, I could hardly tell. Infiniti took the if it aint broke dont fix it approach with the G35 and it isnt the worst decision ever, I would have liked to see something that actually made me look again, because look again I did not. Iam interested in seeing the next G35 coupe though, now I would have been a bit more excited to be in the awe-inspiring Infiniti space if that had been the case. How about a visit to Acura, nope it just wasnt worth the time or effort for more than just a walk through. By the way, the G35 sedan has all the makings of a great car with great exterior design for the masses, a solid chassis, a well designed and executed powertrain that has the muscle to push the G, yet the refinement a luxury sedan demands, followed by a perfectly laid out interior design with top notch fit and finish second to none. Although the G35 sedan reaches the pinnacle of luxury sedans, we here at Measured Buildup feel that it falls just the slightest bit short in its attempts to pass the BMW 3-series as the torch bearer in this competitive segment where only one true leader and innovator can rest. That was my little play on Magazine-speak whenever the 3-series is involved in any type of test in every automotive publication.

On to the BMW showing, which is a nice stable as usual despite Chris Bangle's best efforts to ruin the styling or so we are told. The new X5 was debuted at LA and no one seemed to care too much when we were around it, nice vehicle but nothing to get too excited about. The 335i was there in the coupe form, a car I have quite an affection for I must add. The exterior design is enough to keep you surveying its lines, I have it ranked high on my list in that department, and the interior layout is second to none which is to be expected from BMW. Couple that with its all new all-aluminum V6 with bi-turbos and you have yourself a heck of a package. The 330i sedan holds its own as well and is the standard in its segment as I layed out prior in my Infiniti comparison. The affordable M5 was obviously there in all of its glory, but you know what that car is all about, as well as the M-coupe which although an improvement just does not do it for me. Never been too big on the layout and overrall design cues the car takes and this one may be less egregious, it still isnt right to me. Let us not forget the stunning 2002 325 that was in attendance to show off how awesome of a car you can get when you go through certified BMW pre-owned. Iam just here to say that made absolutely no sense to have a 5 year old car in the building that already has been redesigned even if it was to show off the pre-owned greatness that is BMW. No one else did, but the Bavarians seemed to pull this one off in stunning fashion. What can I say, they do a great job there, and they also have the best wheel options on the market today too. I give them many points for the size and style options that they provide. Kudos BMW. I guess I should have some words about Mini here but guess what, I wont.

We then made a turn and went to see the GM company nobody knows about which is the Swedish darling known as Saab. They had the the amazing 9-2x sportcombi on display along with 9-3 and 9-5 Aeros. The Aero name is uber-cool and may be the only connection we can find to the "Born from Jets" commercials we see. A lot of marketing put into a car company that no one buys nor seems willing to buy. The dealer network isnt there, the parts arent available, and the designs are growing tired. Maybe it is time to send the Jets on a one way mission to Europe to stay where the elitists of the EU respect a car the Americans find a joke while they thumb there noses at the Premiership and get fatter. The 9-7x SUV was there too but no one noticed, but the Aero-x concept was the one reason people came to Saab. It is a very nice concept showing off the Swedish jet heritage we all are looking for in our next purchases. Seriously, they need to utilize some of this more bold styling on an 9-3 redesign. Anyways, how do the 9-3 and 9-5 Aero drivers like there AC vents because I hate mine, you can never quite get them on you. Oh you wouldnt know that because no one drives Saabs in this wrongheaded country.

Not to be left out was the great turnaround story know as Nissan. It aint gonna happen folks, you cant turn something around without an actual turn, we all know Ghosn is a turnaround Jesus but where oh where is this product to grow with guys. Nothing new here where is the redesigned 350Z? If the other Nissan cars are any indication, there isnt much to look forward to. Look at the G35, that didnt show much in its redesign now did it. We cant overlook the Murano, oh what an absolutely brilliantly designed an absolutely elegant SUV. Not that I know anyone that drives one that gave me and JB free lodging in Santa Monica, allowing us to afford the trip on the contents of a center console in a Chevy Colorado, or did we break our piggy-banks? Oh well we need all the help we can get, we like SOME domestic cars. Scary, huh? What about Mitsubishi Motors? Well we didnt quite make there to see the Dodge, errr I mean Mitsubishi Raider. Oh, you cant discount the Eclipse, or the Eskips as we call them, but we found a way to discount this entire car company in one brisk walk around it. Im sure they will dig there way out of financial ruin though, right? What a glorious company though, we mustnt judge, its not our place, we arent a real magazine so we have no right.

All in all a good showing across the board and since the LA show is gaining some stature in the show ranks, maybe there will be a growing list of debuts next year. I would also like to tell GM to get their stuff together because walking around Buick and Pontiac made me want to cry and I also felt lost, lonely, and scared when I wasnt standing next to either the Solstice or the Enclave. You had better get out a top notch product and that means bold designs that grab attention and are unique in a positive way, powerful, fuel efficient motors with Displacement on Demand and Direct Injection that are backed by 6 speed automatic transmissions. Dont forget about an interior layout that makes sense, has features, is ergonomic, and has quality materials with a high level of fit and finish. Lastly, skip the rebates and price these things competitively and people will come. Quality product priced right will sell, because it becomes a brand that has a reputation. Step it up at the dealer level too, demand excellence across the board. Cadillac dealers must be more upscale to carry weight against the other luxury brands. Many Cadillac dealers across the nation are in need of an overhaul, with better product finally here along with respect being gained, the next knock is going to be how the Cadillac dealers cant stand toe to toe with the BMW and Mercedes dealers. Do not let this happen because the time is now more than ever before. The margins are thin and mistakes are too costly at this point. Do not go the Ford route, it will sadden Measured Buildup greatly.

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