Getting to the Los Angeles Auto Show

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On the flight to Los Angeles, ahead of the LA Auto Show, I couldn’t help but think of the introduction to the lesson I presented to my young charges during Kid’s Worship at church last Sunday.  I have a terrible memory, (to which my eldest son will attest), but I will give you the gist of it.

“The desert is a strange and wonderous place.  During the day, it is very, very hot. There is almost no water at all.  At night, it is very, very cold.  The wind blows, and as it blows, it shifts and changes the sand, so that the desert is never the same.”

Thus goes the automotive industry.  It’s a strange and wonderous place.  Manufacturers need to constantly innovate, or risk obsolescence.  At the same time, reliability must be high and cost of ownership of their vehicles must remain low, otherwise, a competitor’s product will take their share.  The environment is always hot.  If you fail, it’s very, very cold.  And it constantly changes.  Next Gen buyers are more concerned with their smart phones rather than purchasing a vehicle, so how do you engage them?  Baby boomers are moving from large SUVs to smaller, but still luxurious vehicles as they head into retirement.   These opposite end-of-the-spectrum markets provide a conundrum for the manufacturers.  Load up the vehicle with connectivity, cell reception, local area networking (netwearking for Miley Cyrus), smart phone app integration, on-board apps and Google and other services to appeal to the Next Geners and risk alienating that Boomer market.  The former has little disposable income, but if the manufacturers don’t conquer that demographic, they may just get used to never owning a vehicle.  The latter has all the money, but as they move to retirement, they may be just a little more reluctant to spend it on a vehicle that confuses them.

So the landscape shifts and changes, and it’s never the same.

I have a number of vehicles of interest to review at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, consisting of either all-new world debuts, or having recently introduced to the marketplace.  Among them: BMW i3, BMW X5, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac Escalade, Ford Transit Connect, Infiniti Q30, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Soul, Mazda 3 Sedan and Sport, Mercedes-Benz CLA, Mercedes-Benz S Class, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Prius C, Toyota Prius V.  You’ll see these vehicles in upcoming posts.  Especially of interest in the Canadian market will be the Corolla and the Mazda 3, given that the compact segment comprises almost 25% of the total market.  These are extremely important vehicles that neither manufacturer can afford to get wrong.

This show has a sister event, called the Connected Car Expo.  The systems that are coming are nothing short of remarkable.  The key will be ease of use.  Can you connect the customers young and old, and keep the user experience simple but engaging?

Consider the Nest thermostat.  This is an innovative product that has tackled a seemingly mature, mundane appliance: the household thermostat.  Nest’s version is WiFi enabled, includes a motion sensor to turn down the heat when it deduces that no one is home, comes with a smart phone app that allows you to access the thermostat from anywhere in the world, allows you to control the mode (heating, cooling, off, fan speed, fan on/off interval) of the heating system all from your phone.  Forget to turn down the thermostat before going away? Nest lets you do it, and you’ve probably already programmed it during the setup process.

Their next product is a combination carbon monoxide detector and smoke detector.  How many times have you pulled a battery out of a smoke detector to turn it off? Nest’s version gives you a chance to cancel the alarm before it escalates.  Another smart home item, and this is the tip of the iceberg.

The home is ripe for connectedness and connectivity.  The auto manufacturers are rapidly introducing services and smart phone capabilities to our automobiles.  Intelligent keys already preset air conditioning, radio stations and seat positions.  The connected car will take this further, using the data network you have with your smart phone to open up the vehicle to the internet and beyond.

Have you switched smart phones lately?  You’re probably heavily invested in the ecosystem you’re currently running, and are reluctant to change.  The same should hold true for a vehicle.  If the manufacturers get it right, they’ll build a loyal following that is hesitant to change brands because of their user experience. Perhaps that desert will become a little less unforgiving.

Some other thoughts on the trip to Los Angeles:

Why, in an airport lounge, does a person sit in a clearly marked cellular telephone-free area, talk on his phone and use language that is more appropriate to a Rob Ford diatribe?  I believe it is better to have people think you are ignorant, rather than open your mouth and prove it.

How does Teresa, one of the flight crew on today’s Air Canada flight 799 keep that sincere smile on her face, and exude an energy that warms the whole cabin?

Why wouldn’t Air Canada confirm that the in-flight entertainment system is functional in the aircraft scheduled for a five hour and 35 minute flight?

Where else but in Los Angeles would you pull up beside a perfect cobalt blue 1968 Camaro SS with British Columbia licence plates?

Where else would you find a slammed Volkswagen Bus with a surf company’s bumper sticker?

The best way to shake off a 5:35 flight is to go for a run up Ocean Avenue for six kilometres.  A great way to clear one’s head.  For those of you curious about my result in the half marathon last month, I ran it in 1:58:34, a personal best.

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