As I packed my bags in the media room and headed to my car, I reflected on this latest auto show.Both the auto industry and the American consumer are at crossroads. It’s finally sinking in for both that high gas prices are here to stay. Yet despite the media’s not so subtle emphasis for car owners to switch to something smaller and more fuel efficient – which is, interestingly, also echoed by enthusiasts – Americans cling to their crossovers and SUVs. As many owners have rightly pointed out, sedans just won’t cut it when transporting families and all their toys. Station wagons? Minivans? Sure. As soon as car enthusiasts are willing to show up at a auto rally and proudly proclaim their run-of-the-mill stock Accord, Camry, Impala, or Sonata are equally as beautiful and powerful as the most exotic Ferrari or Lambo (i.e., never).
The latter emphasizes that car segments have broken down. Americans don’t want just basic transportation. They want to drive something that says something about them: their tastes, status, and – of course – their wealth. Driving the all-new Infiniti EX means something different to bystanders than parking one’s all-new Chevrolet Aveo5. Same with the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid or the Toyota Sequoia.
Car reviews need to start going beyond the basics in this new era. They need to start pointing out the subtle differences, for that’s why consumers buy – or do not buy – their particular auto. Even enthusiasts seem to forget that so-called Accord and Camry “toasters” appeal to different kinds of owners.
The difference. That’s what I came away with at this year’s LA Auto Show. And I know it’ll be widening next year.