Auto Makers Think Small at Los Angeles Show

LOS ANGELES It's a small world after all. In the shadow of Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, it is easy to imagine the catchy tune of the same name while strolling through the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. Big names stage world debuts of grandly proportioned vehicles with prodigious outputs here last month. Witness the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with its twin-turbocharged 520-hp 4.5L V-8. Its LA unveiling

LOS ANGELES — It's a small world after all.

In the shadow of Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, it is easy to imagine the catchy tune of the same name while strolling through the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show.

Big names stage world debuts of grandly proportioned vehicles with prodigious outputs here last month. Witness the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with its twin-turbocharged 520-hp 4.5L V-8.

Its LA unveiling coincides with its on-sale date in North America, where it starts at $111,600.

Not to be outdone, Bugatti shows — for the first time in North America — its 987-hp Veyron supercar. Price tag: $1.2 million.

But, perhaps chastened by the oppressive volatility of gasoline prices, there is an undercurrent of restraint. And everyone is making small talk.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. starts the conversation in earnest with the debut of its '07 Yaris small car for North America.

“In Europe, sales of the Yaris have increased every year it has been on the market,” says Jim Lentz, Toyota group vice president and general manager. The auto maker hopes the Yaris will boost the image of small cars here when it rolls out an anticipated 50,000 units this year and 70,000 in 2007.

General Motors Corp. highlights its redesigned '07 Chevrolet Aveo, which arrives in showrooms this fall. It features a new exterior and interior to capture the attention of Americans who are “increasingly discovering the virtues of small cars,” the auto maker says.

But Mark LaNeve, GM vice president-sales and marketing, tempers any notion of hysteria — especially since the auto maker also unveils its new '07 Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL fullsize SUVs.

“Americans love choices,” LaNeve says. Besides small cars, there also is considerable interest in large rear-wheel-drive cars, fullsize SUVs, crossovers and alternative-fuel concepts, he says.

Volkswagen of America Inc. stretches the boundaries of small-car possibilities with the North American debut of the '07 Eos, which features a folding hardtop.

Meanwhile, Audi of America Inc. and Mazda North America Operations share the cross/utility vehicle spotlight with debuts of the '06 Q7 and '07 CX-7, respectively.

The Q7, which shares a platform with the Cayenne and VW's Touareg, was first unveiled last year in Frankfurt. But the CX-7 makes its world debut here.

Ford Motor Co.'s only LA unveiling is a high-performance Saleen truck, based on the F-150 pickup. But Mark Fields, president of Ford's North American operations, says the auto maker is well aware of the market potential of small cars.

“As some Asian and European brands have shown, buyers are looking for more than just the small, fuel-efficient vehicles patterned after the ubiquitous econoboxes of the 1970s and '80s,” Fields says.

“But no company today is putting an American stamp on the small-car segment. That means there's a huge growth opportunity if only someone is willing to seize it.”

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