Thinking Small

It's a small world, after all. In the shadow of Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, it was easy to imagine the catchy tune of the same name while strolling through the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. Big names staged world debuts of grandly proportioned vehicles with prodigious outputs at the show in early January. Witness the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with its twin-turbo-charged 520-hp 4.5L V-8. Its unveiling

It's a small world, after all.

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

Big names staged world debuts of grandly proportioned vehicles with prodigious outputs at the show in early January. Witness the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with its twin-turbo-charged 520-hp 4.5L V-8.

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

Not to be outdone, Bugatti showed — 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 was an undercurrent of restraint. And everyone was making small talk.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. started 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. “But perhaps more importantly, Yaris has single-handedly transformed Toyota's image in that market, especially in southern European countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal where design is such a critical factor.”

The auto maker hopes the Yaris will boost the image of small cars in the U.S. when it rolls out an anticipated 50,000 units this year and 70,000 in 2007. Indeed, Lentz says the car will prop up Toyota's Corolla and Matrix lines as “premium” subcompacts.

Arriving in dealerships by spring, the Yaris Liftback will start at $10,950. A sedan version will sell for $11,825 and a sporty “S” sedan will sticker for $13,325.

General Motors Corp. highlighted its redesigned '07 Chevrolet Aveo, which arrives in showrooms this year by the third quarter. 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.

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. “We make (small) cars available. You'll get some level of interest in them.”

But there also is considerable interest in large, rear-wheel-drive cars, he adds.“We see a lot of interest in fullsize SUVs, crossovers, alternative-fuel concepts. Z06 (Corvette) is sold out. Solstice is. Americans love choices. They love different kinds of products. They want to have a great price. And they want their cars to be as efficient and clean as possible. That's what we're intending to do.”

Volkswagen of America Inc. stretched 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 shared 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 Volkswagen's Touareg, first was unveiled last year in Frankfurt. But the CX-7 made its world debut in Los Angeles.

Ford Motor Co. had a quiet show, with its only unveiling tied to niche player Saleen Inc., which pulled the sheet off the Saleen Sport Truck, based on the F-150 pickup.

But Mark Fields, president of Ford's North American operations, promised 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 in a keynote address to journalists.

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

Women Breaking into Exterior Design Ranks

By Eric Mayne

One of the last bastions of male domination in the auto industry — exterior design — will see an influx of women in the coming years, says Chris Bangle, BMW AG's design chief.

That is because women are shedding the puritanical constraints that prevented them from creatively exploring the steamy dynamics of cars and sex, he says.

“You're dealing with a product (in which) your whole relationship to this car's exterior is discovering the form within — you heard that from Michelangelo,” Bangle says, referring to the great sculptor's quest to reveal the art buried in a block of marble.

“That's basically what a young guy's trying to do with a girl in the back seat of a Chevy on a Saturday night,” he adds. “Your whole relationship with this thing is the discovery of an interesting type of sexual tension.

“If you want to get into cars, there is sex influence,” Bangle tells Ward's at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show.

“There is sensuality in shapes, which you have to be comfortable dealing with. And you have to be comfortable in an environment where you're expressing it and having 10 guys standing there saying, ‘No. You're full of it.’”

Jacqueline Reeve hopes to join the new generation of women designers. A third-year student at San Francisco's Academy of Art University, she is among throngs of her contemporaries, a crowd still dominated by men, attending the auto show's design forum.

Reeve recently completed a Smart-based concept car project with a very sexy theme: Victoria's Secret.

“It had a lot of feminine curves,” she says.

Reeve believes women are more than capable of churning out exterior designs that capture the appeal of overt sexuality. But she concurs with Bangle that some women may not have developed the ability to express this.

She says she has seen designs by fellow women students that are “too feminine” and delicate. “They don't have enough stance in the cars,” she says. “There are guys who do that, too. But I can see how some (womens' designs) may be a little bit flaccid or weak in that sense.”

Under Bangle's lead at BMW design, the population of women has grown from less than 10% to more than a third. And that number includes exterior designers, he says. Bangle attributes the improving ratio to the ongoing societal shift in traditional male-female roles. It is producing new generations of women designers whose perspectives are “different” than previous generations, he says.

“I'm not saying they have different ideas, but their ability to express them somehow is different,” Bangle adds.

Industry-wide, women most likely still find themselves designing interiors or assigned to color and trim. But it does not have to be that way, Bangle claims. “The door has always been open,” he says. “It's whether or not they walk through it.”

Yet, a woman designer, who requested anonymity, challenges Bangle's assertion. She maintains there exists a well-entrenched “good ol' boys club.”

She recounts a story of rejection told to her by a woman colleague. The woman was interviewed by a prominent male figure in the industry, who suggested she was better suited to do interiors, or color and trim.

“He said, ‘Some people are fighter pilots. Some people are commercial pilots. You're a commercial pilot.’”

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