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IHS Markit Commentary: AutoMobility LA 2017, utility vehicle expansion continues




The 2017 AutoMobility LA show will see another round of utility-vehicle introductions overshadowing car reveals.

In 2017, sales of utility vehicles have continued to climb, while sales of sedans have continued to decline, and the products on display reflect automakers shifting to meet consumer demands for these products. There will be reinterpretations of icons, mid-cycle updates and several additive entries from brands looking to increase their customer bases. The powertrain story takes a back seat to a degree—automakers will introduce a variety of solutions and technology advances for improving fuel economy and reducing emissions, but this has become a common thread for new product introductions.

The Los Angeles event takes significance in part because the state of California is the largest sales market in the US, and because the area is a trend-setter in everything from clothes to cars. The state of California sees the highest registrations of new vehicles in the US. In terms of designated market areas (DMA), Los Angeles is number two only to the New York area.

Key Utility Vehicle Reveals

UV reveals are expected or confirmed from Jeep, Subaru, Lexus, Toyota, Lincoln, Volvo, Infiniti, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and Nissan. Most of the reveals will be production vehicles, though Toyota will show a concept called FT-AC.

Jeep Wrangler will be among the most watched UV introductions, as the vehicle gets its first all-new platform and major update in a decade. The Wrangler is steeped in history and is the defining product for the Jeep brand. Jeep needs to balance moving the vehicle forward with modern technology with maintaining its iconic image and off-road capability. Expectations are strong that Jeep will hit the mark. In 2016, the Wrangler provided 17% of Jeep’s global registrations, with about 242,000 units registered. IHS Markit forecast the Wrangler’s share of Jeep sales will slip to 15% in 2020, as a result of other new products the company is adding to its lineup. Wrangler sales are forecast to increase, however, and return about 274,000 units in 2020. North America is forecast to continue as Wrangler’s most significant market; about 85% of global Wrangler sales in 2020 are forecast to be in North America.

Volvo and Hyundai are coming to LA with US reveals of products already shown on a global stage and already available for sale in some markets. Volvo will introduce the US version of its XC40 compact luxury UV—and also introduce the US market to a new ownership model called Care by Volvo. The new program allows buyers to subscribe to the vehicle, rather than a traditional lease or purchase. Hyundai’s Kona will be revealed in LA as well, in US specification. The Kona went on sale in South Korea in the third quarter of 2017, and will be significant in Hyundai’s efforts to better align its overall showroom with current US sales trends. The Kona gives Hyundai an entry to slot below the Tucson and another opportunity to increase its presence in the UV market.

Subaru and Lexus are expanding their offerings to reach new buyers as well. Subaru will add a new three-row, mid-size offering that functionally replaces the Tribeca. The Ascent has been previewed by a concept at the 2016 Los Angeles auto show, and is expected to see a sales launch in mid-2018. The new vehicle will be built at Subaru’s plant in Lafayette, Indiana, United States. The entry will enable Subaru to meet the needs of larger families, something the current lineup does not offer. However, this is also a segment that is seeing the number of offerings grow, including the Volkswagen Atlas. While Subaru enjoys high owner loyalty, we may see the Ascent cannibalize sales from the Outback as loyalists shift to the larger vehicle. Lexus is also looking to offer a new mid-size three row option. The vehicle will essentially be a line extension of the RX. Lexus has not confirmed full specifications, but the vehicle will be offered with both current RX powertrains, in RX 350L and RX 450hL version. The RX 350L will be introduced in Los Angeles, with the naming structure suggesting Lexus is approaching this as a long-wheelbase version of the existing RX. Lexus will have opportunity to hold buyers who might have left RX and replaced with the likes of an Acura MDX or Audi Q7—but the long version will also appeal to some buyers already committed to the RX.

Infiniti has chosen AutoMobility LA as the backdrop for the reveal of its all-new QX50. Among the significant elements of the new vehicle, which rides on an all-new platform, will be its VC-Turbo engine technology. The engine uses variable compression ratios, which Infiniti says enables the performance of a gasoline engine with the fuel economy of a diesel engine. In a release ahead of the expo, Infiniti global division VP Christian Meunier called it the “most important vehicle we have ever launched.” From the new platform, Infiniti says it has been able to develop a vehicle with improved package efficiency, significant for UVs. For the Infiniti brand, the QX50 will launch ProPILOT Assist driving assist technology, which helps control acceleration, braking, and steering on single-lane highway driving. Nissan is also introducing the technology on its Leaf EV and Rogue UV.

Other introductions will include the US reveal of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and an update for the Lincoln MKC. Nissan has indicated it will have an all-new vehicle to show as well; it is expected to be an UV.

Key Passenger Car Reveals

AutoMobility LA, in terms of vehicle debuts, is heavily dominated by UVs in 2017. The cars introduced this year are also mostly low-volume and high-style premium entries. Few will be global introductions, however.  Automakers planning announcements include Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and BMW, while Audi will display the all-new A8. Aston Martin is expected to display the Vantage, which was revealed recently in England, while Porsche is planning to introduce the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid to the US market.

The most significant car reveal is likely to be the second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLS, which takes a global introduction in Los Angeles. The company has teased out several images, including a wide digital display that appears to visually blend the screen in front of the driver with that in front of the passenger. BMW is expected to show the roadster version of the i8 PHEV, and possibly the M5 version of the latest 5-Series. Mazda has given its Mazda6 a notable refresh, which will be introduced at the expo. The Audi A8 brings a significant level of technology to the luxury sedan space, and will arrive in the US market for the 2019 model year.

About this article

The above article is from AutoIntelligence Daily by IHS Markit. AutoIntelligence Daily provides same-day analysis of automotive news, events and trends.​​​​​​ Get a free trial.

About The Author

Ms. Stephanie Brinley is Senior Analyst-Americas, IHS Automotive, covering North and South America for the IHS World Markets Automotive service.

She is responsible for a daily update of news, events, interviews and product introduction summaries as well as special research reports and company profiles, providing context for and analysis of industry developments to worldwide subscribers. She joined IHS Automotive in summer 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in the automotive sector, including a decade in automotive analysis, four years' experience in supplier-based strategic communications and as a supplier-OEM marketing liaison, and several years on the editing side of a top automotive enthusiast publication in the United States. Ms. Brinley holds an a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Marketing from Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Mich., and an MBA in Integrative Management from Michigan State University's Eli Broad College of Business, Lansing, Mich., US.