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AutoMobility LA 2019: Automakers focus on electrification, utility vehicles

19 November 2019 Stephanie Brinley, MBA

The 2019 AutoMobility LA convention and auto show will include reveals of automakers' key electrified concept vehicles as well as traditional production vehicles. While the trend towards vehicle electrification is not new, new products in LA demonstrate the benefits of electrification to vehicle performance and work for an emotional connection with customers.

Along with utility vehicle introductions from Ford, Audi, Buick and Mazda are expected to be the most talked about reveals, several new passenger cars Audi, BMW, and Nissan are introducing passenger cars, and VW's key concept is a wagon. We discuss several of the key introductions here, though this is not a total list; more introductions are coming.

A Tesla electric pick-up is expected to be revealed away from the show on 21 November. Little concrete is known about the Tesla (including when it might be on sale), but when it does arrive it will face a new competitive landscape to today. Currently, Tesla has relatively few EV competitors in the segments it plays in. However, Ford and GM have indicated plans for pure electric pick-up trucks, and all three have potential to arrive on market within a year or so of each other. While there is opportunity for Tesla, full-size pick-up truck owners are demanding and loyal. It may not be quite as easy to win them over.

Ford revealed the Mustang Mach E electric sport utility vehicle on 17 November. The Mustang Mach E is the reveal that has everyone talking. Not only does it bear the Mustang name, it is Ford's first serious attempt at the EV market. This is the beginning of a new era for Ford, one which will include more electrified and electric vehicles. Deciding to call this a Mustang gave Ford a North Star for developing an emotional, focused and compelling EV. Any flaws will come out in time, but this is a believable, credible start.

Audi is displaying its second electric vehicle (EV), the e-tron sportback. This vehicle is closely related to the e-tron SUV, with sportier profile expected. The e-tron Sportback will share technology with the e-tron as well. Audi's second full battery-electric offering will attempt to inject more emotion into the space, leaving the standard e-tron to wear the practical mantle. Contrasting with the EV and reinforcing that Audi is not neglecting its standard line-up, Audi is also highlighting its sporty side with new RS models (RS Q8, RS 6 Avant and RS 7) and giving its top sedan a minor change that includes adding a hybrid A8 and a new 563-hp S8.

BMW is offering up several new variants, but the key model is the all-new Gran Coupe 2 Series. The new four-door model shares a platform with the front-wheel-drive 1 Series hatchback (not offered in the US) and unlike the current rear-drive format of the 2-Series coupe. US sales of the 2 Series Gran Coupe are planned to begin in March 2020 and production is due to start in November 2019. With four doors instead of two, the 2-Series Gran Coupe has higher volume potential for the US market than the more sporty, rear-drive 2-Series coupe.

BMW is also introducing luxury model variants, including the BMW M2 CS, M8 Gran coupe, 330e xDrive, and X3 xDrive30E. Offering plenty of choice and option has worked well for premium brands, where owners can be more willing to spend money to have a product that caters to their attitude.

Alfa Romeo is expected to reveal minor facelifts for both the Guilia and the Stelvio. The brand has been struggling in the US market, after a promising launch in 2017. The brand has continued its efforts to generate consumer interest in its models, including limited-edition versions announced at the New York auto show. Alfa Romeo's latest product-led renaissance has also stumbled in Europe as well, and in October, parent Fiat Chrysler automobiles (FCA) announced that it was revising its plans for the brand. Along with struggling sales, the brand also lost its most stalwart and dedicated supporter with the death in 2018 of former CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Fiat is updating another struggling model for the 2020 model year, with the 500X Sport taking a reveal in Los Angeles. Sales of the 500X, according to FCA, declined 61% year on year from January to September 2019, with only 2,076 units sold. While FCA has not indicated it will end Fiat sales in the US, it is difficult to see where the opportunity for greater success will come from.

Mazda's key product in Los Angeles will be the CX-30, which competes in the same segment as the 500X and goes on sale in December. In 2020, the CX-30 will share a showroom with the CX-3. Mazda introduced a new look and feel for its advertising in 2019, but with sales down 10% in 2019 (according to Mazda-reported figures), the brand may not be connecting as well as the company would like. The CX-30 may help address the situation by expanding Mazda's CUV lineup; it is also a bit larger than the CX-3, so could resonate better with US buyers than the slightly undersized CX-3.

Nissan will show the 2020 model-year Sentra in Los Angeles. The new Sentra is essentially the same as the China-market Sylphy, which suggests that the car's design will be more stylish than that of the current generation. Despite a US market preference for utility vehicles, Nissan is among the brands committed to offering new products to the sedan buyers in the country.

Hyundai will introduce a new SUV concept and a mid-cycle update for the Ioniq, a vehicle offered in electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid powertrain variants. The SUV concept will have a PHEV powertrain option, according to company announcements.

Toyota also checks both the electrification and utility vehicle boxes with a plug-in version of the RAV4. While details are not available just yet, we think Toyota has also gotten the memo about developing alternative powertrains which bring as much (or more) excitement to the drive as efficiency.

Bollinger will follow the brand's recently revealed four-door EV truck and SUV with a public debut. The Bollinger products are boxy and unusual but are also Class 3 vehicles reportedly inspired by the Bollinger CEO not having a good alternative vehicle for his family's farm. Karma will also continue its current releases of news and updates, showing a follow-up concept vehicle. As Karma is looking to launch a new global platform in 2021, it has been increasingly announcing preparations for this.

Although the Mustang Mach E electric SUV has garnered more than its fair share of news, the next planned product in Volkswagen (VW)'s ID family of EVs receives a concept vehicle debut in Los Angeles, along with the second electric Audi. VW will show the ID Space Vizzion at the expo, demonstrating that the company remains committed to wagons. The Los Angeles backdrop also suggests VW wants to capitalize on the US affinity for VW wagons.

Posted 19 November 2019 by Stephanie Brinley, MBA, Principal Automotive Analyst, IHS Markit

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