Weekly Brief: Electric Cars Failed to Electrify LA Auto Show

The first traditional auto show in two years returned to American soil last week.

Carmakers, critics, pundits and members of the general public filed into the LA Convention Center for a trimmed-down LA Auto Show. Gone were the flashy car debuts of pre-pandemic yore. Gone too were the mobs of people craning for a view of the latest concept car bathed in bright lights and camera flashes. In their place stood a bevy of regularly sanitized electric vehicles, a batch of sobering press conferences about the climate crisis and a blanket of mandatory face masks.

Not surprisingly, the focus of the show was the automotive industry’s drive toward an electrified future. Organizers kicked the week off with the first ever ZEVAS awards, celebrating the best Zero-Emission Vehicles Available for Sale or pre-order. Winners were chosen by the public via two voting rounds that occurred this autumn and announced on the first day of the show. Notable winners included the Tesla Model 3 for the best ZEV sedan below $60,000, the Rivian R1T for the best ZEV truck and the Fisker Ocean for the best ZEV Crossover below $50,000.

Inside the convention center EVs greatly outnumbered gas-guzzlers. In addition to zero-emissions sedans, crossovers, SUVs and trucks, a number of three-wheeled EVs were on hand, including the Solo from start-up ElectraMeccanica, which has a range of 100 miles and a claimed top speed of 80mph and which started shipping to customers in October of this year. Also present was an electric tuk tuk from Biliti Electric and the Sagitta three-wheeler from Imperium. Guests could take all of these EVs (four-wheelers and their tripod cousins) for a spin on an all-new, 55,000-square-foot indoor test track powered by Electrify America.

In addition to the market-ready EVs, a handful of carmakers showed up with some of the most beloved car bodies of the internal combustion engine era refashioned around newfangled electric powertrains [A blatant act of automotive vandalism in many people’s eyes – Ed]. Included among these so-called “restomods” was a 1978 F-100 Ford Eluminator truck packing twin electric motors and a sleek digital dashboard. If auto shows still serve as barometers for where the market is headed, expect to see restomods hitting dealerships soon.

That’s a big if. The LA Auto Show was once the lead event for a season of big-hitting auto shows. It now stands as one of the few survivors. Carmakers can gain more attention and fanfare these days by privately debuting vehicles online or at their factories, as Tesla likes to do, whereas at auto shows they have to pay a pretty penny to show up and share the stage with dozens of competitors. Big names like BMW and Honda sat out the LA Auto Show this year, instead opting to livestream private events.

Things were already looking bleak for auto shows before the pandemic came along. As was the case with remote work and the digitalization of the workplace, the pandemic has probably expedited the trend. Show organizers hadn’t released final attendance numbers for the LA Auto Show when this article went to print. Those numbers could have a significant say on where auto shows in America go next, if anywhere at all.

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