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Friday, November 30, 2012 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

L.A. Auto Show sees major debuts

By Jerry Hirsch and David Undercoffler
Los Angeles Times

The flurry of new models unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday underscored increasingly fierce industry competition on all fronts, from technology to efficiency to horsepower.

The show’s opening day featured major debuts including the long-awaited redesign of the Toyota RAV4 sport utility, the new Porsche Cayman and Acura’s flagship RLX.

Meanwhile, Audi unleashed new diesel versions of four models and Ford offered a Fiesta with a turbo three-cylinder engine small enough to fit in a suitcase.

Sitting in front of Chevrolet’s new Spark EV — a sub-$25,000 electric car with more torque than some Ferraris — General Motors North America President Mark Reuss said automakers have emerged from the economic downturn leaner, with sustainable operations making large investments in innovative products.

“You can look around this show and basically see yourself driving anything here,” Reuss said. “I’m not sure I could have said that at any auto show in the past.”

Even as technology and fuel efficiency grabbed the spotlight, Reuss and other auto executives remain keenly aware that consumers still focus on the fundamentals.

Asked what factor most determined what consumers buy, Reuss didn’t hesitate: “reliability and durability.”

“No one wants to be accused of buying something stupid,” Reuss said.

Consumers will benefit from the rising competition, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds.com.

“You just can’t assume that your customers will come back,” she said. “Assume now that every car will have good quality, and that puts the automakers on a level playing field.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the major debuts from the show, which opens Friday to the public.

•Toyota RAV4: The hot-selling small SUV has undergone its first redesign in seven years. New features include an intelligent all-wheel-drive system, offering three driver-selected modes, a first for Toyota. The biggest mechanical upgrade is a six-speed automatic transmission.

Toyota offered no specific pricing.

•Subaru Forester: The redesigned Subaru Forester has better fuel economy and more power in the turbo version. It retains a tall-wagon profile, with some changes to the front and back.

Fans of Subaru’s oddball styling may lament the passing of the hood scoop on the turbo model.

•Audi diesels: As more American buyers choose diesel version of Volkswagen cars, the company’s luxury brand, Audi, rolled out a diesel engine option on four of its high-end models.

The models getting turbo diesel variants are the A6, A7, A8, and Q5. All four will share a 3-liter turbocharged V-6.

• Chevrolet Spark EV: Hoping to ease consumer worries about the hassle of charging electric cars, Chevrolet offers a system on the Spark EV that officials say will charge to 80% capacity in just 20 minutes.

Chevrolet said the Spark EV would be priced at less than $25,000 with federal tax incentives in the U.S. and would be eligible for high-occupancy-vehicle lanes in California.

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