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The L.A. Extravaganza: A Test for Auto Shows

Remember the good old days? The days when auto shows were major events where an automaker could generate buzz with new models? Where you could see the public's appetite for new cars and trucks? Next week we'll see if auto shows still have the magical pull or if the pall over last years auto show season lingers into this year’s slate of shows.

North American International Auto Show, Detroit, Michigan
AP
North American International Auto Show, Detroit, Michigan

My gut says auto shows will start to rebound in terms of relevance and appeal, but we're a long ways from the excitement we saw a few years ago.

Last year in L.A. is when we first saw visible signs Chrysler was in serious trouble. The Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge stand was dark, bland, and in my opinion a waste of space. Chrysler would have been better served skipping the show instead of putting up a token stand in order to save money. What started with Chrysler in L.A. continued in Detroit, Chicago, and New York with other automakers scaling back their stands and presentations. Who could blame them? Last spring the industry was in a free fall.

This year however, things are different. Chrysler and GM are out of bankruptcy, Ford is on a roll, Hyundai is red hot, and the niche automakers have a collection of compelling stories. In other words, there is reason to be excited about what the future holds for this industry. That doesn't mean we'll see the outrageous concepts we saw a decade ago. Instead, the concepts are close to the production models designers envision.

Frankly, L.A. generating some buzz is what the car biz needs and what the public wants. People may have pulled back and may not be buying as many cars and trucks, but they haven't lost their interest in new models. We still want "a little theater" as one executive once put it to me. All the more reason to look forward to L.A. ringing in a new auto show season.

- Ford Motor

- Toyota Motor

- Nissan

- Honda Motor

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Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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