The Los Angeles Auto Show opened this week kicking off the start of the auto show season here in the U.S. and as is the norm, industry professionals and members of the press were given the opportunity to ogle, feel, and critique the latest offerings from manufacturers before the doors of the L.A. Convention Center were opened to the public.

While there is much to point out after two days of press conferences, jockeying for position on a crowded stage to take a decent photo, and what seemed to be multiple miles walked between the south and west halls of the convention center, but there were a few things that for me stood out a bit more than others.

The Honda Civic is Interesting Again

In an almost unprecedented move, Honda redesigned the Civic just one year after releasing an all-new model for the 2012 model year.  To their credit, Honda executives moved quickly to address the roundly derided deficiencies of cheap-ish interior materials and an exterior that was hard to differentiate on the outgoing model, understanding the long-term damage that these shortcomings and the fierce competition in the segment could inflict on one of the brand’s perennial top sellers.

While the Civic’s refresh doesn’t dramatically raise the design bar, it is an unquestionable improvement over last year’s version.  By adding a more sculpted hood and replacing the horizontal bar at the top of the grille with tasteful chrome touches at the bottom, Honda designers have given the Civic more of a premium look.  Interior materials are higher quality too, with the hard plastic found in last year’s model replaced by more soft-touch material. 

When these upgrades are combined with a price hike of just $100, Honda should be able to back off of incentive spending (which on the ‘12 has been at a point normally seen after a model is much deeper into its lifecycle) while at the same time looking back on the segment class in terms of new sales. 

The amount of press consuming the Civic after the unveiling demonstrates just how important this car is.

Mazda’s Mazda6 Looks Like a Legit Player

For some time now, Mazda has produced really good cars and trucks but their Zoom-Zoom message has been largely drowned out by the marketing resources of the giants in the industry.  That should change some with the introduction of the 2014 Mazda6 mid-size sedan, which given it’s progressive design, the size of the segment and the potential impact the model could have on the brand’s bottom line make a good case for best-in-show.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the car goes toe-to-toe with the Ford Fusion and Kia Optima in the looks department, and the fact the Mazda will eschew V6 or gasoline turbo-charged powerplants in favor of a turbo-diesel (a naturally aspirated gas engine will be standard) is a competitive advantage in an era when oil burners don’t sit on dealer lots for very long.

The downside?  The engine won’t be available for sale until the second half of 2013. 

Technology Overload

If the L.A. show left any impression, it was that technology is not only becoming ubiquitous, but perhaps even superfluous.  For example, backup cameras will be standard on all Honda models and technology such as lane-departure sensors and adaptive cruise control are now found on cheaper subcompact models.  Keep in mind these were options that just a couple of short years ago were found only on luxury models costing tens of thousands of dollars more.  Makes one ponder the added cost these technologies add to new vehicles, particularly in light of cost increases associated with more stringent C.A.F.E. standards. 

Perhaps more useful, at least to parents of teen drivers, both Ford and Kia also revealed that they’ll be incorporating monitoring systems in the Fiesta and Forte that will allow parents (via an app) to set driving ranges and to send alerts when drivers enter/leave a pre-defined area.  

What Fiscal Cliff?

As you’d expect, executives at each press conference promoted this year’s achievements and universally predicted continued growth next year.  Not one made mention of the impending cliff or the potential ramifications that it would have auto sales.  Again, this isn’t surprising.  The last thing you’d expect would be a downbeat report or for automakers to accentuate the negative.  But like last year’s show, there was a real sense of optimism that things will continue to get better.  Reinforcing this was the fact that relative to last year, at least twice as many OEMs (by my rough calculation) offered food and drink through both days and the quality was markedly better as well.  Certainly provided more energy as we power-walked from one press conference to the next. 

I could go on and on with show talking points – how stunning Jaguar’s new F-Type is, frank comments shared on the future of EV technology, the new product from Kia and Hyundai that will keep the brands ascending, etc. – but I’ll finish things up by simply saying that despite the economic challenges we’re facing, the L.A. show reinforced that the future for consumer choice has never been brighter.