Los Angeles Auto Show: Self-Driving Cars, Convertible SUVs Among Hot Topics

Autonomous Vehicle Illo - H 2015
Illustration by: Peter Arkle

Autonomous Vehicle Illo - H 2015

A BMW reboot and a Fiat 124 Spider sports car revival also will be on display during the show's run from Nov. 20 to 29.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

BMW 7 Gets a (Badly Needed Reboot)

The 7 Series is a classic (Reese Witherspoon has been spotted driving an Alpina B7 submodel), but BMW is set to unwrap the first rethinking of its flagship sedan in seven long years. With the direct­ly competing Mercedes S550 by some measures the world's most technologically advanced car, BMW loaded the new 7 ($82,295) with tech: The entertainment system responds to finger sweeps and hand gestures, and adaptive controls use cameras and radar to keep the car in its lane at speeds as high as 130 mph, bringing the 7 up to par with automated driving functions found in the S-Class and Tesla's Model S.

Mercedes-Benz's Seriously Sexy SL

The slinky Mercedes SL dates to the gullwing-doored beauties of the 1950s and has been a fixture in Hollywood since — Richard Gere tooled around L.A. in a 450SL convertible in 1980's American Gigolo. The version Mercedes will drop at the show sports a redesigned front end, with a more aggressive grille and LED headlights that echo the new-generation S-Class, as well as an optional V12 engine rated at an awesome 621 horsepower.

Back to the Future: Return of the 124 Spider 

A star of the show will be Fiat Chrysler's revival of the beloved Fiat 124 Spider sports car, kissing cousin of the Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider (driven by Dustin Hoffman in 1967's The Graduate). The new Spider evokes the thoroughbred lines of the original — which has been out of production for 30 years but remains one of Italian coach builder Pininfarina's most beautiful designs — mated to a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-­cylinder engine delivering 160 horsepower. The first 124 manufactured will be num­bered Prima Edizione Lusso models with a commemorative badge, exclusive Azzurro Italia exterior paint and premium saddle leather seats.

Range Rover Drops the Top 

A convertible SUV? Why not? Range Rover's Evoque Convertible ($51,470), first shown as a head-turning concept in 2012, comes with SUV bona fides like standard all-wheel drive but adds convertible-specific touches including a rollover protection system that deploys if the car's computers sense an imminent upset. The top drops in 18 seconds flat and raises in 21.

Self-Driving Cars Could Rule in L.A. 
Autonomous driving will be the show's hot topic, and Southern California likely will be the proving ground where self-driving cars get their first real-world shakedown. Early semiautonomous systems (like Tesla's Autopilot) rely on 3D cameras and radar to "read" traffic and keep a car in its lane and thus work best on roads with relatively few intersections and entry points — i.e., freeways. That's good news in Greater L.A., which has 670 congested miles of them. "The myriad freeways with extensive lane markings make the Los Angeles region seem well-suited for autonomous vehicles," says Greg Larson, autonomous vehicle researcher at the California Department of Transportation.

Tesla Doesn't Need Your Stinking Car Show

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, a vocal critic of the mainstream auto industry, has a history of ramping up the rhetoric ahead of car conventions. Tesla only sporadically attends auto shows — preferring, as does Apple, to stage its own unveilings. (The company did ship a Model S to the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas in August.) During a conference call with investors, Musk predicted Tesla will be among the first to build a fully autonomous car and that driving a conventional vehicle "will be like owning a horse." Asked if Tesla could become as big as GM, he replied, "It's not out of the question." During the Detroit auto show in January, Musk declared that Tesla's success should be measured by "the speed at which we force other companies to improve their electric vehicles." Presumably he's delighted that Audi, Porsche and, yes, GM, among others, are deep in development of "Tesla killer" electrics.