If the press days at the L.A. Auto Show were a competition, it would be no contest: Fiat wins hands down.  Those Italians are true showmen.

Chief Marketing Officer of Chrysler Group LLC and Fiat Automobiles Head of Fiat Brand Olivier Francois stood above the rest of the executives to give a cheeky and sexy presentation to introduce the new Fiats: FIAT 500e, 500c Abarth, and 500L.

It’s the only presentation in which the commercials were just as big an attraction as the cars.  The bulk of the ad spots were a series of sexy ads with an American man and his Italian fiancée.  Throw in a Fiat and some Italian-style sexual innuendoes, and you’ve got commercials Madison Avenue can only dream of.

Quite a comparison to Hyundai’s ill-advised press conference, which trotted out a group of actors playing a family that rocks out at the beach. While this was intended to emphasize the crossover, cross-generational versatility of the Santa Fe, the makeshift-band idea derailed after treading water for several minutes.  Car aficionados are there for the cars, not some nobody band.  If Aerosmith were there, it’d be entirely different.

At least it was an attempt.

Photo by Cirina Catania

The mood has changed drastically from last year, which had more execs grandstanding and more spectacle lighting.  Despite a year-to-year increase in car sales in the U.S., the mood at the L.A. Auto Show press conferences was subdued.  Several addressed lawsuits about advertised fuel mileage, some of which were filed weeks before the show.

There were far fewer concept cars shown, leading one to surmise that it’s “stay the course” this year rather than on innovation.  While many of the speeches exulted in company’s respective green initiatives, there was nothing much groundbreaking in content.

Basketball and Kia-commercial star Blake Griffin was a no-show at Kia’s pavilion this year because of his real job.  Missing overall at the show was the Hollywood factor, both in the form of celebrities and production values.  Even the drive-out debuts were at a low number.

While Chrysler again wins on tchotchkes — its Mopar media kit was contained in a can with a spark plug-shaped flash drive, and its Fiat gift was a classy gift box set — they didn’t come close to matching the hand-sculpted Scorpion flash drive and wooden crate from last year’s show.

Cars are headed toward ever more efficient use of space, but smaller is not always better when it comes ideas, innovation, or even hyperbole, when you’re talking about a giant auto show.

Car companies could perhaps take a cue from Fiat and spice it up Italiano next time.

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