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Los Angeles Auto Show: Prosperity, Horsepower and Glitz Are Back -- as Are the Jumbo Shrimp

The Los Angeles Auto Show kicks off the season for major U.S. auto shows with a press preview next week (Nov. 17-18), and my prediction is for a welcome comeback for glitz, glamour and lots and lots of horsepower.

For the last couple of years it would have been indecent for the car companies to fiddle while Rome burned, even those that weren't suffering as badly as the U.S. domestics. This year, with Ford (F) and General Motors back in the black, and Chrysler making at least an operating profit, some fun is making its way back onto the auto show circuit.

Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF.PK), for instance, will have a turbocharged version of its CLS Class that produces more than 500 hp. (To cover all the bases, Mercedes-Benz will also have a fuel-cell car that runs on hydrogen.)

Porsche (VLKAY.PK) will have new models including the 911 Carrera GTS, which produces more than 400 hp. BMW (BAMXF.PK) will have a low-slung, futuristic concept car based on a new 6-Series Coupe.

The point is, so many auto shows in the last few years have been all about "green." It's sort of encouraging to see some guilty pleasures. And maybe not so guilty. You might not think so, but all those cars perform miracles of fuel efficiency, considering how much power they produce.

It's not that I like glitz and glamor so much. The sizzle at auto shows is contrived, tacky, sexist, loud -- you name it -- but it marks a return to normal by auto industry standards. I should add, the German companies are usually pretty restrained, at least in terms of modestly dressed models, more properly called "presenters."

Two years ago, before it became clear the U.S. government would ride to the rescue, the big auto shows were drab affairs. Some car companies clearly were worried if they could afford their light bills, and even those that could afford it cut back on spotlights and even on carpeting.

Last winter, the glitz meter started to stir again, but there was still some noticeable restraint. That was understandable, considering Chrysler and General Motors would both declare bankruptcy within a few months.

There's a running joke about the "jumbo shrimp index." That is, you can tell how well the auto industry is doing by how big the shrimp are at industry get-togethers. Two years ago, if there was anything at all on the menu, they were serving pretzels instead of shrimp. This year, I'm betting the jumbo shrimp are back.


Photo: Top Speed