To the Editor:
The 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show had an unusual level of significance for the future, present and past.
Future: A symposium on the connected car and digital-device interfacing with the driver covered such issues as driver distraction and self-driving or autonomous cars, which are being developed by Mercedes-Benz and others.
Present: The press presentations are terrific theater -- the fanfare music; the dramatic videos; the sliding silks revealing concepts, prototypes and soon-on-the-market models; the executives explaining their companies' "passion"; the feeling of everything is new, exciting and optimistic.
Past: Visiting on public days is equally a treat. Watching real people lifting hoods, inspecting trunks and sizing up interiors should be required for every auto executive. What other product these days has people posing next to it for a picture?
So what's the point? Automobiles remain deeply personal, but for how long? The genie of the self-driving car is out on the road. To those who say it is a long way away, don't be surprised to see high-occupancy-vehicle lanes converted for autonomous cars as an early introductory step.
What will brand mean? Manufacturers spend jillions of dollars to avoid cars becoming a commodity. Will the autonomous car become the anonymous car? Already safety and environmental regulations are homogenizing certain design elements.
Designers and engineers are an ingenious lot -- there will always be the plush and the practical -- but bit by bit, over time will individual car character be chipped away?
Someday will manufacturers and dealers shift to benchmark the marketing of Maytag and Frigidaire? I hope not.
Laguna Beach, Calif.
The writer is retired. He worked in advertising for an automaker for 25 years.