Introduction

The Los Angeles Auto Show has quickly become an important platform for all manufacturers and might be more important overall than the Detroit Auto Show (officially known as the North American International Auto Show). The show wrapped up on Thursday, Dec 3 and here are the show debuts we thought were most important.

2011 Ford Fiesta

The Ford Motor Company unveiled their 2011 Ford Fiesta at the Los Angeles Auto Show, giving small car fans something to look forward to on the domestic front. The Fiesta, a nameplate that some Americans might recall from decades ago (or more recently if they've traveled to Europe in the last few years, where the Fiesta has been a perennial hit), will go on sale next year.

Why it's important: With fuel economy standards increasing quickly under the Obama administration, we're likely to see many more small cars. Since automakers are going to have to make money off them, they're likely to be loaded up with features, unlike small econoboxes of yesteryear.

Audi e-tron Concept

Audi's e-Tron is an electric version of their fabulous R8 sports car. The e-Tron uses four electric motors for a combined 313 hp and enough torque to pull the moon out of its orbit. We're not so hot on the orange color or the multi-spoke wheels, but to each his own.

Why it's important: It's just a concept, but it shows that Audi will be serious about electric cars going forward (currently the company has no hybrid electric car for sale, but they do sell diesels).

2011 Toyota Sienna

Minivans aren't top of the list when most people think of sexy auto show debuts, but we'd suggest you check this one out. The minivan market, previously something on the order of about 1.5 million units, is now only about 450,000 units. In the last decade many have dropped out and it's become the domain of really only three players: Honda (Odyssey), Chrysler (Town & Country and Grand Caravan) and Toyota (Sienna).

The third generation Sienna seen here is Toyota's latest and we think it's a daring effort: a bold design takes cues from there crossover Venza wagon/SUV combo and looks quite good. Inside we love the configurations and the incredibly nice 16-inch LCD display for dual in-vehicle entertainment.

Why it's important: Design matters, even for something like a minivan. Notice how the Sienna's scowling front end mimics something from a sports car, while the 19-inch wheels on the SE model are something out of street culture, not the Curves parking lot you'd expect from a minivan owner. Minivans are maturing in interesting ways and the Sienna is one example of that.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

2011 Hyundai Sonata Do you remember a time when Hyundai was simply an also-ran South Korean company with cheap products and barely a leg to stand on in the brand game? That wasn't too long ago. But over the last five years we've seen the little company grow like no other and in 2009 no company gained as much market share as Hyundai. The latest blossom is the mid-size 2011 Sonata (actually classified as a large car due to its interior volume), an audacious design that will go on sale next year.

The Sonata is clear evidence that Hyundai is moving in design directions that it's never been before. Unlike Acura, however, these design chances seem to be paying off and the Sonata slots nicely next to its big brother, the Genesis.

Because Hyundai wants to point to its focus on efficiency, the Sonata will debut with a four-cylinder engine only (bigger engines will likely come later). But this isn't any four-cylinder: it's a direct-injection model (this burns fuel much more efficiently). It will also have a six-speed transmission, giving the vehicle a 35 MPG highway rating.

Why it's important: Hyundai might be the car company with the best growth story in the industry right now. With fresh product, innovative marketing and a CEO who knows what he's doing, they appear to be firing on all cylinders. The Sonata is the volume sedan that will really get things going for them and surprise and delight the new customers that give them the opportunity.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The Chevy Cruze is GM's first real small car. Yes, there have been attempts in the past, but we'll write off the Cavalier and Cobalt as also-rans. And if you have memories of the Chevette taking your breath away, good for you. The Cruze, however, is the company first real attempt at something small that appears like an honest effort.

The four door is larger than the outgoing Cobalt, comes with a much more refined set of powertrains (a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder and a naturally-aspirated 1.8-cylinder four-cylinder, plus a manual gearbox or a six-speed transmission). The company claims 40 MPG is possible with the turbo and a manual transmission for highway driving -- something that makes the Cruze hybrid competition for many buyers.

Why it's important: GM needs quality small cars that can compete with some great new products from Ford and others. The Cruze seems up to the task. 40 MPG ain't bad, either.

Volkswagen Up! Lite Concept

VW's Up! Lite concept has some serious numbers behind it: the company claims it gets a combined 70 MPG from its diesel hybrid powertrain. Of course, it's just a concept for now, but VW has made public pronouncements that it wants to bring some form of the Up! concept to America.

Why it's important: VW wants to reclaim the spirit of the original Beetle, a car that embodied value and efficiency like no other. Can the Up! Lite do it? Not now, but perhaps in another form it will.

Honda P-NUT concept

Japanese concept cars tend to have the best names. The P-Nut is no exception, but we can see why they didn't go with the full name of "Personal-Neo Urban Transport" as a buzzword. The innovative small car is just a concept, but it has some lovable features. The driver's seat sits alone way up in the front of the vehicle, while passengers ride behind.

This is possible in part because the engine is made to be mounted in the rear, under the floor. Honda says the vehicle could accommodate a small gas engine, hybrid or pure electric.The entire "footprint of the vehicle is very small: it's just 69 inches wide and 133 inches long.

Why it's important: Honda is loosely testing shapes and design treatments for future small cars that you might see in a few years. Squint (hard) and you'll see what's likely the design direction for the next Honda Fit.

2011 Buick Regal

Yes, the Regal is back. But this time, we really think you should take notice. The brand is going through product renaissance that's like none other in its history, what with the beautiful new LaCrosse evidence that they're serious this time.

Like the LaCrosse, the Regal shares a similar platform but is about 7 inches shorter overall. It will become Buick's least expensive car when it goes on sale in the first half of next year, launching with a four-cylinder and adding a turbocharged four-cylinder later in the year.

Why it's important: A beautiful Buick? Now we really have seen it all.