Car makers premiere big and bold designs at LA Auto Show

Big and bold is the theme at a major auto show in Los Angeles, which combines motoring with new mobility technology.

The world's car makers debuted more than 60 vehicles at the LA Auto Show, with a big push towards high-performance electric vehicles.

But it was also a farewell for one of the world's most iconic cars, the Volkswagen Beetle.

With its distinctive curved shape and round lights, the VW Beetle even found fame on the big screen as Herbie the Love Bug.

Volkswagen's US Communications Officer Pietro Zollino believes the unique design look was "a stroke of genius".

"They didn't design it to be iconic from a design perspective, they designed it for practical reasons. But it turned out to be really a brand of its own."

The Beetle's been a mainstay for Volkswagen for almost 70 years, with 215 million bugs sold worldwide.

But changing preferences will see the company end production of "the People's Car" next year, with two Final Edition Beetles launched to celebrate the car's long history (although these are unlikely to be available down under).

Most of the world's big auto brands (and some young upstarts) are at the LA show, including revolutionary electric car company Tesla.

But it's the legacy car makers who are keen to promote their own innovations, as the industry steers into different directions.

NZ Motoring reporter Rob Maetzig says the automotive industry is on the cusp of some very major changes.

"We're going from the internal combustion engine which is the tradition, to everything... you know, electric power, hydrogen power, everything like that."

And Maetzig says the big guys are working hard to ensure they're not "disrupted" out of the industry altogether by the young tech innovators.

"It's going to be interesting to see how many car companies are left in maybe say a decade. Because things are changing that fast."

Across the board, larger vehicles like SUVs continue to grow in popularity.

BMW launched the 4th generation of its crossover SUV X5, which is already on sale in New Zealand.  The German carmaker also premiered a new luxury big brother, the large 7-seater X7, which goes on sale here next March.

But along with the commercial launches and new technology, there's also a few unusual-looking concept vehicles on show.

French-born New Zealander Samuel Chuffart led the design team for Icona's futuristic-looking Nucleus self-driving vehicle.

"Autonomous driving vehicles won't be the same cars you see today, just without a steering wheel".

"They will be a space that you can enjoy, very much like a lounge.  You can have different shaped seats, and you can even have a bar or a coffee machine", says Chuffart.

The luxury pod-shaped design is a long way off being ready for the road, but it could be the shape of things to come.

"So very much tomorrow you will be travelling like you are in a aeroplane or a train", he says.

"You are not so much obsessed about looking at the road. You are very happy to look at where you are, where you are going."

And more and more people will be getting there via electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, as automakers plot a new course.

Here in New Zealand, there's already more than 11,000 electric vehicle on the roads, with figures for October showing the biggest monthly growth on record.