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April 27, 2009 8:26 PM | By John Leblanc, MSN Autos

2008 LA Auto Show

2009 Ferrari California (© Photo: Ferrari)

Los Angeles – Maybe it was because all of the CEOs of the Detroit Big Three were in Washington, D.C., with their corporate tin cups in hand, but two of the automakers didn’t even bother to hold a press conference during this year’s LA Auto Show media days.

Regardless of the less than optimistic atmosphere here on the West Coast, the show must go on.

While green cars, such as Honda's FC Sport fuel cell sports car concept and BMW's all-electric Mini E are this year's showstoppers, there are plenty of other production and concept debuts that stop the show -- but for all the wrong reasons.

I'm talking about the head shakers, the what-the-blanks and cars that make you say, "They're not really going to build that?" In other words, automotive designs that should have never seen the light of day.

But hey, even car designers have bad days. Here are the worst vehicles, in my opinion, at this year's LA Auto Show.

2009 Ferrari California interior (© Photo: Ric Francis/AP)

2009 Ferrari California

I know, I know: Ferraris are supposed to be the Holy Grail of sports cars: beyond criticism, untouchable, riding on sacred ground. But I don't care. The California is ugly. Or, to be specific: the rear end of the car, with its various cut lines and swollen fenders to accommodate the complex folding roof while retaining a usable trunk, is not exactly bellissimo!

No doubt, with its 453 hp 4.3-litre V8, based on the same engine architecture used by Ferrari's own 430 Scuderia, and its super-quick dual-clutch transmission, the Cali more than likely drives like a Ferrari.

But, if there's such a thing as an automotive liposuction clinic, pass along the phone number to Ferrari.

Gumpert Apollo (© Photo: Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur)

Gumpert Apollo

Just like the culpable Cali, the Audi-powered Gumpert Apollo is stupid fast.

Its maker - Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur of Germany - claims that recent aerodynamic enhancements allow for a top speed of almost 360 km/h. And on BBC's Top Gear, in the hands of the tame racecar driver known as the Stig, the Apollo established a new record on the show's Dunsfold Aerodrom test track.

All very well and good.

But if you're going to pay between US$400,000 and $700,000 (depending on the specs), why not get a super car that doesn't look like a reject from one of the Mad Max movies? At the very least, there will only be 10 Apollos brought to North America so the chances of being shocked into a coma by one of these cars passing within eye sight is small to none.

Gallery: Worst cars of the LA Auto Show

2010 Mazda3 (© Photo: Fred Prouser/Reuters)

2010 Mazda3

Mazda's compact has been a perennial top seller in Canada since its launch in 2004. One of its main characteristics is its clean, attractive European looks. But, for the all-new second-generation car, you'll have to strike out "attractive" and replace it with "huh?"

I know what Mazda is trying to do. Add a little RX-8 styling love onto the existing Mazda3's architecture. But while the swoopy fender and elongated tail work reasonably well on the larger proportions of the new mid-size Mazda6 sedan, on the smaller Mazda3 they look forced.

A particularly egregious design sin is the new Mazda3's front end. If you want to brag that your car has jowls, Mazda (now) has the car for you.

2010 Ford Fusion (© Photo: Ford)

2010 Ford Fusion

Like the Mazda3, Ford's midlife design refresh of its Fusion family sedan has been caught with its side skirts down. Based on its heavily revised front and rear styling, the new Fusion seems conflicted: Rock (existing three-year-old Fusion frame), meet a hard place (the look of the Euro-based next Fusion not due until 2012).

There's a reason why the new Fusion's chromed, porn-like 'stache hood looks like it was designed separate from the rest of the sedan's body ... because it was.

It didn't have to be this way. Unfortunately, for Canadians, the Fusion's U.S.-market only 2010 Mercury Milan platform mate seems to have inherited the looks in Ford's mid-size sedan family.

2010 Lexus RX 450h (© Photo: Fred Prouser/Reuters)

2010 Lexus RX

There goes Lexus, tempting and teasing us with its aggressive-looking LF-Xh concept, first seen at the Tokyo show last October, then spray bombed in oh-so-current matte black as recently as this October's Paris shindig.

But a not-so-funny thing happened to the LF-Xh show car en route to the production model RX luxury crossover. Although based on an all-new architecture it shares with the new Toyota Venza, the 2010 RX is like a timid kindergartner: It doesn't stray too far from the rope.

From two parking spaces away, it's hard to see much "new" in this latest generation RX. So who pushed the snooze button down in Lexus's design studio?

2010 Nissan Cube (© Photo: Nissan)

2010 Nissan Cube

More of a disappointment than a disaster, Nissan's first global Cube loses some of its Japanese-market predecessor's purity and charm.

I really liked the last model's uncomplicated geometric form; it was simple like a good piece of post-modern architecture.

Though I'm not so sure the new 2010 is as successful, especially the heavy-handed Cyborg-like frontend.

Toyota Camry CNG

According to the Japanese automaker, the compressed natural gas version of its Camry sedan is "meant to be a signal that there are way more upsides than downsides to natural gas right now."

There are some advantages to CNG vehicles. Natural gas costs 30 to 60 per cent less than gasoline. And the U.S. Energy Department calculates that CNG vehicles release 60 to 90 per cent less smog-producing pollutants and 30 to 40 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

But in terms of automotive styling? I just called the design police ... they're on their way.

More LA Auto Show links:

Gallery: On location at the LA Auto Show
Photos: Car going green at the LA Auto Show
Gallery: LA Auto Show's Sports cars and concepts
First Look: 2010 Ford Mustang

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