LOS ANGELES – As General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner wrapped up his keynote address at the Los Angeles auto show here Wednesday, two men emerged from the audience and climbed onto the stage while carrying a sign similar to an oversized novelty check.

On it was written: “I (Rick Wagoner) CEO of General Motors hereby pledge to make GM the most efficient automotive company in the industry by 2010.”

Commandeering a microphone, one of the men told the stunned audience: “We really want to commend Mr. Wagoner for a very great speech. It’s always great to see an auto maker who is willing to take a strong stance on energy independence.

“I have with me today a pledge for Rick to sign here (committing) General Motors to be the leader in fuel economy by 2010. Rick, could you do us the honors?”

Wagoner didn’t miss a beat, thanking the interloper for his complimentary words and saying his speech, outlining GM’s plans for hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells and alternative fuels, spoke for itself.

Wagoner then told the protesters from an environmental group it was time for them to leave, getting a big laugh from the crowd.

At that point, the party crashers were removed from the stage by several unidentified men in suits. One protester apparently remained in the vicinity long enough to argue with a GM official about fuel economy.

Fortunately, the incident proved relatively harmless.

But the easy access to Wagoner leaves many wondering if Los Angeles truly is ready to join the ranks of world-class auto shows, where the leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations mingle freely with journalists and auto industry insiders.

The security at the LA show is stunningly lax compared with other major venues, such as Detroit and Frankfurt. Press credentials only are verified with a photo ID, and security personnel check badges before allowing entrance to the show floor. That’s about it.

As veterans of other major shows know, security personnel with bomb-sniffing dogs usually are posted at all entrances and also are seen routinely patrolling exhibit areas. All bags must be opened for inspection during each and every entrance onto the show floor.

Reporters here wandered in and out of the show all day carrying bulging computer bags and none were challenged.

If Los Angeles wants a world-class auto show, with the same number and level of auto executives as other major shows in the world, it is going to have to crank up world-class security as well.

– with Scott Anderson