Twin Cities Auto Show growing as car sales rise – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Twin Cities Auto Show, though hugely popular, has had its weak moments. Scott Lambert, who runs the show for the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, remembers how attendance and vendors shriveled a bit at the height of the Great Recession at the beginning of the decade.

This year, though, the show has gotten bigger, and that’s understandable. Riding on ever-lower gas prices, improving employment and millennials coming of age, U.S. auto sales logged a record 17.5 million vehicles in 2015.

The Auto Show already is the biggest event each year at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This year, it has expanded to the complex’s second level to accommodate all of its draws — ranging from an always-anticipated Classic Car Walk to a number of truck-related exhibits aimed at pickup-obsessed Minnesotans.

These were nudged upstairs, in part to make room for a new electric-car room on the first level, just off the main show portal.

“We haven’t been upstairs for eight or nine years,” said Lambert, executive vice president of the dealers association. He has overseen the event for six years.

On Friday, Lambert helped direct caravans of cars rolling through big doors onto the convention center’s main floor. The show boasts 525 vehicles from 37 domestic and imported brands this year.

The Chrysler Pacifica, dubbed “the most technologically advanced minivan in its class,” is one of this year’s stand-out vehicles.

This year’s show this also will provide extended test drives with Ford, Toyota, Mazda and Mini models. The main hall features a “Luxury Lane” at one end and a “Camp Jeep” exhibit at the other, with clusters of cars from mainstream makers like Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota in the huge middle portion.

Technologically, cars and their makers continue to advance. One feature present in a lot of models this year is a dashboard-smartphone interface, found in only a few vehicles at last year’s show.

Upstairs, Toyota trucks have been placed “in their natural habitat,” said Lambert, with a “fall-winter room” and a “spring-summer room” of Minnesota weather diorama displays.

“This was our idea,” said Lambert, “but Toyota is so enamored with this that they are moving it to the Chicago auto show.”

The show’s health “reflects the industry as a whole,” Lambert said. “We are back to pre-recession levels in terms of sales, and the show is bigger than it has ever been … We rented every inch of space we could.”

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This considering the Twin Cities show is among dozens of other such regional shows around the country — including eight coinciding or overlapping. That injects a bit of uncertainty, Lambert said.

It is up to the manufacturers to decide “what they want to show off, and these decisions are made at the last minute,” he said. “We want to put together a show that will really satisfy the Minnesota consumer, but we have to compete with” the other shows.

Weather can also wreak havoc with Lambert’s best-laid plans. Good weather, in particular. He recalls last year’s 70-degree March days, which ate into show attendance as people opted for outdoor activities.

The show opens Saturday and runs through March 20.

Associated Press reports were used in this story.

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