STORY WRITTEN BY GARY PULEO
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EAST NORRITON <<With its wide open terrain of shimmering chrome and true-blue stainless steel, the power and the beauty of the Philadelphia Auto Show may seem transient to visitors, but the effects will last much longer than its nine-day reign at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Thousands who attend the show, which runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7, will be taking the insight they gathered from the event’s product specialists directly to area dealerships in the coming months, which lends the Philadelphia Auto Show its vital relevance to the industry, noted Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia (ADAGP), producers of the show.
“The show still does what it always does, and its backbone and its claim to fame and — it’s the strongest in the country in this aspect — it influences about 40 percent of all vehicles sold in this region, about $3 billion,” Mazzucola said in his East Norriton office.
“As far as our region is concerned it looks like we’re selling around 400,000 vehicles in 2015 when the numbers come in, and that’s a record for our market area. Close to 200,000 of those are just in our five-county (Montgomery, Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester and Delaware) area. The show has an impact of that magnitude versus the landscape all over the country and we mirror to some degree what’s going on in the country.”
The auto industry is topping off six straight years of growth, with a record $17.5 million in U.S. sales last year, Mazzucola pointed out.
“It’s true, 2015 was the greatest year of automobile sales in the history of the world. To give some comparison, in 2009, with Cash for Clunkers, it was $10.4 million. The growth we’ve seen since then is unprecedented in the history of retail automobile sales. The only other time frame that matched that kind of percentage sales increase was after World War II, when they decided to start making cars instead of tanks when we won the war. Those sales were from pent up demand.”
In these economically more buoyant times, folks are apt to purchase a vehicle more out of desire than need — and it often translates to opting for a fully “decked out” set of wheels, Mazzucola said.
“In 2010 to 2013, we saw an increase of sales out of need, when people were replacing their worn-out vehicles. Now we’re in transition mode, and getting more into the desire side of the equation. The median price of the sale of a new vehicle is around $33,000, which is the highest ever.”
Just back from the North American Auto Show in Detroit, which traditionally kicks off the lineup of auto show shows in the country, Mazzucola was armed with plenty of insight about the hottest vehicles that will be featured in Philadelphia for the 115th year.
“Going to Detroit is an important process in developing our show,” he said. “There’s not a lot of time between the Detroit and the Philly shows. Detroit is a mecca and we talk to people there about what’s coming to Philly; we get a lot of our product from what’s being introduced there. It’s up to the manufacturer what they want to bring and we work with them to see what they can bring. Then we can promote it and help them help themselves. The Philadelphia show is dedicated to the consumer, where New York, LA and Detroit are media shows. Our show is a working man’s show. We sell a lot more vehicles in Philly than they do Detroit. We’re known for really having an impact on what consumers are going to buy and that’s important to the manufacturers and dealerships.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is hoping to dramatically reinvent the faltering minivan division with its new Chrysler Pacifica and a hybrid version, in the wake of dropping its Town & Country model. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica made its debut at the Detroit show and is on its way to Philadelphia to dazzle visitors who are inclined to be dazzled by utilitarian vehicles.”
“Consumers can expect to see some interesting luxury vehicle entries, like the 2017 Lincoln Continental,” Mazzucola noted. “It’s an important launch for Lincoln in its quest to be relevant in the luxury niche.”
Likely to raise the temperature in the high-end category at the show, the new twin turbo V-6 Lincoln is an all-wheel drive production car that features a self-parking system that’s part of a full menu of safety technology.
The decidedly non-sporty Lincoln will have plenty of competition as automakers are increasingly realizing that cars can be a lot smarter than some drivers when it comes to staying safe.
While we’re still a long way from totally autonomous driving, visitors to the show will soon see that many aspects of the concept are already in place, Mazzucola pointed out.
“Whether it’s lane departure warnings, automatic braking or adaptive cruise control, self-parking — we already have cars that can do all that. And it’s more important than ever that consumers are looking at what the ‘next’ is, in the sense of the particular vehicle they’re looking at.”
Many will recall that “Find Your Next” has been the Philadelphia Auto Show’s theme for the last couple of years, and ADAGP has discovered that the slogan still has plenty of tread left on its tires.
“ ‘Find Your Next’ really does sum up what the show is,” Mazzucola said. “And when we think about different monikers it really does a great job in labeling what the show means to consumers.”
Small SUVs, such as the Honda HRV, Mazda CX-3 and Buick Envision are predicted to take up residence in more garages than ever this year, Mazzucola said.
“Small SUVs are hot right now and a lot of people will be looking at them at the show as their choice, versus a four-door sedan. They can have the utility of having a hatchback, with maneuverability and pretty good gas mileage.”
New features this year include the Philadelphia Auto Show eKEY, a cutting edge technology that allows visitors to quickly scan their information electronically at those dealership displays that house the vehicles they’re interested in, as well as register for a $20,000 voucher at participating dealers.
The exotic and classic car roundups, a popular segment for years, is returning, as is Ride-and-Drive , which gives drivers the opportunity to take test drives around city streets in Kia, Toyota and Mazda models.
A two-level dining and entertainment zone that overlooks the Mercedes-Benz and Lexus displays in the Grand Hall touts arcade games, slot cars and upscale grub from Chickie’s and Pete’s and others.
The Philadelphia Auto Show offers an experience that no amount of automotive Internet research can duplicate, Mazzucola said.
“There’s a big difference between being there and experiencing the vehicle and looking at it on a computer screen. I think that’s the key of the show, this unique one time, nine days when you can take family — and how many things are there that you can take a family to? — that crosses all the demographics. Whether you’re a little boy, little girl, or a grandfather or a father, there’s always something at the show to see — whether it’s nostalgia, classics or dreaming of the exotics or a Ferrari. The show is all things to all people,” he added. “Every person in the family will get something out of the show. It’s cool in that way, and that’s why people typically tend to spend three or more hours there.”