Auto show rides a wave of big sales

by: JAIME VALDEZ James D. Holbery, left, president and founder of Grid Mobility, Hans van der Meer of EV4 and A. Mark Walter of Christenson Electric Inc., unveiled a prototype electric vehicle charging station at last year’s International Portland Auto Show. Designed by EV4 Oregon and installed by Christensen Electric, the large, mushroom-shaped structure uses solar panels to directly charge vehicles or store electricity in batteries for later use.

Pent-up demand for new cars and trucks is pushing sales to their highest levels in three years, just ahead of the opening of the 2012 Portland International Auto Show.

Automobile sales are up nearly 10 percent nationally and almost 15 percent in Oregon during the past year, approaching numbers that have not been seen since 2009's federal Cash for Clunkers program. Experts predict that around 13.4 million new cars and trucks will be sold nationwide this year.

A surge in auto sales is seen as one more sign the economy is recovering, although slowly, from the Great Recession that began in 2007. It's also welcome news for local auto dealers as they prepare for the annual auto show, scheduled Jan. 26 to 29 at the Oregon Convention Center located at 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The show will feature 500 new cars from 35 manufacturers.

'People come to the show to see the cars. We will most definitely deliver,' says Greg Remensperger, executive vice president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association, which is producing the show.

For the second consecutive year, the show is cosponsored by the Pamplin Media Group, which owns the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers. It is expected to feature most of the newest models on the market, including the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ microcars, the American-made Chevy Sonic subcompact, the revamped Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio subcompacts, the Buick Verano compact, the long-awaited return of the track-ready Boss 302 Ford Mustang, the restyled compact Chrysler 200 compact and full-size 300, the redesigned midsize Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, the Audi A7 and A8 luxury sedans, the third-generation BMW 6 series, the new Mercedes C-Class Coupe, the redesigned Honda CR-V compact crossover and the Nissan Quest minivan.

Continuing Oregon's leadership on environmental issues, the newest green cars are also expected to be on display at the show. They are scheduled to include the all-electric Ford Focus Electric compact, the all-electric CODA compact partly built in China, and three new Toyota Prius hybrid models - the larger Prius V, the smaller Prius C and the plug-in version.

The show also will provide sneak peeks of some 2013 models that are not on sale yet, including the American debut of the all-new Subaru BRZ sports car, the revised Chevy Malibu, the all-new Dodge Dart compact, new versions of the Ford Escape and Taurus, and the all-new Mazda CX-5 compact crossover with the company's high-mileage Skyactiv technology.

And the show will include a selection of crowd-pleasing exotic cars from such high-performance manufacturers as Ferrari and Maserati.