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Auto show rides a wave of big sales

Dealers hope new models, high mileage vehicles lure buyers
by: Courtesy of Jeep 
The Camp Jeep test track has been a hit at auto shows around the world and now it's coming to Portland, where many people take off-roading seriously.

Pent-up demand for new cars and trucks is pushing sales to their highest levels in three years, just in time for 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. Sales are approaching numbers that have not been seen since 2009’s federal Cash for Clunkers program. Experts predict that about 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, 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 event. For the second consecutive year, the show is cosponsored by the Pamplin Media Group, which owns the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers. The show is expected to feature most of the newest and 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 also are expected to be on display. 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. And the show will include a selection of crowd-pleasing exotic cars from such high-performance manufacturers as Ferrari and Maserati. Spreading jobs around New car and sales are a significant part of the Oregon economy. According to WorkSource Oregon, the state’s employment department, more than 240 new car dealers in Oregon employed more than 10,400 people and paid more than $847 million in wages in 2010, the most recent year for which annual figures are available. The National Automobile Dealers Association reports that although new car dealerships comprised less than 2 percent of all retail establishments in Oregon in 2009, they accounted for more than 13 percent of total retail sales and more than 12 percent of the state’s total retail payroll. The impact spreads well beyond individual dealerships. For example, the Port of Portland is a major delivery point for Japanese and South Korean car and truck manufacturers. Port officials estimate that each vehicle passing through the port contributes $271 to the local economy. More than 185,000 vehicles passed through the port in 2010. Starting in February, Ford will export vehicles to South Korea from the port. The company is shifting its existing export program to Portland from New Jersey to eliminate travel delays though the Panama Canal. Approximately 8,000 cars are expected to be exported next year, a number that could grow significantly if developing countries like China and India begin importing more American-made automobiles. The upcoming auto show is more than a static display of cars and trucks, however. Remensperger says it will also include a number of never-before-seen in Oregon features intended to improve the shopping experience. They include: • Camp Jeep, a 30,000-square-foot indoor test track for Jeep vehicles that features an 18-foot-high, 35-degree hill climb, a 12-by-25-foot section simulating fallen logs measuring 18 inches in diameter, and a 30-degree wedge to demonstrate off-road abilities. • Under 21 Club, a special room where shoppers can compare a wide range of new vehicles costing less than $21,000 side-by-side. • Over 35 Club, another room where many of the vehicles that get more than 35 miles per gallon are shown next to each other. • Ride-and-drives of many vehicles offered outside the center by General Motors, Kia, Scion, Subaru and Toyota. The show is also scheduled to include a number of related informational areas, including an Eco Center with the latest news about green vehicles, the Great Outdoors with displays of recreational equipment, the Healthy Life Garage for health checkup and relaxing, and a Car Giveaway Contest. “The real benefit is that shoppers can come to our show with the expectation that they will not only be able to view some great automobiles, but they and their family will have a great time doing it,” says Remensperger. Discount admission coupons will be available in the Portland Tribune and all Community Newspapers a week before the show opens.