Big crowds attracted to largest event since recession began

Organizers of the 2013 Portland International Auto Show are thrilled with the attendance, which was up for the fourth year in a row, reflecting the recovering economy and pent up demand for new vehicles.

More Americans bought new vehicles last year than any time since 2008, and experts predict sales will continue to climb through this year.

“It was great. We are very, very happy about the way it went,” says Greg Remensperger, executive vice president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association, the annual show’s longtime presenter. More than 30 manufacturers participated in this year’s show, making it the largest since the beginning of the Great Recession.

The show was held from Thursday, Jan. 24, to Sunday, Jan. 27 at the Oregon Convention Center. Although the metro dealers association does not release attendance figures, daily crowds were visibly larger than last year. The line to enter the convention center frequently stretched to the sidewalk, even after the doors had been open for hours.

Remensperger said sales at the show seemed to be up, too, with several dealers telling him about buyers checking out vehicles one day and then returning to make a purchase the next.

Toyota representatives at the show were impressed with both the size and eagerness of the crowd. Regional Merchandise Manager Dave Bora estimated attendance was up 10 percent from last year’s show. Many people were especially interested in the company’s newest products, the redesigned Avalon sedan and RAV4 crossover.

About 640 test rides were taken in the Toyota vehicles on hand, and an additional 617 were taken in those sold by Scion, the company’s sister brand.

“It was a great turnout,” says Bora.

Popular features from previous shows continued to draw people. They included Camp Jeep, the indoor simulated off-road course sponsored by Jeep. A company spokesman said more than 7,200 test rides took place during the show, keeping the professional drivers who navigated the steep hill and fake logs very busy.

Some of the new features were also well received, says Remensperger. They included the Mobility Zone that featured products for people who need assistance getting around, and the Go Red Room, a collection of all-red cars that helped raise awareness about heart disease in women for the American Heart Association.

For the first time, the Wednesday night preview party was a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Shriners Hospital for Children. Although final figures were not available, Remensperger said it went well for a first-time event and will be on the schedule for next year.

Remensperger says the dealers association worked to establish the show as an event that entire families want to attend, a strategy he believes was successful.

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