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Auto Show opens amid high expectations

Camp Jeep indoor obstacle course expected to be big draw
by: Courtesy of CHRYSLER CORP. Many visitors are expected to take the ride up and down the 18-foot-high indoor Jeep Mountain.

The 2012 Portland International Auto Show opens Thursday during a period of renewed motor vehicle sales.

After slumping during the recession, new car and truck sales increased 10 percent in 2011, reaching nearly 13 million purchases by the end of the year. Nearly 14 million new cars and trucks are expected to be sold in 2012, according to Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Hundreds of new cars and trucks from more than 35 manufacturers will be on display at this year's auto show, which runs from Thursday, Jan. 26, to Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Oregon Convention Center. Some will be grouped by price and fuel-economy, allowing visitors to compare similar models side-by-side for the first time.

A big draw is expected to be Camp Jeep, an indoor interactive test track designed to demonstrate the off-road capabilities of Jeep vehicles. Professional drivers take passengers through the 30,000-square-foot obstacle course that includes an 18-foot high 'mountain.' Riders are over 22 feet off the ground when they reach the peak. The track also includes a 12-by-25-foot section of terrain simulating fallen logs measuring 18 inches in diameter and a 30-degree wedge to demonstrate the high ground clearance and heavy-duty suspensions found on Jeeps.

Camp Jeep was inspired by outdoor gatherings of Jeep owners organized by the company every few years. They have been held in different parts of the country for the past 25 years, including Virginia and Colorado. The indoor version is fabricated out of steel and other durable materials. It takes three days to set up and two days to dismantle, and is towed from city to city by a semi-truck.

'The idea was to replicate outdoor Camp Jeep experience at auto shows where more people can learn what a Jeep can do,' says Phil Bockhorn, the company's senior manager of shows and events.

Six other manufacturers are offering Ride and Drives outside the show. They include General Motors, Kia, Scion, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen.

Other interactive displays include a Ford F-150 SVT Raptor off-road racing simulator and a Mazda Laguana Seca Raceway sports car racing simulator.

Non-automotive displays include the Healthy Life Garage that includes free check-ups sponsored by Pacific Source Health Plans.

Taylor sees three major reasons why sales will continue increasing in 2012, all of which apply to Portland. Afternoon tastings of regional wines will also be offered there. Participating vineyards include Anne Amie, Van Duzer and Patton Valley.

One is the increasing average age of vehicles on the road today - nearly 11 years, far longer than usual.

Another is the increasing availability of affordable credit for auto loans after a period of lending restrictions.

And the third is aggressive incentives offered by manufacturers and local dealers. For example, Portland-area Ron Tonkin dealerships are offering auto show specials that include zero percent financing for up to 60 months on select vehicles to qualified buyers.

The show is organized and presented by the Portland Metro New Car Dealers Association. The media sponsor is the Pamplin Media Group, which includes the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers.

For more information, visit the show website at www.portlandautoshow.com .