Auto show has plenty to offer for consumers and dealers



After being trapped at home practically since Thanksgiving, Pittsburghers are looking for almost any excuse to get their minds off the weather.

John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers Association, hopes the Pittsburgh International Auto Show will do just that. "It's a good time of the year to get out of the house and out of the cold," he said.

The show has its usual President's Day weekend schedule, opening Friday and running through Monday.

Get a sneak peak of the Pittsburgh International Auto Show

Here's a look at some of the new Ford vehicles that will be on display at this year's Pittsburgh International Auto Show, which opens this weekend at the Convention Center. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/13/2014)

Though everyone is so sick of snow and cold that even talking about them can become annoying, the weather is the not-so-invisible hand driving everything this year.

Joe Phillippi, a former Wall Street analyst who is president of AutoTrends consulting in Hanover, N.J., sees cabin fever as one of many weather-related factors keeping people away from dealerships. And there's another one that could drag on sales even longer.

"The kind of temperatures we've had in the whole month -- January had a rather substantial increase in the utility bill -- so that's going to take money out of people's pockets," said Mr. Phillippi.

The other factor driving car sales is about as unwelcome a topic as the polar vortex -- the economic meltdown.

When the economy tanked in 2007, car sales definitely went with it. But while the rest of the economy has lagged, the automotive industry has been leading the way back, rising from 10.4 million vehicles sold nationwide for the 2009 model year to 15.6 million for 2013. Industry leaders and analysts alike are looking to cross the pre-recession magic number of 16 million sales in the 2014 model year.

2014 Pittsburgh 
International Auto Show
When: Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.
Admission: $10; seniors 60+ and military with I.D., $8; children 12 and under, free

Lacey Plache, chief economist for Edmunds.com, said discounts could be more of a factor in 2014 but added, "I think we're still seeing strong enough pent-up demand that they shouldn't have to be deeply discounting."

She cites a high number of vehicle leases -- some 300,000 nationwide -- ending during the year, providing a cushion to new-car sales.

A light truck rebound: One lagging sales niche has been light trucks. As the real estate markets and housing starts around the country have been seesawing, nervous builders have postponed replacing aging trucks, which tend to last a long time anyway.

"The last top-selling segment to lag behind the overall industry recovery ... finally gained some momentum in 2013," Ms. Plache said. Sales were 87 percent of 2007 levels compared to 74 percent in 2012.

And truck buyers who continued the waiting game may get their reward this year.

The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra were both redesigned for the 2014 model year, and Ford is coming out with an all-new F150 for 2015.

Ford's new 2015 F150 comes from a restarted plant with a new aluminum body and ultra high-strength steel frame, Mr. Phillippi said. To hedge against any production problems, he predicted that Ford will overfill dealers with 2014 models to sell.

General Motors -- which introduced redesigned Chevrolet and GMC full-size trucks for the 2014 model year -- and Ram will also fight to hang on to sales.

"There's going to be an interesting battle going on, which should make for pretty good pricing," he said.

Going upscale: Luxury will be another area where automakers are chasing sales, Mr. Phillippi said.

As Mercedes goes downscale with the $29,900 CLA, BMW adds the 1 Series and 2 Series, and Audi goes with the A3 and A2, automakers are expanding their offerings.

Over at Kia, the new 9000 puts the one-time economy-only automaker into the $60,000-$70,000 price range. A new Escalade from Cadillac for 2015 also moves that vehicle further upscale as well.

Visitors to the show interested in luxury will have a chance to get up close and personal with some nice wheels. The BMW Ride and Drive will allow visitors to drive one of five BMW models outside on the streets of Pittsburgh.

But buyers don't have to be ready to pay premium prices for the finest in vehicle offerings. Top tier options are now showing up throughout automakers' lineups.

"That's obviously good for the customer," Mr. Phillippi said. "Everybody is being pushed to offer an ever-increasing list of functions and features."

Closer to home: Automotive sales in the 11-county Pittsburgh region have tracked national numbers, and perhaps even rebounded a bit faster.

Mr. Putzier said new-vehicle registrations numbered 140,000 for 2012. The last time numbers were that high was during the 2007 model year. A total of 100,000 registrations was tallied for 2009.

"We're expecting 2013 to be something north of 140,000 cars and light trucks," Mr. Putzier said.

At the show: So, naturally, the Greater Pittsburgh Auto Dealers Association and its members hope the show will drive sales.

The 2015 Ford F150, 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra will all be there, as will the 2015 Ford Mustang and 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible and Subaru WRX STI.

But the show also features lots of events for people who may not be so interested in cars.

Face-painting, a children's museum, the Comcast Ultimate Gaming Trailer, all four Pittsburgh pro team mascots, and a Simzilla Racing Simulator are among the other features (check the website pittautoshow.com for times and days of the features).

Mr. Putzier expects to see attendance surpass 2012's 63,000 visitors, the highest number year. "We're expecting 2014 to be a record-breaker," he said.

Here is a collection of reviews we've produced for this year's show.

 

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com


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