High Gear

Car enthusiasts rev up for international auto show

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Memphis News

The 2011 Memphis International Auto Show rolls into town Friday through Sunday, giving car enthusiasts a chance to check out more than 250 of the latest cars, trucks, SUVs and hybrids, along with many other special attractions at the automotive extravaganza.

Robert Freeman of Professional Detailers prepares a GMC Terrain for the Memphis International Auto Show, which runs today through Sunday at the Cook Convention Center downtown. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. This marks the third consecutive year for the show at the convention center, following several years at Agricenter International.

“This year we will have roughly 30 manufacturers on display,” said Shaun Foley, Motor Trend Auto Shows spokesperson. “The show will be bigger this year, 20 percent larger. We’ve expanded into the ballroom for displays.”

One new addition to the show will be the Toyota Drive Center, where participants 18 years of age and older will be able to take free onsite test drives in a variety of new cars from Toyota. Available models will be the newly redesigned Highlander Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, Prius, Sienna, Venza and Tundra. Each test drive will take place on roads outside of the convention center so drivers can experience each car’s performance and handling under real driving conditions.

Several 2012 and pre-production models will be showcased, like the 2012 Fiat 500, 2012 Ford Focus, 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, 2012 Chevy Sonic and the 2011 Chevy Camaro Convertible.

Alternative fuel vehicles are also expected to draw a lot of interest. Models include the 100 percent-electric Mitsubishi i-MIEV, Chevy Volt, Honda CR-Z, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and other models from Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln, Toyota and more.

Another hot ticket is expected to be the Chevrolet LS7 SEMA Camaro concept car. The 550-horsepower Victory Red car is designed to replicate the spirit of the Camaros of the late 1960s.

New technology on display from various manufacturers will include advanced accident avoidance sensors that can sense accidents and make adjustments, inflatable rear seat belts, parking assists for easier parallel parking, built in WiFi, streaming Bluetooth audio, satellite TV and even in-dash hard drives.

Organizers set up for the Memphis International Auto Show, which runs today through Sunday at the Cook Convention Center downtown. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

As an added bonus, each show attendee will receive a one-year subscription to Motor Trend magazine and will be entered into a drawing to win both a 1969 Calypso Coral High Performance Boss 302 and a matching 2012 Boss 302.

Kent Richie, principal owner of the Landers car dealerships across the Mid-South, has been working with the International Auto Show for 25 years.

“We like to do the event in February because it helps to kick off the spring selling season,” he said. “It’s out of the weather in case it rains, and it’s all under one roof so you don’t have to go from building to building like you do at other places.”

Three years ago, the event was held in November and did not do as well as when it had a February date.

Setup is going on all week at the convention center. The displays will be manufacturer driven, not dealership driven. Manufacturer reps will be able to gauge people’s reactions and get feedback about their cars.

Dealerships will not be selling directly at the show, but they can establish leads and develop contacts that might lead to future sales.

“It’s a shot in the arm for the local auto industry,” Richie said. “Generally speaking, it is always a big selling weekend for us. Even though we don’t sell at the show, we get sales from the show. People get the chance to shop in an environment that they’re in control of, and they get to shop the cars side by side.”

Free opening-day tickets are available at participating new car dealers and Schnucks stores while supplies last. Discounted event tickets are available online and at area dealerships.

Sunday will be Family Day, with children under 12 admitted for free with a paying adult. The weekend will feature meet-and-greet appearances with the winners of the 2011 Tennessee International beauty pageant as well as appearances on Sunday from Spider-Man and Iron Man. The eight-foot-tall Gossett Motors Robot will also entertain show attendees all weekend.

Motor Trend Auto Shows LLC, the nation’s largest auto show producer, has produced the Memphis show for the past five years.

Visit www.motortrendautoshows.com for more information.