Share this article

print logo

Time to dazzle auto buffs Buffalo Auto Show opens sales season

Park nearly 300 new cars and trucks in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, and a crowd is bound to appear.

The crowd was diverse on the opening day of the Buffalo Auto Show on Wednesday: young and old, serious researchers and casual tire-kickers, neckties and NASCAR jackets.

Auto dealers count on the five-day rite of winter, organized by the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association, to stir interest in what is new, and to bring more customers into their showrooms.

But first, the automakers have to capture showgoers' attention. Sometimes they use the practical -- like more hybrids -- aimed at quelling fears about high gas prices.

In some cases, the automakers use the fanciful -- such as the Chrysler ME Four-Twelve concept car -- which could have come from Batman's garage.

Dealers would surely love to dazzle a visitor like Frank Bucella of Buffalo, who comes to the show every year. He was moving meticulously from car to car, toting a bagful of marketing materials he was collecting.

"I'm a motorhead," he said. "I'm a nut when it comes to cars."

Bucella recently bought a BMW and attended this year's show on a free ticket from the dealer. His daughter is in the market for a car, and Bucella was doing research for her.

Bucella is partial to foreign makes, but he said American automakers deserve credit. "There's no doubt about it," he said. "The American cars are catching up."

At Ford's exhibit, a black 2007 Ford Edge "crossover" vehicle was displayed on a stage. It brought a smile to the face of Bob Zielonka, who has worked at Ford's stamping plant in Hamburg for almost 38 years.

The Edge and the Lincoln MKX are important new sources of work for the plant. Production of the vehicles is set to begin in Oakville, Ont., in August.

"They're our future," said Zielonka, who was staffing an in-show exhibit about the plant and its economic impact.

Zielonka and his co-workers also enjoy getting a close-up look at their rivals' products at the show. "We like to see what the competition's doing, who's copying who," he said.

By design, the Buffalo Auto Show is low-key environment. The dealer representatives wear the same black, collared shirts, and tend stay in the background unless visitors have questions.

Avery T. Bates of Buffalo said he found them well versed in all of the models, as well as details like gas mileage. He was eyeing a Mercedes CLS 500.

"The sales folks have been extremely helpful," Bates said. "They all seem very knowledgeable, which is very important."

The dealers hope the contacts and positive feedback will pay off down the road. Scott Bieler, president of West-Herr Automotive Group, said he views the auto show as the kickoff for the spring market, even though it is held in February.

"We view it as an opportunity to be helpful and meet people," Bieler said in a phone interview. "We don't view it as attempting to sell there."

There is also the entertainment value of seeing concept cars, which often offer a "window" into products that automakers will make in the future, Bieler said.

"I think people enjoy the fact they can see all the cars in a nice environment, all in one place," he said.

If Buffalo's show doesn't seem as "big time" as Detroit's or some other cities' shows, take it from Jackie and Lynette Robinson of New York City: Buffalo's is a great way to see the cars.

The Robinsons have attended New York City's show, where they recalled lines to sit in cars and an overwhelming setup inside the huge Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Lynette Robinson said she enjoyed Buffalo's comparatively modest format. She found it was easy to walk around and talk about what they were seeing.

"You're comfortable," she said.

"It seems to be more personal," Jackie Robinson added.

The Buffalo Auto Show continues through Sunday. Each year, the show designates a charity. This year, proceeds will go to Summit Educational Resources, which provides educational and therapeutic services to children with learning, communication and behavioral challenges.


There are no comments - be the first to comment