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Buffalo Auto Show aims to keep momentum rolling

The U.S. auto industry is coming off a record sales year.

It’s counting on people like Nick Ferraro of Lewiston to keep the momentum going.

Ferraro and his father, John, visited the Buffalo Auto Show on opening day Thursday. The four-day event lets shoppers kick tires, slam trunks and slide inside about 250 shiny new rides filling the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Ferraro was looking to replace his 2011 BMW. He was leaning toward buying another BMW or a Lexus. “Whichever one looks better,” he said.

Dealers count on the show each year to act as a springboard for spring sales. Customers browse the options, pick up sales reps’ business cards and narrow their list of preferences.

Dan Grisanti of North Tonawanda is ready to replace his 2013 Cadillac – the lease is up – but is staying loyal to the brand. What draws him to Cadillac? “The ride, the comfort, the style.”

While visitors were welcome inside most of the vehicles, some cars were behind barriers.

David Berry ran into that obstacle with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan. He came down from Medina to check out the van, which he had seen heavily advertised and had researched, but wasn’t allowed inside.

“You come to the auto show to get the experience and feel to know if you like something or not, and then you can’t,” Berry said. “It’s here for show. Let people sit in it. What’s it going to hurt?”

(A representative for the automaker said visitors were not allowed inside the vehicle because it was a preproduction model, and the final version could change before it arrives in showrooms.)

Matthew Carter, a sales operations manager for Ford Motor Co. based in Pittsburgh, oversees a territory that includes auto shows held here and in Rochester, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Erie, Pa., The shows give him insight on what competitors are focusing on through their exhibits.

For dealers, Carter said, the objective of the shows is to “drive traffic. You want to get people wherever they are in the purchase funnel; you want to expose them to what we have.” The Buffalo-Rochester market is a huge one for Ford, he said, particularly for sales of trucks and small SUVs.

In the U.S., 17.5 million new vehicles sold last year, breaking the mark set in 2000. The National Automobile Dealers Association predicts another record this year, raising expectations that sales will keep flowing.

Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association, said visitors on opening day were “on a mission,” asking about specific cars.

“Now they’re looking at, ‘Which one am I going to buy’, not, ‘Am I going to buy?’ ” said Stasiak, whose group organizes the show.

Not everyone roaming the floor was in the market to buy. For auto aficionados, the event is a vehicular red carpet.

Dominic Pacitto, 17, was on a field trip with the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center. He’s a Dodge Ram fan but looked quite comfortable behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, painted Long Beach Red. “I’d take this for a nice test drive down the strip,” he said.

Jeff Pollack of Clarence just bought a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. So why was he at the show?

“To see what’s out there,” he said with a smile. “You’ve got to stay current on all the stuff.”

Nicyle Holman was checking out a Cadillac STS, and admired a Jaguar parked a short distance away with a sticker price of more than $109,000.

Holman, who drives a 2001 Impala, captured the essence of the show: “I can dream, can’t I?”

email: mglynn@buffnews.com