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Auto show aims to drive momentum

Local auto dealers hope to pump things up after a status-quo year of sales in 2016 as they launch the Buffalo Auto Show on Thursday.

Buffalo-area dealers are “very optimistic, very surprised and genuinely enthusiastic” about the sales outlook heading into this year’s show, said Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association. “They’ve got an opportunity to still take advantage of a good economy, or an optimistic economy.”

While sales of new vehicles at 99 area dealerships dipped 1 percent last year, falling to 61,758 new vehicles, auto dealers hope to build on what has been a steady rebound since the recession. New vehicle sales at those dealerships that report sales through the association grew 22 percent in the last five years.

Nationwide, the consulting firm J.D. Power believes new auto sales this year could reach 17.6 million vehicles, which would top 2016’s record-setting total of 17.5 million. The National Automobile Dealers Association predicted sales could fall about 3 percent, to 17.1 million. Either way, sales above the 17-million mark are considered robust. And light trucks – a staple of the Buffalo Niagara market, given the weather – are expected to account for 60 percent of the national market.

Chevrolet and Ford have strong market share in the Buffalo area, thanks partly to the manufacturing plants the two automakers have here. Chevrolet does not publicly disclose sales figures for its Buffalo-area dealers, but Ford’s nine area dealers sold 11,687 new vehicles in 2016. That was down about 6 percent from 2015, but Ford still accounted for about 19 percent of all new vehicle sales in the region reported to the dealers association.

The Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association uses its annual four-day showcase at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to promote new cars and trucks and set the table for the new year.

The show is designed to spur buyers’ interest, even in the midst of winter. More than 250 cars and trucks will look their shiny best inside the convention center. Visitors can collect impressions in a single, no-pressure setting.

Dealers in the region have poured millions into refurbishing their showrooms; the show can spark sales to help them recoup those investments. Contacts at the show between shoppers and sales reps can lead to purchases sometimes months later.

Even those who don’t attend the event are bound to be aware of it, thanks to a flurry of ads touting sales incentives on a variety of brands playing off the show, said Trey Barrett, the auto show coordinator “If, in the following 20, 40, 50 days, you buy or lease a car, then the show did exactly what it was designed to do.”

Buffalo’s show may not have the glitz or new car debuts of events like Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, but it will feature some brands that weren’t displayed at Detroit’s, Stasiak said.

Michael J. Monteith, general manager of Towne Mini in Clarence, said the Buffalo show matters to dealers.

“I’ve been to other cities, and the auto show in Buffalo absolutely launches the [sales] market and is one of the most well-done shows I’ve ever experienced for a city this size,” Monteith said.

He spent a month working to line up a 2017 Mini Countryman for display at the show, before the manufacturer released it to dealers.

Detroit’s highly publicized show, which comes around each January, often provides clues about where the industry is headed.

“Detroit’s message, in my opinion, this year was, autonomous vehicles are coming,” Stasiak said. “That was almost every booth we were at.”

While there’s lots of buzz about automakers developing so-called self-driving cars, autonomous technology is already appearing on vehicles in smaller ways, like self-parking features, lane-centering steering systems and adaptive cruise control, which ensures a car keeps a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.

Visitors to the Buffalo show will be able to see cars available in showrooms now, others that are coming soon and a few they might only dream of buying – like a pre-production Porsche Panamera, with a sticker price of about $100,000.

Stasiak said the sales atmosphere should suit consumers well coming out of the show.

“The finance rates are very, very low, so it still offers affordability to a payment,” Stasiak said. “Leasing residuals have been strong.”

If you go

  • What: Buffalo Auto Show
  • When: Thurs. through Sun. (Feb. 9 to 12)
  • Where: Buffalo Niagara Convention Center
  • Hours: Thurs. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Tickets: $10 at gate, $8 in advance. Children 5 and under admitted free. Available at Tops, Noco, Wegmans, Dash’s and online at buffaloautoshow.com
  • Special guests: Buffalo Bandits Dhane Smith, David Brock and Ryan Benesch, and the Bandettes, 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday; Ex-Sabres Don Luce, Danny Gare and Craig Ramsay, 5 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday; Superhero Alliance, Saturday and Sunday.
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