More than 400 gleaming cars and trucks shimmied off vehicle transporters Friday and headed into the Minneapolis Convention Center, where 40,000 spectators are expected to kick tires at the Twin Cities Auto Show that starts Saturday.
The show, which runs through March 16, is an annual rite that brings out auto enthusiasts from around the Midwest, and also helps rev up auto sales.
“This show is a big deal for everyone. We’re expecting another good year” after vehicle sales jumped 13 percent last year, said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the 400-member Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
On Friday, scores of workers raced to build stages and kiosks, hang giant GM, Ford, Mazda and Nissan signs, and drive vehicles across the convention floor. The show features something for many car enthusiasts — but especially Minnesotans who love big trucks and those hankering for fuel efficiency.
“This year, it’s all about gas mileage,” Lambert said.
And on Friday convention staffers drove a slew of fuel-efficient beauties onto the convention floor, including the all-electric BMW-i3; the Chevy Volt, a solar car designed by University of Minnesota students and even the electric Mitsubishi MIEV Evolution II, which is the race car that took first place at the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for electric vehicles.
But gas-powered vehicles won’t be outdone, organizers said.
“What is big this year is Ford’s new F-150. It has an all-aluminum body. That’s big. They took 700 pounds of material out of the truck. It hasn’t hit [Minnesota] showrooms yet, but it’s here,” Lambert said.
Nearby EWI Worldwide exhibition manager Chris Caylor directed the driver of a charcoal F-150 truck up onto a circular stage. He gave the pickup a couple of love taps.
“This is amazing,” Caylor said. “This is the fourth show I’ve had it at. And with the style of it? I’m sold.”
Meanwhile, Bob Dunn, a Chrysler area sales manager, stood in the middle of the Convention Center next to a sparkling white 2014 Viper and insisted it was sure to impress. The completely redesigned sports car “is spectacularly fun to drive ... and rarer than a hen’s tooth. There are only five in the entire metro area.”
Most of Chrysler’s other vehicles at the show will come from Fury Motors in South St. Paul, Dunn said.
Fury’s owners, brothers Tom and Jim Leonard, will deliver one of the few 2015 cars at this year’s show: a redesigned Chrysler 200 with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
“It’s a massive redesign and will compete with the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry,” Dunn said. “We are very excited to have a new entrant into that category. It’s available in all-wheel drive, which should be attractive to many this winter.”
But trucks also will be a big draw, said Bruce Heimerl as he unstrapped giant tires, unlocked brakes and slid Dodge truck after Dodge truck off the giant transporter outside the center.
As Heimerl unloaded the pickups, a stream of nearby drivers in GMC Denali, GMC Terrain and Range Rover trucks lined up and streamed into the floor.
“Trucks are hot right now,” Lambert said. “Minnesota is definitely a truck market. This winter’s been hard enough to turn [anyone] into a convert.”
Still, it wasn’t a truck that captured the hearts of the Auto Dealers Association. Every year, the board selects one vehicle from the auto show as its “auto of the year.”
This year’s pick? The new four-door Fiat 500L.
Luther Fiat of Minneapolis delivered two 4-door models to the show Friday, one brilliant yellow, the other brilliant red. The vehicles resemble short, sturdy SUVs that seem supersized compared to the 500L’s two-door predecessor. Luther also brought two 2-door models, creating a corner of cute for Fiat lovers to congregate.
Lambert hopes the show will encourage recession-battered consumers to finally let go of old beaters.
“And there is still cheap money and low interest rates. And you can get a good value for a trade-in,” Lambert said.
For hours, directions and other information about the show, visit www.twincities autoshow.com.