The Auto Show's slogan is: Your License to Dream.

With the economy in shambles and job security in question, it was just that for many people who went only to look Saturday, the first day of the annual event at the Minneapolis Convention Center. But for others, it was: Your License for a Good Deal, as dealers are scrambling to sell stacked-up inventories in what already has been a tough selling season.

"If you are able to do it, you can get good deals," said Laurie Patton of Plymouth, who was car-shopping with her husband, Brian. The couple recently had to replace two cars that died within a week of each other and were able to get good deals on replacements. After an accident totaled a car, they were out looking again.

"We're nervous about the economy, but we think we are OK," she said. "We both have good jobs."

Hundreds of vehicles -- from Jaguars and Land-Rovers to Subarus and Scions -- are on display at the Auto Show, which runs through March 29. For many Minnesotans, it's like the State Fair -- they go with the same friends or relatives each year to see what's new.

This weekend, some took pictures of friends or their kids sitting in high-end cars. For families, it was a chance to let kids crawl around a minivan while the parents figured out how the third-row seat works.

Jim Herr of Milaca, at the show with his son and best friend, said he goes every three or four years to see what's new. He doesn't need a new car. "I can't afford one right now anyhow," said Herr, who works at the Federal Cartridge ammunition plant in Anoka.

Many people said they liked the chance to look at so many cars under one roof without having to drive to various dealerships. They also liked that they didn't get pestered by salespeople, although car company employees were on hand to answer questions.

Several people said they thought that attendance was down from years past. Dallas Boullion of Albertville, there with his fiancée, Angie Coolidge, liked that.

"It definitely seems smaller, a lot fewer people," said Boullion, who was snapping a picture of a 2009 Ford F-150. "When it's crowded you can't get close to the higher-end cars. Now you can walk up to any of them."

Bill Abraham, executive director of the Greater Metropolitan Automobile Dealers Association of Minnesota, which sponsors the show, acknowledged that attendance may have been light Saturday morning, but said it was only two hours into a nine-day show. He said attendance usually peaks about 4 p.m., then surges again from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Marc Carden, sales manager at Luther Westside Volkswagen in St. Louis Park, called the show "the kickoff to the selling season" and said it's a popular event in Minnesota. And he said last week at the dealership that many customers are aware of tax incentives to buy. For buyers of new cars between Feb. 17 and Dec. 31, Minnesota's sales tax and excise taxes, as well as any interest on the loan taken to purchase the car, will be tax-deductible.

"It's there," he said about the incentives. "It's more of an attitude --a mind-set of spending rather than saving."

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707


WHAT: Twin Cities Auto Show

WHEN: Through March 29

WHERE: Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Av. S.

COST: $10 for adults; $5 for ages 6-12, 5 and under free. Wednesday: Senior citizens admitted for half price ($5).