Bigger and better than ever, this year's Twin Cities Auto Show has entertainment for the whole family.
You can watch a dancing robot. You can rock out to Blood, Sweat & Tears. You can donate to a food shelf. You can get a safety check of your child's car seat.
Oh, and you can also look at cars while you're visiting the Twin Cities Auto Show -- maybe even take one for a spin.
Cars, of course, are the main attraction at the show, which runs March 10 to 18 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 500 of the newest and snazziest automobiles will be featured, up from 472 last year, in a larger exhibit area. The show doesn't release attendance figures, but last year's attendance was up 8 percent over the previous year, and this year's show is expected to attract even bigger crowds, suggesting a renewed pubic interest in big-ticket purchases.
"Not only are the other auto shows [in other cities] reporting strong attendance, other Minnesota shows -- the [Minnesota] Sportsmen's Show, the [Minneapolis] Boat Show -- are all reporting strong attendance," said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the show's sponsor, the Greater Metropolitan Automobile Dealers' Association of Minnesota (GMADA).
Every brand of car that's available for sale in Minnesota is represented at the show, including Fisker, a new luxury hybrid. "All the manufacturers are coming out with really interesting products," Lambert said.
Can't wait to get behind the wheel? Chrysler and Subaru will be offering opportunities to test drive vehicles at the show.
In addition to the main exhibits, the show will bring back two popular exhibits that debuted last year. For the environmentally conscious, the Biodiesel Green Room will feature 16 vehicles with electric, hybrid and green diesel engineering. Big spenders (or big dreamers) can ooh and ahh over $1 million worth of high-priced brands, including Maserati, Lotus and Bentley, on Luxury Lane.
"Last year, the Bentley we had in was worth a quarter of a million all by itself," Lambert said.
Meanwhile, this year will include a host of new attractions.
Blood, Sweat & Tears will stage a concert on March 17, the show's second Saturday, in the Convention Center's auditorium. A ticket to the concert comes with free attendance to the Auto Show and, for the first 2,000 attendees, a "Rock the Auto Show" T-shirt (shrink wrapped in the shape of a guitar, no less).
For "real new car and truck aficionados," the show will be offering private tours most days this year, an attraction that proved popular at New York's auto show this year. Groups limited to two dozen people will get a 90-minute tour of the highlights before the show opens to the public.
"It's a way for them to know what's cool, what each manufacturer brought and what's unique about them," Lambert said.
Parents who want to make sure their small children are riding safely can drive through a special Booster Seat Safety Check lane in front of the center. The service, open on weekend days between 10 and 2 and sponsored by State Farm Auto Insurance, is performed by a safety expert. Participants receive a free ticket to the show.
Those interested in cars of an older vintage can check out the exhibit of antique cars, all manufactured in Minnesota. The cars on display will date back "pretty close to the dawn of cars," Lambert said.
With the peak car selling season on the horizon, dealers will be looking to boost their staffs. So they're holding a Job Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. n March 14.
Also at the request of participating dealers, the show will host a food drive. Attendees who bring in a nonperishable food item will get a $2 discount on admission. "The dealers do a lot of community work individually, but they don't like to publicize it," Lambert said. But they wanted to do something in connection with the show because "they felt like it ought to be more than about showing off their product."
Speaking of giving, the show will offer some free gifts to the public: lapel pins to the first 5,000 attendees on March 16, and a toy car every weekend day of the show to the first 500 children age 10 or under.
And if that's still not enough, an eight-foot dancing robot will appearing daily at various times and locations around the center.
"It's pretty cool," Lambert said. "I don't know how they do it, but it's definitely a robot, and he sings and dances."
Katy Read • 612-673-4583