After seven years of gains, new vehicle sales in the U.S. tapped the brakes last year. The slowing is likely to continue in 2018, according to forecasts.
Enter the Twin Cities Auto Show, which will serve up a fleet of powerful American-made trucks, luxury brands and advances in electric and hybrid vehicle technology during a nine-day sales pitch that begins Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
More than 600 vehicles are on display from 36 imported and domestic brands.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, light-vehicle sales were down 20,000 vehicles last month in the United States compared with February 2017. The group expects sales to dip below 17 million for 2018, off the 17-million-plus levels of recent years but still relatively strong.
Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said Minnesota dealers have felt this decline as well, though January and February are historically slow months. He added that he still sees consumer confidence in the auto industry.
The pricey end of the market, where sales have remained relatively strong, will play a starring role in this year’s Auto Show. Lambert said the show’s “Luxury Lane” and “Acceleration Alley” feature luxury vehicles, and more vehicles are added yearly.
“It continues to grow,” Lambert said of the display and buying behaviors. A $311,650 Aston Martin Vanquish S Volante convertible is one of the priciest vehicles on display at this year’s show.
Also in response to buyer behaviors, the Auto Show has expanded the number of trucks displayed and will spotlight 2019 Dodge Ram and 2019 Ford Ranger pickup trucks. The National Auto Dealers Association reports that light trucks accounted for 67.8 percent of all new light vehicles sold in February, up 4.2 percentage points from this time last year.
The Auto Show this year has installed a second indoor demonstration track — the Mitsubishi Mile — in addition to the annual Camp Jeep track. Mitsubishi’s track imitates ice and potholes to mirror Minnesota’s common driving obstacles. Lambert said the Camp Jeep track is always a crowd favorite, allowing attendees to ride along while a professional driver tackles steep hills and bumpy terrain.
In the Electric Room, which became a part of the show in 2016, attendees can examine fully electric or hybrid vehicles and learn more about the costs and benefits of owning one.
Great River Energy is touting its “Plug Into MN” initiative, which started in October and advertises the many charging stations installed along the Interstate 35 corridor, said Therese LaCanne, spokeswoman for the utility.
“We’re excited to celebrate the state’s first electric corridor,” she said.
Lambert said the “Car of the Show” this year is the 2019 Infiniti QX50, a midsize crossover with a list price that starts at about $37,000.
Other advertised vehicles include a Lexus LC 500 Black Panther, one of the cars used in the filming of “Black Panther,” and two Hurst Heritage performance vehicles. Only 50 Hurst Heritage supercars are in production for 2018.
Olivia Johnson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.