Gleaming luxury will be well represented at the Twin Cities Auto Show this year.
The city's 42nd auto show, which starts Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, is bigger than last year and features 450 vehicles that will span all four halls of the massive convention center.
Giving a nod to the growing luxury market, high-end cars will not be sequestered into a small, special room as in past years. This year, luxury cars will take up one-third of the floor space, said Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
"That's a first," he said. "We'll have more $2 million worth of luxury inventory here."
An unprecedented 26 luxury sports cars, sedans and SUVs — with price tags as high as $250,000 — will be displayed. The collection boasts the latest dream machines from Bentley, Audi, BMW, Lexus, Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati and Aston Martin.
Maserati often displays just one car at the annual show. This year, it has three.
During setup on Friday, a parade of Land Rovers, Jaguars, convertible BMWs and a Lotus scooted off transporters, into the convention center and up onto brightly lit stages and platforms.
The show, which runs through March 15, will offer first-time appearances by both Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo. The two brands are new to Minnesota.
The car show draws thousands of car enthusiasts and tire kickers from across the Midwest. While no cars are directly sold during the show, organizers said it helps sell 11,000 to 15,000 cars a year.
Morrie's Luxury Auto in Minnetonka won the right to sell the Aston Martin brand on Jan. 1. Already, the dealership has orders for two.
Three models from the dealership, ranging in price from $190,000 to $250,000, will be at the show, said sales manager Kenny Reller. "We have strong demand from our customer base for the brand."
The company finishes construction on its new Aston Martin showroom in June in Golden Valley.
The Luther Alfa Romeo and Fiat dealership in Bloomington is expected to begin selling and servicing the first Alfa Romeos in the state later this year.
While setting up the show Friday, Bob Dunn, Chrysler's area sales manager, checked out a sporty, pearl-colored Alfa Romeo near the main entry doors for the show.
"This is the first time anyone will have seen one of these Alfa Romeos on display in the state," he said. "It's the first time I've laid eyes on one in person."
The fast, lightweight and four-cylinder 2015 Alfa Romeo 4c runs from $55,000 to about $72,000 and goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds.
"It's an exotic," Dunn said. "It has a lot of common lines with the Ferrari."
Lambert, from the auto dealers association, said the luxury market keeps growing in Minnesota.
"Every time I look at the number, it's a little bit bigger," Lambert said. "Today, about 7.5 percent of the Minnesota market is considered luxury. Five years ago, it was 5 percent."
Dashing past workers hanging signs, installing ramps and polishing freshly deposited Toyotas, Hyundais, Mazdas and Fords, Mary Velline, director of the Greater Metropolitan Auto Dealers Association, said she is impressed with the effort manufacturers put into this year's show.
"I love to see what they do, from their green efforts, to the all-important all-wheel-drive and pickups," she said. "They have gone all out to put these in the show."
She noted the dazzling color of a 2015 electric blue Corvette and glided past a silver Ford Mustang GT, several hybrids and a flock of 13 Lexus vehicles. "I think the market is growing for sure," Velline said.
Minnesota vehicle sales rose about 3.7 percent last year to an estimated 213,500 units. That beats pre-recession sales that reached 210,000 in 2007.
The rejuvenated numbers are a relief for dealers who remember the death days of the recession when dealerships were closing. Vehicle sales plunged to 120,000 in 2010 but have since revived.
"We were just happy to be alive a few years ago," Lambert said. "But now we are back to pre-recession levels and are expecting another 5 percent growth this year."
Auto dealers across the state credit cheaper gas prices, recent job growth and an improving economy for the spike.
That bodes well for this year's auto show, which is perceived as Minnesota's official kickoff to the 2015 car buying season.
Ticket holders will be able to test-drive BMW's first all-electric vehicles or sign up to drive the Ford F-150 truck, which is often Minnesota's bestselling vehicle, followed by the Chevy Silverado, Lambert said between issuing instructions to exhibit workers via a radio.
The doors open Saturday at 10 a.m. for the public. "We're excited," Lambert said. "This is fun."