The future is now on display at the annual Twin Cities Auto Show — and it still needs drivers.
The show, which starts Saturday and runs eight more days through March 19, debuts at least a dozen 2018 models.
“You’ll see stuff here that isn’t in the showrooms yet,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, including the new Volkswagen Atlas SUV, Ford F-150 pickup, Ford EcoSport compact SUV, Chevy Equinox Premier and the Chevy Bolt.
This year’s auto show comes at a time when the industry is on the cusp of major change. Consumers are curious about autonomous, self-driving vehicles and ride sharing, while manufacturers at the Consumer Electronics Show brought out techno-rich cars that can prompt if a garage door was left open or the lights are still on in the house.
Luxury Lane, a show feature with more than $2 million worth of vehicles from makers such as Aston Martin, Bentley and Lotus, stands as the harbinger of features to come.
“A few years ago, only luxury vehicles had backup cameras and push-button starts,” Lambert said. “Now those features are common in regular vehicles.”
The year’s show contains nearly 600 vehicles, up from 450 just three years ago. Brands such as Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati have recently joined the show, although two popular nameplates are no-shows this year, BMW and Porsche. “They’ve pulled out of shows for marketing reasons,” Lambert said.
This will be the second year for the Electric Room, one of the few auto shows in the country to feature an all-electric car exhibit. The e-room will feature 12 vehicles, including the highly anticipated Chevrolet Bolt. Not to be confused with the gas-electric Volt, the U.S.-made Bolt is the first vehicle with a range of up to 240 miles per charge at a relatively affordable $30,000 with tax credits. It’s garnered several awards, including Car of the Year by Motor Trend.
“It’s the highlight of our show, the first in the Midwest to have it. I think its release will be similar to when the first iPhone came out,” said David Ranallo, program manager at Great River Energy, a sponsor of the Electric Room.
Last year, half the 140,000 people attending went through the Electric Room, about nine times as many that went through the Green Room with hybrid and electric vehicles the year before.
Consumers are curious about electrics, but few are buying them at a time of relatively low gas prices. Nearly 5,000 new electric vehicles were registered in Minnesota in 2016, about 3 percent of the total. Nationally, sales of hybrid vehicles fell nearly 10 percent last year.
“The high level of interest in technology isn’t translating into sales yet,” Lambert said. “People are still figuring out if they can find a charging station Up North or if you can tow boats and trailers.”
As gas prices go, so goes the popularity of electrics. Usually, gas prices increase about 60 cents a gallon between mid-February and Memorial Day, according to Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for fuel monitoring service GasBuddy. “We may not see that this year,” he said. “The cracks in the oil market are growing larger.”
That’s good news for Minnesotans who prefer big vehicles. The bestselling vehicle in the state has consistently been the Ford F-150 pickup. “More and more, we’re a truck state,” Lambert said. “Seventy percent of vehicles being purchased in Minnesota are trucks, and only a few years ago it was 60 percent.”
While the Bolt and the new Toyota Prius Prime are expected to hold appeal for some, many more will be kicking tires of the new Ford GT and Chevy Silverado.
Those looking to be entertained will find a larger, rougher obstacle course in the Camp Jeep exhibit. The Classic Car Walk returns on the second floor with 30 rare vehicles from 1905 to 1974.
Hockey fans can meet Wild coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Scott Stevens and mascot Nordy on Friday.
Auto dealers are hoping the auto show will jump-start sales.
“January and February are slow months, so this springboards people into the selling season,” Lambert said. “It’s a big boost.”