Auto Show Rolls Into Grand Center


    GRAND RAPIDS — After a year of strong sales, the Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association is looking for an equally strong turnout at the 4th Annual Michigan International Auto Show next week. Two hundred of the newest domestic and foreign vehicles from 38 manufacturers will be on display.

    The public ogling starts on Thursday, Jan. 31, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 3, at the Grand Center. But comedian Robert Klein and the Miracle Tour Charity Gala unofficially open the show on Wednesday evening, Jan. 30.

    Two concept cars that are sure to draw plenty of eyeballs are the Ford Equator, a new muscular, luxury truck, and the Ford Forty-Nine, a retro of the first all-new postwar car Ford premiered in 1949.

    Showgoers also will get an up-close sneak peak at some 2003 models, such as the Cadillac CTS, the Lincoln Town Car and Navigator, the Toyota Corolla and Matrix, and the Pontiac Vibe. Hot 2002 models will include the Lexus SC430 Hard Top Retractable Convertible, the Mercedes Benz E 55 AMG, the Saturn Vue, the Suzuki Grand Vitara XL7, the Mazda MPV, and the Land Rover Freelander

    And the “Million Dollar Motorway” makes another visit this year with some of the most exotic and expensive autos around from Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Hummer and Rolls Royce.

    Plus, it’s pretty likely that a few other unique models will arrive unannounced by the time the doors open. Showspan Vice President Henri Boucher said the last-minute arrivals have created the mystique that has marked the dealers’ first three shows.

    “The cars evolve, even as we’re moving in, because we all want to get the hottest new cars that they can possibly get,” said Boucher, whose firm is responsible for setting up the four-day show.

    But most importantly, auto fans wanting to attend the show shouldn’t find any problems getting to the show, even with the construction going on around the Grand Center

    “Really, the construction is not impacting the Grand Center at all, other than maybe access to the move-in. The Grand Center itself is fully intact and will be as glorious to anybody who comes to the show as it has always been,” said Boucher.

    GR New Car Dealers Association Executive Director Bill Gill said the north side of the Grand Center has been sealed off to allow the dealers to move the cars into the building, and he didn’t feel that the demolition work being done for the new DeVos Place would create any difficulties in getting the vehicles inside.

    “Our hats go off to (SMG Manager) Rich MacKeigan. He has really done everything to make it easy for us to get the show into the hall. He really is a good man and I think we’re very lucky to have him in this community running those facilities,” said Gill.

    Gill added that there is plenty of nearby parking available at the Government Center ramp across Monroe from the Grand Center, at the new Midtown ramp at Monroe and Louis, and at other numerous downtown ramps and lots.

    As for sales, the new car dealers enjoyed a good sales year in 2001 — despite the terrorist attacks. Right after Sept. 11, Gill said, customer traffic stopped and concerns for sales rose.

    “But only for a few days, which is amazing,” he said. “The awful truth of the matter is, life does go on and people need cars just as much as they need food. With GM leading the way with a zero-financing incentive, sales really picked up.”

    The financing incentive might not have been all that profitable for the automakers, but it sure moved the vehicles out of the local showrooms. Total auto sales nationwide for 2001 reached 17.2 million, just slightly off from the record year of 2000 when 17.4 million vehicles were sold. The top 10 in sales last year were GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Mazda.

    “Our averages of sales work out to be just about exactly the national average. That’s interesting,” said Gill. “Some towns are up, some towns are down. But here, you can almost figure that whatever the average dealer is selling nationwide is what we’re moving here.”

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