Auto Show Zooms Into GR

    GRAND RAPIDS — The carpeting was tacked down and the electrical lines were laid over the weekend. The displays were set up yesterday. The cars, trucks, vans and SUVs arrive today and will be detailed late into the night.

    Final touches are to be added on Wednesday, with everything getting done just in time for the Miracle Tour Charity Gala. The grand-opening gala starts at 6:30 and features Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live. Tickets cost $100 and proceeds go to the Children’s Miracle Network of DeVos Children’s Hospital.

    All the activity means it’s time again for the Michigan International Auto Show at the Grand Center. The fifth annual event opens to the public on Thursday and runs through Sunday.

    The Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association, an alliance of 35 dealers, sponsors the show and works with Showspan Inc. to put it on. GRNCDA encourages automakers to buy space in the annual event, while Showspan handles the show’s logistics and marketing.

    “All the lines that we’ve had in the past are there,” said Henri Boucher, Showspan vice president in charge of events at the Grand Center.

    About 200 new vehicles from more than 35 manufacturers will be on display. So will the Million Dollar Motorway, an array of autos that retail for over $100,000. Seven concept cars will be on exhibit, too.

    Tony Stewart, 2002 Winston Cup Champ, will answer questions and sign autographs on Friday from 5 until 7 p.m. Current and former Detroit Tigers, including Jason Thompson, Phil Regan and Andy Van Hekken, and some West Michigan Whitecaps will also talk with fans and sign autographs on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

    “Trying to get access to celebrities is not only a matter of the expense of it, but it’s also a matter of their schedule. Whether it’s a baseball celebrity or a racing celebrity, they all have pretty elaborate schedules,” said Boucher.

    New cars were pretty sophisticated last year, too, and stylish enough that U.S. auto sales totaled 16.8 million in 2002 — making last year the fourth-best sales year on record.

    The record turnout for the show is 60,000, and Boucher said he expects that at least 50,000 will walk through the turnstiles this week.

    “The show has really gotten on the radar screen,” said Boucher. “This show is held in regard as high as other regional shows like Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. We have seven concept cars that we know are coming to this show, and the Tampa show only had three.”

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