Auto show jump-starts enthusiasts’ excitement

There will be a different vibe this year during the annual
five-day New England International Auto Show.

Americans bought new cars and trucks at a record pace in 2015. So auto show organizers, manufacturers and dealers will be interested in gauging the mood of anticipated big crowds who surge through the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center doors as the 2016 show kicks off today.

“Advance ticket sales are running 5 percent higher than last year at the same time,” said Barbara Pudney, 2016 show organizer and vice president of Paragon Group Inc. “Typically ahead of the show we hear from auto geeks about the new intros that they hope to see at the show. This year we are fielding questions about specific current models that people want to compare on-site and are interested in buying, especially on the all-wheel-drive and hybrid fronts.”

An auto show is the ultimate window-shopping opportunity, where prospective buyers can see the models close-up, get inside, ask questions from product experts, and even set up an off-site meeting with dealer representatives. More than 600 vehicles, from 35 manufacturers, will dot the 370,000 square feet of display space. And, a handful of vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Mazda and Toyota, will be available for test-drives.

“There’s more diversity than ever in the types of vehicles available to the consumer,” Pudney said.

The auto show is the first step for Bay State dealers toward launching a successful sales year. In mid-February, dealers have big sales pushes around
Presidents Day.

“The show gives consumers the ability to start their homework on their car wish list,” said Robert F. O’Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association Inc.

A big part of the spike in sales last year came from the return of SUV and truck sales — the top-three selling vehicles last year were pickup trucks (more than 1.8 million sold), and crossover SUVs held down two more of the top 10 sales spots. Diminished fear over gasoline prices aided those increases, but as O’Koniewski points out, instability in economic markets, the Middle East’s volatility in oil-producing regions, and Fed interest rate hikes could change the landscape quickly.

But for a few hours on a cold winter day in the Hub, at least, enthusiasts can forget all that and marvel at the combination of design, engineering and technology expressed in a new car. O’Koniewski can’t wait.

“For me, going to an auto show was the equivalent of what other kids would find appealing in going to a toy store, but obviously on a much grander scale,” he said. “For years I was very content with my 1970 Chevy Impala convertible — phenomenal car, by the way — but I just loved checking out all the cool stuff that we would be seeing on the roads in the coming months.”

Auto-related aftermarket providers will have displays at the show to augment the experience. Special events will include live broadcasts, auto-themed displays (such as a pair of Indycars promoting the proposed Labor Day race), and guest attractions, such as Patriots defensive back Tarell Brown on Monday, as well as race car driver Simon Pagenaud and Wally the Green Monster on Saturday. Restyled cars and “tricked out” rides will be on display. Showgoers can also enter contests to win Celtics and Red Sox tickets, as well as a drawing to win $15,000 toward the purchase of a new vehicle.

“We are still a car culture country and the auto show is a great way to keep that piece of Americana going year after year,” said O’Koniewski. “Just check out how many adults will bring their children of all ages to the show and you know you will be capturing them as future attendees for life.”