Go Play In Traffic There Are 700 Vehicles To Enjoy - Including The Newest Suvs - At This Year's Philly Auto Show

Posted: February 02, 2001

The economy may be souring and gas prices too high for comfort, but our love affair with the automobile is going strong.

Some 180,000 people will trek - er, drive - to the 2001 Philadelphia International Auto Show, an 11-day extravaganza that opens tomorrow at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

More impressive, 63 percent of the breadwinners who attend the show will purchase a new vehicle in the next year, according to a Wharton School study done for the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia, which produces the show.

Among the 700 vehicles being displayed by some 35 manufacturers in the carpeted convention center exhibition hall will be the usual assortment of sedans, station wagons, roadsters and ragtops.

But the most excitement is likely to be generated by so-called hybrid trucks like the Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT.

And a slew of new sport utility vehicles like the Buick Rendezvous, Audi allroad, Kia Sportage Limited and Jeep Liberty, which will be making its East Coast debut.

"About 360,000 new cars are sold in the Greater Philadelphia area each year, and close to 30 percent of those sales will be a direct result of the show," according to the Wharton study, said Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the dealers association.

Some 20 percent - or about 72,000 of those new vehicle sales will be SUVs, a reflection of the fact that the SUV craze continues unabated 10 years on.

What is driving the SUV market as much as anything these days is that both the minivan and traditional SUV markets are static, auto analysts agree.

"What has happened is a shift of the center of gravity to the SUV side with a merger of the minivan and SUV segments. This is a very hot market," said Bill Pochiluk, chief analyst for AutomotiveCompass.com in West Chester.

"There are more SUVs of different flavors coming along than people can count, 40 or so on the market now headed to roughly 70," said Jim Hossack, an analyst for AutoPacific, a California market research firm.

Carl Calvert, editor of Today's SUV magazine, counts at least 35 new SUVs in the pipeline over the next two to three years and believes the emphasis will be on car-like SUVs.

"I don't think the craze has peaked," he said. "If it's going to peak at all, it won't be for another five to 10 years."

Why has the craze had such long legs?

Analyst Hossack thinks the answer is simple.

"Fundamentally, cars are too small, too light and too hard to get out of, too hard to see out of and too hard to tow a boat or house trailer with," he said.

But what you'll see in the way of SUVs at the Philadelphia show will be anything but your father's Jeep Cherokee, which began blazing the SUV trail way back in the early 1980s and will be replaced by the Jeep Liberty late this spring.

Cherry Hill-based Subaru of America is setting sales records with its menu of small SUV-station wagon hybrids. Sales of big SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator remain robust despite high gas prices.

Buick has entered the fray with its Rendezvous and Acura with its SLX, although both look suspiciously similar to the popular Lexus RX300.

Volkswagen and Saturn are working on SUVs.

BMW and Audi have joined Mercedes to offer their first-ever SUVs, albeit pricey ones. And Porsche, long know for its domination of the roadster market, will debut its Cayenne SUV later this year.

Has Porsche no pride?

"It makes sense," said Andy Shupack, a publicist for the venerable German automaker. "If you're already a Porsche owner, why should you settle for a Land Rover?"

Meanwhile, it's a heck of a good time to buy a new vehicle, said analyst Pochiluk.

"We have a serious problem with excess [manufacturing] capacity, which will show up in the form of lower prices," he explained.

Go for it.

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If You Go

Here's everything you need to know about the 2001 Philadelphia International Auto Show.

When: Tomorrow through Sunday, Feb. 11.

Where: Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.

Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays, noon-10 p.m. weekdays.

What: More than 700 vehicles from about 35 manufacturers, including production cars, race cars, vintage cars, concept cars, prototypes and luxury cars. There also will be celebrity appearances and entertainment.

How big: The show is the fifth-largest in the United States.

Tickets: $9 adults (13 and over), $5 children (7-12), free for children 6 and under, $5 for senior citizens (weekdays only).

Send e-mail to mullens@phillynews.com

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