EAST NORRITON >> From the Cadillac XT5 to the Kia Stinger, there are myriad shiny ways to find what stirs your four-wheeled soul at the Philadelphia Auto Show.
“Find what moves you” happens to be the theme of the 116th auto show to grace the city, and the 20th for producer Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia and the company’s executive director, Kevin Mazzucola.
“It touches not only literally what moves you, but we all know that a lot of people are emotional about their vehicle choice, so it’s what moves you emotionally and in your heart. If you don’t know what moves you, you will find what moves you at the Philly Auto Show,” said Mazzucola, sitting in his East Norriton office, where he and his staff have been planning their yearly “party” for the last 10 months.
The yearly extravaganza of the shiniest and high-tech-iest sheet metal known to man thunders back into the Pennsylvania Convention Center from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, spotlighting dozens of 2017 and 2018 gems, including the Lexus LC 50; Mercedes-Benz GLA 250; Acura NSX; Alfa Romeo Giulia; Chevrolet Malibu; Jeep Compass Trailhawk and Nissan GT-R.
With just a few days until the doors would open, it was time for the man behind the wheel of the fourth largest auto show in the country to slip into tire-melting mode and — as they say in the drag-racing world — pedal it.
“We can’t control the weather, but we can control what’s in that Convention Center and control that people are going to be proud of what that is. And we have nine days to do it,” Mazzucola said.
More than ever, people are using the auto show to find what moves them in a marketplace that has surged from 10.4 million vehicles sold in 2009 to 17.6 million vehicles in 2016.
“That’s the longest period of growth in the industry in a long time,” Mazzucola said. “You’d probably have to go back to after World War II to find similar growth.”
Roughly half of those who visit the auto show will buy a vehicle in the next 12 months, Mazzucola pointed out.
“The show influences more than $3 billion in sales. So you can see why it’s so important to the dealers and manufacturers, but also to the consumers when they try to figure out what moves them. There’s nothing like the auto show,” he noted. “You have TV, the Internet, radio, print, billboards … All are important. But there is nothing like the nine days at the auto show to compare to, because there’s no selling, no pressure. There’s you and every single vehicle there is to sell to the public on one floor. It isn’t like looking at a vehicle on a screen or in print. It allows you to bring your family and try on all those vehicles, and even ride in them in the Ride and Drive Zone.”
The popular Ride and Drive concept throttles forward into its seventh year, offering outdoor test drives from BMW, Nissan, Kia, Mazda and Toyota.
With SUVs and Crossovers having overtaken sedans as the most in-demand body style, expect to find crowds flocking to such buzz-worthy stars as the GMC Terrain, Volkswagen Atlas, Nissan Rogue Sport and Mercedes GLA 250.
“We’re seeing the transition of the public in what they want to buy, and that is SUVs, Sport Utilities and light trucks,” Mazzucola allowed. “Last year that segment of the industry went up about 8 percent, and we’re also seeing the breath of the high end SUV crossover. You never thought we’d see crossover vehicles from Bentley, Alpha Romeo or Jaguar, but we are.”
Cars aren’t exactly content to trail behind and eat the dust of the SUVs and trucks barreling past them, he added.
“There is this big transition with the public, but that doesn’t mean cars aren’t important, because they are,” Mazzucola said. “Last year more than 10 million light trucks were sold and 7 million cars were sold, which is still a big segment. The new Camry that was introduced in Detroit (at the North American Auto Show) will be at the Philly auto show, which shows you that there is still investment in cars, and in this case it’s a very important product for Toyota. Kia will have the new Stinger, a four-door sport sedan that I think will be very important for them.”
In a lot of ways, of course, the show will reflect the public’s fascination with all manner of technology.
“We talk a lot about technology, and I do believe we’re on the cusp of a technological transformation in the industry that hasn’t happened since Henry Ford and the assembly line,” Mazzucola noted. “The change in 1915 was the assembly line and cars being mass-produced, which brings the cost down and makes them more available to the buying public. That technological advancement was huge in this industry, which occurred 100 years ago, and we’re close to seeing something similar now.”
With so much of manufacturers’ money and the public’s curiosity invested in self-driving technology, it’s easy to presume that autonomously operated vehicles are just around the corner, but Mazzucola noted that they’re much further into the future than we probably think.
“I’ve hear stories that kids who are born today will find themselves, when they’re old enough to drive, in cars without steering wheels. I don’t believe that,” he said. “There is no denying that there is unprecedented advancement in the technology, but we’re not there yet. We’re not even close to being there yet. We are seeing components of that technology, but I think sometimes people get a false sense of security with all this technology around them. It’s there as a safety net, not as a leading aspect of driving. The bottom line is that you still have to put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 and watch the road and drive.”
More and more, many drivers feel that they’ve formed a partnership with their wheels, he pointed out.
“They look at their vehicles as collaborators. They engage with their car and spend a lot of time in their car and they expect to have a lot of the same capabilities of what they can do at home in their cars.”
Crowd favorites like the exotic vehicles — including the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso — and vintage cars have been expanded this year, Mazzucola noted.
“Those who love these cars and like to aspire and dream and can only see these cars on the Internet can now see them in person,” he said. “We all know that the new vehicles are important, but we want to make sure the attendees let us know what they want to see more of. It’s their show and we listen to them, and they love the classic cars and exotics. This is my 20th show, and I’ve never seen so much floor space devoted to that.”
There is one sentimental sort of crowd scenario that never fails to resonate with Mazzucola.
“I see the grandfather with the father and the son, and the grandfather is pointing to a ’56 Pontiac and saying, ‘That was a new car when I was a kid.’ This area is blessed with a lot of people who love automobiles and have these clubs and organizations, and whether it’s the Mustang Club or the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum , we get cars from all of them, give them the floor space for free and they love sharing their passion for these cars with everyone coming to the auto show.”