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Car Shows Rev Up Enthusiasm

A dazzling array of new models from manufacturers is generating lots of attention at auto shows, but it remains to be seen if it will translate into good business for dealerships.


It's auto show time again, and the message this year, from Detroit, Europe and Asia, is that there won't be a niche in the car market too small to be served, nor a version of the basic truck too unimaginable to be built.

At the Los Angeles International Auto Show, which runs through Sunday at the Convention Center, and the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there seems to be no acknowledgment of a recession. There is every confidence that, if they build it, customers will come.

Whether they'll become buyers remains to be seen, but lookers certainly came to the opening days of the L.A. show--organizers say weekend attendance totaled 347,734 and represented a 20% increase from last year's opening days.

Detroit, although facing a new year already marred by auto industry layoffs and expectations of falling sales, likewise is expecting a heavy turnout.

But auto makers are ever-hopeful, and to cater to the crowds this year are offering a spate of new models aimed at young street-performance enthusiasts; wealthy--and in most cases, older--drivers seeking luxury in trucks as well as in cars; soccer moms who don't want to be thought of that way when they arrive in their new set of wheels; boaters, equestrians and construction bosses who need cargo-carrying and load-towing power; and even environmentalists who want the least-polluting vehicles the industry will provide.

About the only buyer group being ignored by most is the budget-conscious penny-pinchers; few car companies will feature a bottom-of-the-line model at an event aimed at whipping up new-car lust.

So from a $20,000 Dodge Neon subcompact with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds, to a leather-lined, $78,000 Mercedes Benz G-Class sport-utility and beyond, the auto industry is rolling out its best and hoping that show-goers will leave afire with the need to hit the local new-car dealership.

This week, in part one of a two-part look at the first shows of 2002, Highway 1 offers a photo spread featuring some of the new production models unveiled in Los Angeles and Detroit--where the doors open to the public Saturday.

Next week we'll provide a glimpse of some of those usually fantastic, sometimes freaky and often futuristic concepts the auto industry uses to gauge public acceptance of new themes and ideas.

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