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L.A. AUTO SHOW

Showgoers Are Looking To Buy

Many visitors are researching a replacement for their aging vehicles and not just looking to be entertained by cool cars

November 19, 2011|Angel Jennings and Rosanna Xia
  • L.A. Auto Show visitors check out the Hyundai and Audi exhibits at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The show will run through Nov. 27 and be open Thanksgiving Day.
L.A. Auto Show visitors check out the Hyundai and Audi exhibits at the Los… (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles…)

After two years of pushing off buying a car, Michael Kennedy says he's ready to take the plunge.

That's why he waited in line for 45 minutes Friday to be one of the first to check out the hundreds of vehicles on display at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"It's about time to buy," said the 50-year-old Pasadena resident, who last purchased a car in 2003 after seeing it at that year's Los Angeles Auto Show. "I was looking last year, the year before, but, you know, with the economy, that just wasn't realistic."

Many pouring into the convention floor echoed Kennedy's attitude about the economy, and rather than just looking to be entertained by cool cars, they had a practical goal in mind: researching a replacement for their aging autos.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, November 22, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
L.A. Auto Show: A Nov. 19 Business section article about car buyers looking at new vehicles at the L.A. Auto Show referred to shopper Jordan Van Meter as a woman. Van Meter is a man.

And the car companies said they were prepared for an uptick in potential buyers. The show runs through Nov. 27, including Thanksgiving Day.

With the economy appearing to be on the rebound, automakers were back in full force at the show with larger and more interactive exhibits, ready to woo back buyers who were wary to make big-budget purchases during the recession.

"A lot of people who are at the displays today are serious buyers," a Kia spokeswoman said. "They're asking the core questions, not just 'how fast does this car go'-type of questions. Hands down, our sales are increasing exponentially."

She noted that Kia's U.S. sales were up 30% last month compared with the same time last year.

Like many manufacturers at this year's auto show, Kia increased its display floor space by about 4,000 square feet from last year, according to product specialist Dexter Echiverri.

"I think three or four years ago, when the Big Three were in trouble ... auto shows were really down," he said. "Now it's coming back in fuller force than even before. Kia was waiting in the wings, and now we're a destination point."

At its exhibit, more people milled around its SUVs than the flashy, interactive dance screen with Kia's new ad campaigns, which include NBA star Blake Griffin and dancing hamsters.

Jordan Van Meter, 46, said she was looking for a new family-friendly car.

"I want to get good mileage, and have it safe, reliable for my two kids," Van Meter said, checking the back seat belts in the Kia Sorento display. "We're looking at every company today. I also liked the Ford Edge quite a bit. It felt like a good, solid, well-made car."

Other potential car buyers included visitors who came from as far as Jamaica to get a glimpse of futuristic convertibles and next-generation green cars.

Some high school teachers, using the auto show as a educational opportunity, bused groups of students to the Convention Center to view race car engines.

At the Toyota NASCAR Garage exhibit, a teacher gave a mechanical lesson to two students as they walked around an exposed TRD race car engine. He reached over the tie-rope, intended to prevent visitors from touching the display, and cranked the rotor.

"You can't do that in a classroom," said Joe Agruso, an auto instructor at Van Nuys High School. "This type of exhibit could cost $30,000. But I can bring them here for one day and spend three months teaching them stuff from the cutaway."

"There's a pretty significant level of entertainment here," said L.A. Auto Show spokesman Brendan Flynn. "Way beyond the dealership experience."

Show floor space was completely sold out this year, compared with even last year, when manufacturers were more conservative with their displays and luxury brands such as Bentley were not present.

"What you see this year are exhibitors spending more," he said. "There's more interactive features, fun entertainment, game shows, more test drives. The theatrics, the experience, is all just much richer than last year."

Over in the second exhibition hall, where high-performance muscle cars took center stage, Matt Parks of Granada Hills and his wife, Blanca, inspected the interior of the 2012 Cadillac CTS Sport wagon.

As Parks, 50, opened the hidden truck compartment, his wife made herself cozy in the driver's seat and began testing all the buttons on the dashboard. The couple came to the show specifically for this car. The lease is up on her Subaru Impreza at the end of the year, and they want to get a closer look without the pressure from a car salesman.

The show "is a nice way to see everything all at once," Parks said.

Next on their list of cars to visit: every other vehicle in the showroom.

"Overall, I think people are more optimistic, that the bottom is not going to fall out anymore," Flynn said. "Plus, people have waited for so long now to get a new car."

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angel.jennings@latimes.com

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

2011 L.A. Auto Show

When: Through Nov. 27, including Thanksgiving Day; hours and a map are available at www.laautoshow.com

Where: Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa St.

Admission: Adults, $12; children 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult

Parking: $12 in Convention Center garages

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