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The practical appeals at Motor Trend auto show

Accessible vehicles, not concept cars, dominate at Convention Center

By Jacques Kelly

6:39 PM EST, February 8, 2014

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The Mercedes-Benz stood just less than $30,000 away from its admirers at Baltimore's auto show, where the sporty crimson sedan held its own among the competitors for looks, test sit-downs and aspirations of ownership.

"It's really an entry-level model," Valley Motors sales agent Jim Olney said Saturday. "And at that price, it gets people into a Mercedes. People can say, 'I own a Mercedes.'"

Olney said the newly introduced Mercedes CLA 250, which offers a lower price than other models featured by the legendary auto maker, aims "to bring customers into the brand."

That kind of practical marketing, more than concept cars, was on display for the tens of thousands of people who stopped into the 2014 Motor Trend International Auto Show, which continues through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

As couples, families and individuals opened car hoods and decided for themselves just how soft the leather seats were, Maryland Automobile Dealers Association President J. Peter Kitzmiller said admissions were up 18 percent over last year, "and the weekend is not over."

"It's a great way to start to buy a car. Our feedback from the show tells us that 20 percent of the people who came here and looked around changed their minds after they actually sat in a car that was not their first choice," said Kitzmiller, an Annapolis resident. "People start their research these days on the Internet, but they truly make up their minds at an event like this."

He said that the average new car in Maryland sells for $30,000 — and a large car show allows visitors to assess the market. While no vehicles are sold at this show, prospective buyers make their contacts with dealers and then follow up.

Richard Ciccarelli of Stevensville took a seat in a shiny, jet-black Volkswagen Beetle convertible priced at about $28,000.

"I own a Mini Cooper, and I'll say that Volkswagen has done a fabulous job," Ciccarelli said. "It's comfortable, and the panel is easy to read. The layout is functional. I also remember when these cost under $2,000. The battery was then under the seat."

There were old favorites, like a cherry-red Corvette Stingray, and newer attractions, like the all-electric BMW i3, described by car publicists as one of the hottest cars of the show. Visitors could even take a spin around Pratt Street in the display models.

Jane Bloom, a Sykesville resident checking out an $88,000 Cadillac Escalade, broke into a smile.

"I'm looking for another SUV and I have an Explorer now," she said. "I like what I see."

Linda Garrington, a Linthicum resident, stood by a 2015 Ford Mustang.

"It's a nice design, though it does look back to a Chevy Camaro," she said. "I would give it a 10 out of 10. It has a good design. It's not going to look dated or old in five years."

The auto show itself "is well organized and worth coming to, but I'd like to see a few more concept cars," Garrington said. "I'm a an auto show person. I'd weather a blizzard to get to one."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

If you go

The Motor Trend International Auto Show continues 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Admission: $12 adults; $8 seniors; children 12 and younger free. motortrendautoshows.com/baltimore