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Bigger car show opens today - downtown


With a new sponsor and nearly twice as much exhibit space this year, the Motor Trend International Auto Show opens today for a five-day run at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Nearly 500 cars, trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles, as well as futuristic "concept cars," rolled off tractor-trailers yesterday after being unveiled - many for the first time - to the media last week at the Detroit auto show.

"The timing - coming behind [Detroit] - works out good for us," said John Miller, auto show chairman and a member of the show's sponsor, the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association.

Domestic and foreign automakers are showing off their 2001-2002 models as well as concept cars.

Many, such as Ford Motor Co. and its Swedish subsidiary, Volvo, more than doubled the size and cost of their displays compared with last year's show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

Liberty Productions, a division of Emap USA Inc., which publishes Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines, is staging the show this year. Domestic and foreign manufacturers have filled the convention center with 200 more automobiles than last year's show.

The Baltimore show had 140,000 square feet last year, said Bryan S. Lilley, Liberty's executive producer for the show. "We have almost 290,000 square feet this year."

Lilley said Ford went from 9,000 square feet last year to 23,000 square feet, and Volvo went from 4,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet for this show.

New to the show this year is Swedish automaker Saab, a General Motors Corp. subsidiary, and a display by OnStar, a satellite-based vehicle assistance system produced by GM, Lilley said.

"The auto show helps people make or clarify their car-buying decision," said Lauren Holzman, a spokeswoman for Liberty Productions. "Sometimes they come through the door and they have their heart set on a Ford and fall in love with a Chevy."

Prices of the cars on display range from $8,895 for a 2001 Kia Rio sedan to $235,080 for a 2000 Ferrari 456 M GTA. The public will have the chance to sit in almost all the vehicles on display.

Some of the more eagerly anticipated vehicles are retro redesigns of past favorites, such as the 2002 Ford Thunderbird.

The Jeep Liberty - the successor to the popular Cherokee sports utility vehicle - will be displayed after being transported from an auto show in Los Angeles, Lilley said.

The show will feature concept vehicles from Dodge, Chrysler, Hyundai, Isuzu and Jeep, as well as a sprinkling of 2002 models, such as the redesigned Mercury Mountaineer and Saturn's first SUV, the Vue.

Show hours are 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. today and tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for children under 12. Children age 6 and under get in free.

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