Optimism in the air at auto show

The Baltimore Sun

Even though economic trends point downward, Marylanders wandering yesterday through the 2009 model year cars and trucks on display at the Motor Trend International Auto Show in Baltimore said they wanted to buy.

"We are going to get a car," said Gary Bonner, 43, of Pikesville.

"We are ready to buy any time," said Chris Awatt, 44, of Carroll County as he and his wife checked out a Chevrolet Equinox.

"It is hard not too look," said Johnny Watcher, 44, of Severn. He is "very seriously thinking" about buying a Hummer.

These are people who feel secure in their jobs and have money to spend. Amid the recession, they think that dealers might cut them an irresistible break.

And they are probably right. Though selling is prohibited at the annual Baltimore auto show, prospective buyers clearly were meeting eager sellers.

Bill Gurreri, a salesman for a local Chrysler dealership, chatted with browsers. He said that buyers frequently visit the Edgewood showroom. "A lot of it is the incentives," he said.

Gurreri was about as new to the business as the 2009 cream-colored Chrysler he stood beside - he landed a job last week and said he has sold four cars so far. "People have some confidence," he said.

According to preliminary data from the show's exit survey, 41 percent who attended plan to buy a new car within 12 months, said Kurt Van Loon, who handles advertising for the show.

That figure includes data only from the first three days of the four-day show, but it is similar to last year, when 43 percent said that they would buy a new car within a year, according to Van Loon.

"We've been looking for signs that the auto industry is turning around," Van Loon said. "Something happened after the first of this year."

Fewer people attended the show at the Baltimore Convention Center this year, said DeeDee Taft, a spokeswoman for the show. She declined to provide figures. "Attendance has been off in most markets," she said.

The floor did buzz with people chatting over the frequent thumps of car doors closing. Manufacturers left most models on the floor open for inspection (though it was not possible to honk horns).

Displays were modest, and there were few concept cars. Volkswagen had one of the creative showcases, with an information bar surrounded by stools topped with cushions made from air bags.

Of course, many just came with cameras and dreams.

"This is my favorite car here," said Brad Butler, 43, a corrections officer from Cumberland, who was swooning over a 2009 Chevrolet Camaro. "This is what I wish I could buy."

He can't afford one. He just purchased a new Toyota Corolla.


Columnist Susan Reimer is on vacation.

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