The Buffalo Auto Show puts new cars and trucks in the best possible light, displaying them in gleaming condition, without snow or slush in sight.
While the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center will be the hub of activity, dealers have to be ready at their showrooms to capitalize on interest generated by the five-day event, which opens Wednesday.
“Everybody’s getting poised for what they perceive to be a very, very good year,” said Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association.
“Everybody’s estimating a 15 million unit [U.S. new vehicle sales] industry,” he said. “What does it mean to Buffalo? We should incur a pretty healthy increase in sales. Why Buffalo? We have a large number of aged vehicles on the road. People as a result of the economy have been hesitant to get out of their old car: it’s paid for, the insurance is low, all I’m doing is putting gas in the car and some routine maintenance.”
Michael Basil, who owns a Toyota dealership in Lockport and is opening a Volkswagen dealership this summer, said the auto show provides an annual boost during a seasonal lull.
“Our toughest months are November, December, January and February,” Basil said. “It seems like the auto show just ignites the car-buying season.”
Automakers and dealers see shows like Buffalo’s as a chance to stoke consumers’ interest.
“The show for us is a selling show,” Stasiak said. “They don’t sell on the floor, but our dealers come out with a vision and a focus on trying to highlight and showcase those vehicles that they see as good spring and summer cars. People that come to the Buffalo Auto Show generally are in the market, and our dealers know that.”
As large as the Buffalo show is – nearly 300 cars typically fill the convention center’s two floors – Stasiak believes it could be even bigger.
“I think we could outdraw a lot of other cities if we had more capacity to work with,” he said. “We’ve got guys not bringing cars. They have to decide which cars are sellable in our market.” Brands are allocated floor space at the show using a formula based on car registration data.
Among the many vehicles scheduled to be shown are Chevrolet’s 2014 Silverado and 2014 Impala; the 2014 GMC Sierra; the Ford C-Max; the Subaru BRZ and Crosstrek; and the Volkswagen Jetta hybrid. Also at the show will be the Cadillac ATS, which was named North American Car of the Year and uses an engine built at General Motors’ Town of Tonawanda plant.
Stasiak is interested to see the “technics” inside the cars that are displayed. “I think the exterior of the cars are getting pretty close. It’s hard to differentiate. But it’s the interior, how they handle Bluetooth and WiFi, what makes your GPS easier, the internal components that allow for a user-friendly environment.”
On the more fanciful side, show visitors can see the Fisker Karma luxury hybrid, which sells for more than $100,000, and Toyota’s SEMA Sequoia, which has been dubbed a “family dragster.”
A few auto shows, such as the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit each January, command international media attention, with splashy “reveals” of new cars and trucks, and access to top industry executives. Buffalo’s show is on a different scale, but still plays a valuable role for carmakers and dealers, Stasiak said.
Buffalo area dealers’ sales in the 60 to 90 days after the show “are very high relative to the rest of the country in those markets that had auto shows,” Stasiak said. Even people who do not attend the show but are aware of it will go to dealerships, looking for offers tied into the event.
Paddock Chevrolet in Kenmore is often the top-selling Chevy dealership in the country during February. Duane Paddock, the dealer principal, said the Buffalo Auto Show is part of the reason: “It’s been a catalyst for us for as long as I can remember.”
Paddock said he looks forward to the show to highlight new Chevy products and create enthusiasm. He also ramps up his advertising during the month to build on the interest.
Basil, the Toyota dealer, said the auto show “spurs business all year.” Visitors might check out what they like, then go to a dealership later in the year when their lease expires, he said.
Stasiak said he believes the attire worn by salespeople working the show – a uniform shirt, with a name tag – helps generate good results for dealers. “If you’re wearing a yellow shirt with the auto show logo, someone’s going to ask you a question. You better come prepared to answer.”
More than cars
The auto show is one of the largest events the Convention Center hosts each year, with thousands of people visiting over several days, said Paul Murphy, the facility director.
One of Murphy’s favorite days is the Saturday before the show starts, when all the shiny new cars and trucks line up to drive into their designated places. “There’s nothing left to chance,” he said. “It’s all spaced out.” Some of the vehicles barely fit through the door or into the elevator.
The event creates brisk business for food and beverage sales inside the center, but also generates a spin-off effect outside the building, Murphy said. People connected to the show book hotel rooms, businesses like audio/visual companies and florists get work supporting the show, and downtown parking lots fill up.
Murphy says he likes the excitement the event creates inside the center: When visitors hand over their tickets and receive a show map, they talk about which cars they want to see first.
While the Detroit show is much larger, its own experience this year might offer clues about what the smaller, regional auto shows can expect. Just a few years ago, amid gloomy industry sales, media coverage of the Detroit show centered on the downbeat mood and bare-bones staging.
Not so this time. When Trey Barrett, show coordinator for the NFADA, went to the Detroit show, he was impressed by “the quality and the level of execution of displays as a whole.” The event reported its strongest opening-day attendance in eight years.
No Corvette this year
The Chevy Corvette Stingray 2014, due to go on sale later this year, was a big hit at the Detroit show; GM is not scheduled to bring it to Buffalo’s show. Chevy has strong sales in the Buffalo market, so wouldn’t the Buffalo show be a natural place to display it?
“That’s certainly an argument that I try to make,” Paddock said. But with only two 2014 Corvettes available, GM is exhibiting them at auto shows in bigger population centers, for maximum exposure, he said.
Lots of consumers start their car-buying research online. Even so, auto shows still have a place for helping win over customers, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com. “People like sitting in it and feeling it.”
And an auto show gives consumers a chance to compare vehicles of different brands side by side in one space, in a sales-free environment some may find more relaxing, he said.
While cars and trucks remain the star attractions of the Buffalo show, the NFADA always includes other events and activities to broaden the event’s appeal beyond car fanatics.
“If we can generate buzz and excitement and give people a reason to come downtown, that’s fantastic,” Barrett said.
This year, the lineup includes appearances by Iron Man, the Fisher-Price Little People and Buffalo Sabre Cody Hodgson. There will also be a Wellness Lane, a motorcycle simulator, and promotion of the “Yellow Dot” program, which people can use to provide first responders with information in case of emergencies.
This year’s show carries the theme, “Drive Your Hunger.” A portion of ticket sale proceeds will be donated to Meals on Wheels of Western New York.