It may have been cold outside Wednesday, but local car dealers showcased their hottest new offerings as the 109th annual Buffalo Auto Show opened with crowds of buyers, browsers, car aficionados and gawkers.
They had plenty to see with more than 300 cars and trucks inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
Every manufacturer and almost every local new-car dealer was present.
“This is a terrific consolidated effort between the auto manufacturers, the dealers, the vendors and the media,” said Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association. “There are a lot of people that are impacted positively by this show. It’s a terrific trickle-down effect.”
Sales staff from dealers stood at the ready to respond to questions, show off features of the cars, take down information, and offer promotional deals – such as free gas cards – to get people to come back to the dealership for a test drive.
“This is my first year doing it. I like having it all in one area, because you can see what your competitors are doing, but you also get honest feedback,” said Derek Young, a sales and leasing specialist at Steve Baldo Ford in Niagara Falls.
Midweek attendance is always lower than on the weekend, but Stasiak said first-day traffic this year appeared to be higher than in each of the last three years. “It’s been pretty consistent with people,” he said. “We haven’t had a lull.”
Those in attendance ranged in age from their 20s to older seniors, while their reasons for coming varied from really shopping to just having fun.
“Every year we like to see what the new models look like,” said George Degener, 77, of Tonawanda, who came with a friend, 79-year-old Carol Reingold, also of Tonawanda. “This year, they’ve got less of the experimental models and more of the models the dealers want to sell.”
The friends were amused about the height of some cars that require ledges or fold-up steps to climb in and said they marveled at what Degener called the “exhorbitant prices” of others, such as those over $100,000. Many high-end brands exceeded $70,000 in price, and even the cheapest luxury cars topped $40,000.
Degener has a 2011 Ford Focus, while Reingold has a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser. But he liked a $110,000 Mercedes.
“We’re seeing how the rich people live,” Degener said. “I could buy a couple of houses on the West Side for that. I could buy the whole block.”
For many, it’s a long-standing personal or family tradition. “We came here because my dad used to take me here when I was younger and I like coming, so it’s always exciting,” said 23-year-old Andrew Poplewski of Marilla, who has a 2003 Toyota Corolla that works fine but thinks “it would be nice to get something new.”
“It’s nice that you can see everything here,” he said amid the luxury cars on the lower floor, accompanied by his friend, 23-year-old Sally Bennett of East Aurora. “I know the more expensive cars are down here, but we wanted to check them out ... I can’t believe they’re 60 grand.”
Gary Hotchkiss, 52, of Tonawanda, has been coming for 30 years, but he’s just finishing paying off his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado and has no need for another vehicle right now.
“It’s nice to come here and see how expensive things are here, and I go back to my Silverado truck,” he said.
This year, he came with a friend, Paul Rachow, 49, of North Tonawanda, who has a 2009 Mazda 6 but is considering investing in a new car.
“It’s nice to go. You can compare stuff without the rigamarole of going to the dealer,” said Rachow, who admitted that a blue Porsche he liked was “out of my price range” at $131,000.
And Mark Orlando, 45, and Sara D’Amico, 40, both of Cowlesville, have attended “many times” but still like “to see the new innovations and vehicles coming out,” such as brighter LED headlights, an A/C power outlet, or even cell-phone holders. He has a 2010 Nissan Frontier, while she has a 2011 Nissan Juke, but they’re “just seeing if there’s anything upgraded from what we already have,” Orlando said.
On the other hand, Matt Wendling, 23, of Boston, attended for the first time, along with his friend, Jill Kraeger, a 28-year-old from Cheektowaga. Wendling, a self-described “car guy,” was eyeing a lime green Ford Mustang.
Right now, he mostly drives a Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor model that he bought from a dealer after a former fire chief traded it in, but he’s had it for six years, so “it’s time” for something new.