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Auto Sales Spike in Wake of Chicago Auto Show

For more than a century, if there is one thing the Chicago Auto Show does better than any other, it is to bring consumers and cars together.  And thanks to great deals from manufacturers, a reenergized appreciation of new cars and technology, pent-up demand-and some cooperation from Mother Nature-dealers around Chicago are experiencing a dramatic post-show bump in sales. 

With four distinct indoor test tracks, an almost endless sea of expertly marketed vehicles, an amazing array of interactive hands-on displays and a natural love affair that Americans have with personal mobility, visitors to the 2011 Chicago Auto Show had every opportunity to imagine themselves as the proud owner of a new car-and now those elements have come together, translating to floor traffic and sales.

"At the show, people ask questions, explore and compare vehicles, and have a chance to actually feel the wheel in their hands," said Kevin Mize, chairman of the 2011 Chicago Auto Show. "At that point, the motivation machine starts up, and by the time show goers get home, many are ready to turn their fantasy into the next resident of their garage."

The energy and subsequent dealership activity created by the show is more than spotty or anecdotal. It's widespread and apparently transcends all lines and styles.

John Guido, Arlington Heights Ford, Arlington Heights, Illinois

"January was a tough month and the first two weeks of February were a disaster.  We lost three days due to the storm and our sales people were down in the dumps even before the snow hit. But then the auto show steamroller started and it absolutely made a difference. We always say, 'the best time of the year to buy a car is during the auto show,' and we weren't kidding. All the manufacturers have promotions, the biggest rebates, incentives, special deals and leftover 2010 models they want to move."

"The show opened up and it did its magic," he continued. "During the last weekend, it was like someone opened the gates for a solid 14 days. For example, we sold 10 new cars this past Friday, then 18 Saturday, 10 more on Monday. We had nine dealer trades in one day. In one day! That tells me that there's activity all over and it's exciting.

"As for the Ford dealers in Chicago region, I've seen sales sheets that were in the 50-60 unit range for the final two weeks. There were four dealers who sold 100 or more new units. So to those who ask, 'Does the auto show work?' You tell me.

"As an employer, the best part is that I'm passing out the biggest checks I've handed out in a long time, and now we're going to get out another big round of them again. That means that those sales people will be out in the community spending it which will help spur the rest of the economy. It feels great."

Denise Guardino, Bill Jacobs Auto Group (BMW, Mini, Land Rover, Chevrolet)

"What an amazing month. We were holding our breath in anticipation of the (Feb. 1) storm, then the snow hit and we closed for two days. Well, the snow cleared and the auto show opened up and for the last 10 days we didn't have enough people on the floor to handle the traffic.  We wound up with Land Rover #1 ranking in the region, #2 for BMW, #1 for Mini-and it was all fresh business, not holdovers. We're so encouraged.

"We've also had tremendous feedback on the (Land Rover) Evoque, which could only have originated from auto show activity and interest. The only place they could have seen it was at the show as there's only one brochure per dealership produced.  I'd have to say the same about the Mini Countryman. They were quiet, but since the show we've sold eight in one week.

"Overall, we've been enjoying double digit sales days with units sold in the high teens both Saturday and Monday, and the traffic isn't slowing down. There's clearly impact from the auto show that affects what's going on in dealerships."

Mark Scarpelli, president Raymond Chevrolet and Raymond Kia, Antioch, Ill.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the auto show was one of the huge factors of what's behind this sea change in sales we've been experiencing," said Mark Scarpelli of Raymond Chevrolet in Antioch, Ill. "People were coming in asking to see cars such as the Camaro ZL1 and the Volt-and the only place they could have seen them is at the show.

"The floor traffic turned into strong sales that peaked this past Saturday with 38 new units out the door. We saw far more floor traffic after the show than we did last year with the 'Cash for Clunkers' program. 

Chuck Piano, Nissan of Orland Park, Infiniti of Orland Park

There's been a major influx that's directly attributable to the auto show. I've had more than a couple of people ask if the concept was going to be built as a production car and others who said it was so popular that they couldn't get close to the QX56. She's a new customer now. We've been blessed with steady sales all year, but the show has given up a definite boost-as it always does."

Was it the auto show alone?

"Certainly not," said Chicago Automobile Trade Association Chairman Steve Foley. "But we have a lot of factors that have come together to take the boost the show normally produces and put it into overdrive.  The pent-up demand, special auto show incentives, exciting new products and a highly energized show have all come together to create this result. What we have to do now is keep the ball rolling. At least from the dealer and manufacturer side, I don't sense it will slow down."

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