The New England International Auto Show comes to town next Wednesday through Sunday amid an industry-wide financial crisis that threatens to bring down Detroit's "Big Three" automakers. A push to prop up General Motors Corp. and other companies with a bailout loan has stalled, fewer consumers than ever are visiting showrooms, and those that are in the market for a new car are finding credit harder to come by.
No doubt, auto enthusiasts are desperate for a shred of good news, and there is some — increasingly, US carmakers have been producing a good product after years of lagging behind Japanese automakers. Today's US-made vehicles are safer than those of even a decade ago. They also run better, last longer, and overall are more fuel-efficient — though still not nearly enough.
So will this year's Boston show be more like a wake than the traditional industry celebration? Maybe not.
"It doesn't cost anything to look," said Joe Phillippi, president of Auto Trends Consulting. "That's a bit facetious, but true."
John Wolkonowicz, senior auto analyst for North America for IHS Global Insight in Lexington, said he expects the show to be well attended. "People are looking for cheap entertainment so the show should be a success," he said.
But looking doesn't necessarily translate to sales.
"We're at a low point in consumer confidence where nothing is going to sell cars," said Wolkonowicz. "People have lost home equity. They're concerned about their jobs. They've lost money in the market or their retirement funds. They're not wanting to make long-term purchases."
Phillippi sees that trend continuing. "There's a decided somber tone from a lot of manufacturers these days, and that's going to be the case for at least a couple of months," he said.
The 52nd edition of the show, produced by the Needham-based Paragon Group, is being held at the Boston Convention & Exposition Center for the second year, instead of the much smaller BaySide Expo Center. The move has helped it to grow even as the auto industry sinks, and it's one of the reasons the New England show is included in Tradeshow Week's "Fastest 50," a list based on growth between 2005 and 2007.
Read on for some highlights to check out on the convention center floor.