The ‘Wow’ factor

From sporty to sleek, auto show exhibits thrill car lovers

By LaJenine T. Wilson Contributing Writer | 3/22/2013, noon

ATLANTA – Thousands of car buyers, auto enthusiasts and industry professionals packed the Georgia World Congress Center over the weekend for an annual car lovers paradise known as the Atlanta International Auto Show.

For five straight days from March 13-17, enthusiasts got up close and personal with their favorite cars, trucks and SUVs from more than 30 major manufacturers including Ford, Lincoln, Dodge, Chevrolet, GMC, Toyota, Lexus, Honda and Kia.

From the sporty Ford Focus to the sleek Lincoln MKZ to the always stylish Cadillac CTS, exhibits at the 31 annual auto show clearly had the wow factor – just ask Brandon Porter of Decatur.

“For people who really love cars, this is the ultimate,” said Porter. “You not only get to see what you like first hand, but you get to experience it for yourself.”

For Porter, a certified auto technician for more than 20 years, the annual showcase of more than 400 new import and domestic cars, light trucks, vans and sports utility vehicles is a dream come true – especially when you get to test drive some of your favorite cars.

“You have to understand – when they get to me, they aren’t shiny and sleek and running smooth,” said Porter, who seen his share of battered and bruised cars. “So I love to see cars when they’re like this – brand new and in peak performance.”

Other lines participating in the annual event – the largest of its kind in the Southeast and the largest consumer event held at the Georgia World Congress Center –

included Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Fiat, Fisker, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Mazda, Mini, Nissan, Ram, Scion, Sprinter, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo.

With so many makes and models to choose from, car lovers like Porter were left with only one question – where to go first.

“It’s really a lot to take in; but for someone seriously shopping for a new car, it’s perfect,” said Porter. “In one spot, you have a great selection, but what you don’t have is the pressure to make a decision. And I think serious car buyers will really appreciate that.”

Katrina Reid of Duluth can testify to that. She was one of those serious car buyers who appreciated the more relaxed atmosphere at the auto show.

“I think that spending your Saturday afternoon running from one dealership to another is old school,” said Reid. “Consumers are actually taking the time to educate themselves and do their own research, and I think the atmosphere in here really helps.”

That no-pressure environment is exactly what display managers like Clarissa Zimmerman at Ford were striving to create.

“We want people to feel relaxed, as if they are at home on their computer,” Zimmerman said. “For us, it isn’t about selling Ford vehicles, but it’s all about educating consumers about the features and benefits of owning a Ford… What they do with that information is entirely up to them.”

In addition to the new 2013 models on display, exhibit goers also got a chance to peek at the 2014 pre-production and limited production vehicles like the 2014 Acura RLX, the 2014 AUDI RS5 Cabriolet, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, the 2014 Ford Fiesta, 2014 JEEP Grand Cherokee and the 2014 Chevrolet ZL1 Camaro.

And if the more than 400 hundred vehicles on display weren’t enough to hold your attention, then the slew of celebrities likely was.

Not only were Harry the Hawk and the Atlanta Hawks Dance Team in attendance, but Cincinnati Bengals star A.J. Green, former Atlanta Hawks superstar Kevin Willis, and characters Spiderman, Thor and Scooby-Doo also were on hand to greet exhibit goers and entertain the crowd.

“It’s an auto show, but it’s not strictly about the cars,” Zimmerman said. “It’s about the people… Entertaining the people, educating the people and definitely empowering the people to make smart decisions when they leave.”