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2018 Portland International Auto Show hits town Thursday, Jan. 25 at the Oregon Convention Center

The 2018 Portland International Auto Show that begins on Jan. 25 at the Oregon Convention Center is not just largest display of new vehicles that will be held in the Pacific Northwest this year.

The Auto Show is also the most visible sign of one of the largest sectors of the state economy. New vehicle sales in Oregon totaled $10.6 billion in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available. That was 17.9 percent of all retail sales in the state that year, according to figures compiled by the National Automobile Dealers Association.As always, the Portland International Auto Show will feature many of this years hot cars including the Range Rover Velar, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Chevrolet Corvette and Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

"That's pretty darn impressive," says Greg Remensperger, executive vice president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association, the membership organization that produces the show.

But Remensperger says the sales figures only hint on the impact that new car dealers have in the state. For starters, there were 218 of them in state in 2016, more than enough for at least one in every city of any size. Each employed an average of 60 people. The total payroll was $716 billion, with 305 million paid in state and federal income taxes.

"Just about the only equivalent employer is the state are school districts," says Remensperger.

And the jobs pay well, too. Average annual earnings were $55,800, including those paid to service technicians who can qualify to work at a franchised dealership with just two years of training.

But the dealerships supported even more indirect and induced jobs in their community, bringing the total number they created in 2016 to 27,045 — a sizeable percent of the state's total workforce by any measure.

"This economic engine provides jobs and incomes that in turn create vibrant livable communities around the state. We are proud that our industry helps bring families together, creates lasting memories and serves the communities where we live," says Chris Meier, a partner at the Herzog-Meier Auto Center, president of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association and vice-president of the Oregon Auto Dealers Association.

After slumping as much or more than the construction industry during the Great Recession, automakers have plenty of reasons to celebrate now.

"They just ended 2017 with sales in the United States topping 17 million vehicles for the third year in a row, the best three-year stretch the industry has ever experienced," the New York Times reported on Jan. 15.As always, the Portland International Auto Show will feature many of this years hot cars including the Range Rover Velar, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Chevrolet Corvette and Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

Although sales dropped slightly in 2017, Remensperger believes they will continue growing in Oregon this year. The average vehicle age in the state was 13.7 years in 2016, more than the average for the entire country.

"There is still a lot of pent up demand to be met in Oregon," says Remensperger.

Jack Hollis, vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, says overall sales may drop a little more in 2018. But he expects current trends to continue, with SUVs outselling cars — and some of the new vehicles on display at the 2018 Portland International Auto Show may even inspire higher sales.

"I'm still optimistic 17 million vehicles could be sold this year," says Hollis.

Such competition makes this year's Auto Show more important than ever. Because of the Internet, more and more people are shopping for new cars online every year. As a result, the average number of visits to a dealership before buying a new car has dropped from five or six a few years ago to just 1.2 today.

"People may shop online, but they still want to see and drive a new vehicle before they buy it. The auto show fills the role of a dealership visit, except that you get to see just about every new vehicle on the market. And you can drive many of them, too," says Remensperger.

The 2018 Portland International Auto Show is produced by the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association. The Pamplin Media Group is the media sponsor.

2017 Portland International Auto Show

What: The largest display of new cars, trucks, vans and SUVs in the region, with addition family friendly exhibits

When: Thursday, Jan. 25 to Sunday, Jan. 28. Begins with Sneak Peek Charity Preview Party on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Tickets: Adults 13 years and older $12.00; Seniors $10.00; Military (with ID) $10.00; Kids 7 to 12 $7.00; Kids 6 year of age and under are free; Kids under 12 free on Sunday Family Day with adults.

More info: http://portlandautoshow.com.

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