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SUVs, high-tech safety features are NY Auto Show attractions

The Mercedes-Benz Maybach S650 limited edition convertible is

The Mercedes-Benz Maybach S650 limited edition convertible is powered by a 6.0-liter twin turbocharged V-12 engine. It's due later this year at prices expected to range from $200,000 to $300,000. Photo Credit: Wieck / Mercedes-Benz

New York’s biggest auto show opens to the public April 14 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where the new cars and trucks on display will reflect the resurgence in interest in light trucks — a category including pickups and SUVs.

New safety features suggest that the driverless car is edging closer to reality.

The New York International Auto Show, traditionally the nation’s best attended by the public, will feature about 1,000 new vehicles on 950,000 square feet of space. It usually draws about a million attendees. It opens to the public at 10 a.m. Friday after a two-day media preview.

The new vehicles will compete in a crowded but healthy market here. On Long Island, new vehicle registrations — which approximate sales — rose by 4 percent last year through November from the same period a year earlier, to 213,589 vehicles.

In all 12 months of 2009, the worst year for new car sales during the last recession, Long Islanders registered 157,000 new vehicles.

John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, cites Long Island’s low 4.6 percent unemployment rate in February and expectations that the Trump administration’s policies will boost the economic positives.

“I think the Long Island economy is strong,” Rizzo said. “I think business conditions have improved, and I think that with the low unemployment rate there is expectation for wage growth.”

Notable new vehicles scheduled to be on display include the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size SUVs, redesigned for 2018, whose prices, like many at the show, haven’t been announced yet.

Also showing is a new variant of the redesigned BMW 5-Series already on sale: the 530e iPerformance sedan, a plug-in hybrid gasoline-electric car, starting at around $51,000.

There’s a new plug-in hybrid version of Honda’s Clarity fuel-cell-powered car, along with a pure electric Clarity. Chrysler is showcasing a gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Pacifica minivan.

Among the most eagerly anticipated new vehicles at the show, at least by car enthusiasts, will be the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, promised to be the fastest version yet of the sporty coupe, designed for street and track. Its horsepower is being kept secret by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but speculation in car buff magazines runs around 800 — roughly four times the horsepower of most ordinary family cars.

The new Jeep Trackhawk being shown at Javits is a sportier variant of the Grand Cherokee.

Mercedes-Benz plans to show five new models from its high-performance AMG division, including the Mercedes-Maybach S650 Cabriolet, to be available later this spring or in summer with a 621 hp. V-12 engine and a price expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000.

Other significant vehicles at Javits this year will include the Kia Stinger, designed to compete against high-performance sedans from the likes of BMW and Audi — from a carmaker trying to shed its reputation as a maker primarily of basic transportation.

Redesigned for 2018 is the Toyota Camry, a car that rarely make the covers of car magazines but is a huge seller, contributing heavily toward paying the bills for its manufacturer and dealers. The new Camry’s exterior and interior represent an effort by the Japanese carmaker to inject more appealing aesthetics into America’s bestselling sedan.

The redesigned Chevrolet Traverse, a midsize SUV to be shown at Javits and go on sale in the fall, also falls into that “bread and butter” category for its popularity. So do the redesigned Mazda CX-5 (starting at $24,000), the Buick Enclave and GMC Terrain SUVs, the redesigned Honda Odyssey minivan and freshened versions of the Toyota Sienna minivan, Subaru Outback wagon, Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan and the Volkswagen Golf line.

The Buick Regal midsize sedan also is redesigned as a hatchback, and a wagon version has been added.

Local dealers say 2017 has gotten off to a good, if not roaring, start.

“January, February and March were flat with last year,” said Michael Brown, co-owner of the 22-store Atlantic Auto Group, Long Island’s largest new-car dealership chain. “But last year was a very good year.” He blames the flatness on changeable weather and some uncertainty among consumers as the Trump administration settles in. “Some people are saying, “We just have to see where this is going,” Brown said.

New vehicle sales at his dealerships totaled about 50,000 last year, up 6 percent from 2015, he said. He expects a similar increase this year.

Forecasters at IHS Automotive, a consulting firm, see a strong year nationally, though sales might slip a bit from last year’s total of 17.5 million new cars and light trucks. “We currently forecast this year to be a 17.4 million,” said senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. “It’s a little bit of a pullback but still a really healthy market.”

Few dealers expect strong growth beyond current, high sales levels, mostly because pent-up demand postponed during the recession has largely been satisfied.

“I’m hoping for a bit of an increase,” said Rich Mullen, owner of the Fiat-Chrysler dealers that bears his family name in Southold. “I don’t see any tremendous growth.”

Nationally and locally, the new-vehicle market also is being buoyed by strong sales incentives such as rebates and cut-rate loans.

Incentive spending by automakers averaged an estimated $3,443 per car in February, up 1.9 percent from a year earlier, according to ALG, a Santa Monica, California, company that provides residual-value forecasts for carmakers and auto lenders.

Honda and Acura don’t offer factory rebates, but at one of Long Island’s largest Acura dealerships, Smithtown Acura, owner Rob Certilman says he is having to provide bigger discounts on vehicles to stay competitive. That’s hurting his bottom line. “I’m seeing the same amount of [unit] volume,” he said, “but it’s just harder to make profits.”

Also luring buyers are new features — some standard, some optional — designed to reduce the incidence of accidents caused by driver error.

Systems on the 2018 Volvo XC60 SUV, for example, enable the car to automatically steer around pedestrians on city streets, if such a maneuver is safe, and steer automatically to avoid head-on collisions with other cars.

An optional system in that model takes care of steering, acceleration and braking on the highway at up to 80 mph.

The redesigned 2018 Lexus LS, the brand’s flagship sedan, will steer around obstacles, not just brake for them, and adds a feature to warn the driver of cross traffic at an intersection.

The new Chevrolet Traverse SUV will be available with a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle thanks to video cameras. It and many other new vehicles will automatically brake for pedestrians or other vehicles at low speeds, and sometimes high speeds as well.

The redesigned Honda Odyssey minivan has “road departure mitigation” to warn the driver of a vehicle drifting too close to the side of a roadway at between 45 and 90 mph without a turn signal activated. The warning is via rapid vibrations of the steering wheel and, if necessary, corrective steering.

The 2018 Camry, due in showrooms in late summer, also will have a system to nudge a drifting car back into its lane.

The Camry will compete in a shrinking market for passenger cars, as light trucks, especially SUVs, continue to lure increasing numbers of American motorists.

In downstate New York, for example, new registrations of passenger cars fell by 7 percent last year through November, from the same period a year earlier, according to the latest figures available.

But registrations of new light trucks rose by 11 percent in the 12-county area studied by a consultant to the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.

Jimmy Berg, president of Sunrise Toyota in Oakdale, one of the Island’s largest sellers of the brand, says his model mix has flip-flopped in recent years, from 60 percent cars and 40 percent trucks to the reverse. “People are finding them more utilitarian — the hatchback, the all-wheel drive, the higher sitting positions,” he said. He also owns Sunrise Toyota North, in Middle Island.

At Sayville Ford, the Island’s largest retailer of the brand, owner Melanie Spare-Oswalt said, “If gas prices remain low, which I expect they will, SUVs will have a very good year.”

Relatively low gasoline prices are seen as a factor in the rising popularity of light trucks.

Pump prices for regular gas, which averaged $2.30 a gallon nationally in February, are forecast by the U.S. Department of Energy to rise by about 30 cents by July, before beginning to taper off. Regular averaged $2.477 a gallon Friday in Nassau and Suffolk counties, up 29.1 cents from a year earlier — and well below the Long Island record of $4.346 a gallon set July 8, 2008.

Consumer confidence in the metropolitan area — including Long Island, New York City and its northern suburbs — is at its highest level in more than 10 years, according to a Siena College Research Institute survey conducted in March.

Auto dealers are counting on that confidence. “I think the U.S. economy is going to get stronger. I’m optimistic about the next few years,” Spare-Oswalt said.

NEW MODELS FOR 2018

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio: A compact car-based SUV, the Stelvio has a four cylinder engine and is to go on sale this summer.

2018 BMW 530e iPerformance: This plug-in hybrid sedan, added to the automaker’s midpriced 5 series luxury line, goes on sale this spring starting at around $51,000. The 530e iPerformance has an electric motor and a four-cylinder 2.0-liter twin turbo gasoline engine, delivering a combined 248 hp.

2018 Chevrolet Traverse: The midsize SUV gets new exterior styling and some interior upgrades such as added head and leg room and second row seats that fold more easily to ease third row access. Available engines are a 305 hp. 3.6L V6 or a 255 hp. 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine, both with a new nine-speed automatic transmission. On sale in the fall..

2018 Ford EcoSport: This subcompact five-seat SUV based on the Fiesta goes on sale early next year, available with three- and four-cylinder engines.

2018 Ford Expedition: The full size eight passenger SUV gets a new aluminum body and goes on sale in the fall with a new 5.0-liter V-6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission.

2018 GMC Terrain: The compact SUV has been redesigned, as was its cousin, the Chevrolet Equinox. It’s due at dealerships in the summer, available with any of three new turbocharged engines, one of them a diesel.

2018 Honda Odyssey: This near-complete redesign of the minivan goes on sale later in spring, and will start, like the current model, at about $30,000. New features include an available foot-operated power tailgate and new seven- or eight-inch dashboard displays with video cameras to enable driver and shotgun passenger to monitor activity in the rear seats. The V-6 engine is coupled with either of two new automatic transmissions, a nine speed and a 10 speed.

2017 Honda Civic Type R: A sportier version of the Civic four door hatchback, this little rocket is due at U.S. dealerships in late spring with 306 hp. under the hood. Its price is expected to be in the mid $30,000 range. This variant is new to the U.S. market.

2017 Jeep Compass: A redesign of the compact SUV is arriving at dealerships this month. It’s being manufactured in Brazil, China, Mexico and India, for consumers in more than 100 countries. Models for North America have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

2018 Kia Stinger: This luxury/high performance four-door hatchback is expected at dealerships late in the year with as much as 365 hp. along with rear or all-wheel drive.

2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar: This midsize luxury SUV joins the lineup in summer with a 247 hp. four-cylinder engine. Prices will start about $50,000.

2017 Mazda CX-5: A redesigned version of the car-based compact SUV, is going on sale this month starting at about $24,000 with front wheel drive, and about $25,000 with all-wheel drive.

2017 Mercedes-Maybach S650 Cabriolet: This limited edition convertible for the well-heeled is powered by a 6.0-liter twin turbocharged V-12 engine delivering 621 hp. It’s due later this spring or in summer at prices not announced but expected to be between $200,000 and $300,000. It comes with four pieces of matching luggage. Only 300 will be produced, and only 75 will be available for U.S. buyers.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek: Unveiled at last month’s Geneva auto show, the redesigned version of the small SUV introduced in 2012 has higher ground clearance, a more powerful engine and standard all wheel drive. On sale in summer.

2018 Toyota Camry: On sale in late summer, the new midsize sedan represents the first redesign since 2013 of the nation’s best selling passenger car. First revealed at the Detroit auto show in January, it has improved handling, Toyota says. Available engines are new, including a 3.5-liter V-6 and a 2.5-liter four, both with a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

2018 Toyota CH-R: This small, car-based SUV aimed at Millennials goes on sale in April at about $22,500 to start with a 144 hp. four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas: This three-row SUV, which is larger than the Tiguan, goes on sale next month at about $30,000 to start. Four and six cylinder engines will be available.

2018 Volvo XC60: The redesigned midsize SUV goes on sale in the fall with new systems to steer the car automatically when braking alone won’t avoid accidents.

Source: Car companies.

Note: Includes models unveiled at auto shows elsewhere late last year and earlier this year.

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