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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

Thousands of fans at opening of auto show

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Alex Clifton, 14, left, Shaston Kazmierczak, 13, and his dad, Brian Kazmierczak, all of Toledo, check out offerings from Jeep. (BLADE PHOTOS/ANDY MORRISON)
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<b>PICS OF CONCEPT RIDES</b>
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GALLERY</b></font color=red>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080115&Kategori=BUSINESS02&Lopenr=295872358&Ref=PH&nocache=1" target="_blank  "><b>Detroit Auto Show</b></a><img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <b><font color=red>UPDATED Alex Clifton, 14, left, Shaston Kazmierczak, 13, and his dad, Brian Kazmierczak, all of Toledo, check out offerings from Jeep. (BLADE PHOTOS/ANDY MORRISON) <br> <br> <b>PICS OF CONCEPT RIDES</b> <br> GALLERY</b></font color=red>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080115&Kategori=BUSINESS02&Lopenr=295872358&Ref=PH&nocache=1" target="_blank "><b>Detroit Auto Show</b></a><img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <b><font color=red>UPDATED
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DETROIT - Ray Flowers and Darik Allen look like art critics as they stand outside a spinning circle and critique each detail of the two-ton masterpiece a few feet away.

"This has the Xenon headlights too, I think," Mr. Flowers of Toledo noted to Mr. Allen, his friend from Columbus, as the open-doored, black Pontiac G8 sedan rotated before them.

Mr. Allen, his arms folded before him, nodded in agreement as he pointed out another interesting design feature.

Enthusiasts flock around the Ford Explorer America concept car at the auto show, which is now open to the public. Enthusiasts flock around the Ford Explorer America concept car at the auto show, which is now open to the public.
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Conversations like theirs weren't hard to find yesterday as tens of thousands of people crowded into the Cobo Convention Center in Detroit for the first day of this year's North American International Auto Show.

Armed with small cameras and bags to carry literature,

people gathered around vehicles of all shapes and sizes to look over what's new and exciting on the automotive horizon.

"We're car guys. We've been coming up here together for 10 years," Mr. Flowers said.

More than 700,000 people are expected to visit the auto show in Detroit over its eight-day public run, said Carl Galeana, the senior co-chairman of this year's show. More than 700 vehicles are displayed across the massive Cobo floor, including more than two dozen concept vehicles that range from practical to just weird.

Brian Kazmierczak of Toledo brought his 13-year-old son, Shaston, and friend Alex Clifton, 14, with him to check out new pickup trucks.

A line worker for Toledo Edison, Mr. Kazmierczak said he was most taken with the Chevrolet Avalanche.

"We wanted to look at the concept cars, and of course, the trucks," Mr. Kazmierczak said. But that didn't stop him from climbing into the cockpit of a new Chrysler 300 sedan.

"This is pretty nice too," he said, as his son snapped a photo of a nearby limousine version of the 300 on display.

Toledo-made Jeeps are front-and-center for this year's display by Chrysler LLC. A four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited hangs vertically on a 20-foot-tall cliff that children can climb and rappel - with help from some specialized equipment and show employees.

A Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon perched atop a mound of boulders also beckons show visitors to Jeep's display.

There yesterday, 15-year-old Mary Michalak sat behind the wheel of a fire-engine red Jeep Liberty while her father Chuck, a dentist from Point Place, looked on.

"I think it looks great," Mary said quietly of the Liberty. Though Mary is not yet old enough for a car of her own, Mr. Michalak said his other daughter "loves her Liberty" and uses it to drive to and from college at Ohio State.

"I've got a lot of friends that work there," at the Toledo North Assembly Plant where the Liberty is made, Mr. Michalak said. "I want to support our local economy, and they build a great vehicle.

"My daughter's never had a problem with hers, and she's never been fearful in the weather."

With so many different manufacturers showcasing their automobiles, the auto show is a good place for automobile aficionados like Steve Wesolowski of Waterville to really keep track of the industry.

Normally, Mr. Wesolowski works as the global director of engineering for the torque products group of Toledo's Dana Corp., but yesterday he was just a kid again.

"I've been coming up here since I was a young boy," Mr. Wesolowski said.

"What you see more of is how international this show has gotten," Mr. Wesolowski said, noting that five Chinese manufacturers have displays at this year's show.

But not everyone at the North American International Auto Show is a veteran.

Gerald Burnside of Tiffin made his first trek to the show yesterday, and even though he just bought a new Chevrolet Impala when he retired last year, he still couldn't help but look at what else GM had to offer.

"I'm kind of a GM man, and I kind of like to see what the others are making," Mr. Burnside said. "I think the last car I owned that wasn't from GM was the '49 Dodge I had when I got out of high school."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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