Philly Auto Show returns after COVID hiatus, flooded with electric cars

A sign invites visitors to sit in the cars at the Philadelphia Auto Show. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A sign invites visitors to sit in the cars at the Philadelphia Auto Show. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The 120th Philadelphia Auto Show is back this weekend through next at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

There are 23 car makers presenting hundreds of new models on the showroom floor, from a first look at the 2023 Nissan Z sports car to an all-electric SUV, the Subaru Solterra. There are fewer participating companies than in recent years. Many auto shows around the world are not happening at all this year, due not just to COVID-19 but also global supply chain disruptions that have hampered production.

The chair of the Philly show, Maria Pacifico, feels lucky that the Auto Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia was able to pull off an event this year.

“Because of the pandemic and the chip shortage, dealers like myself really have limited inventory,” she said. “When a consumer wants to purchase a vehicle, they don’t always have the opportunity to see it or to drive it. So coming to the auto show and seeing all these vehicles under one roof gives people an opportunity to see what they’re going to purchase.”

Philadelphia auto dealer Maria Pacifico, chair of this year’s Philadelphia Auto Show, says 23 brands are represented, with an emphasis on electric vehicles. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
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Visitors cannot buy cars directly at the Auto Show, but Pacifico says about 90% of visitors come to the show looking for their next car.

Rich Terrell, the regional sales operations manager for Ford Motors, said a record number of people are ordering cars directly from the factory, because they cannot find a wide selection on the lot.

“It is at the lowest levels that we’ve seen in recent history,” said Terrell. “What we are finding is consumers are custom-building orders from production at the highest rates we’ve ever seen in the company’s history. As a result, you’re getting the vehicle that you want custom built for future production, rather than the old business model, which is we build a model, we send it to the dealer, and you accept that vehicle from dealer stock.”

Ford Sales Operations Manager Rich Terrell buckles up for a ride in a Mustang Mach-E at the Philadelphia Auto Show. New this year is a 50,000-square-foot track where visitors can ride in the latest electric vehicles. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The big push this year is electric cars. The Auto Show is debuting the E-Track, a 50,000 square foot open space dominating one side of the main hall where new electric cars are available for test rides.

The car industry estimates that in five years, about 30% of all cars sold will be electric cars, but Terrell said many people are still skeptical of e-vehicles because they’ve never been in one.

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“This is an opportunity to actually experience what it’s like to be in an electric vehicle,” he said, belting himself into a Mach-E four-door sedan. “The torque, the power is actually improved over a gas powered engine.”

Terrell proved his point by flooring the car with me in the passenger seat. The sudden and intense acceleration felt like a roller coaster.

It caused this reporter to involuntarily yelp.

“The vehicle itself has incredible acceleration as a result of the electric powertrain,” he said, mercifully slowing into a u-turn.

A 2023 Mustang Mach-E makes its way around the 50,000-square-foot electric vehicle track at the Philadelphia Auto Show. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In addition to new models, the Auto Show features cars featured in movies and television, including the beat-up yellow Camaro from “Transformers”, the live-action Scooby Doo “Mystery Machine,” and the Dodge Charger from the 2017 “Fate of the Furious” film (the 8th iteration of the Fast and Furious franchise).

The Mystery Machine van that appeared in ”Scooby Doo” movies is on display at the Philadelphia Auto Show. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One level below the showroom floor is a showcase of privately owned, custom modified cars, including the pride and joy of Philadelphia Eagle football players: defensive end Josh Sweat’s bright orange 2008 Swedish Keonigsegg sportscar and Fletcher Cox’s Rolls Royce Cullinan SUV with backward-opening suicide doors. There’s also a tricked-out Ford F-150 pickup and Polaris Slingshot three-wheeled motorcycle, both owned by former Eagle Vinny Curry.

A worker polishes a 2008 Koenigsegg belonging to Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat at the Philadelphia Auto Show, where a vast showroom of customized cars are on display. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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