Fuel economy in spotlight at Pittsburgh International Auto Show

| Friday, Feb. 17, 2012

Visitors checking out the shiny new models at this year's Pittsburgh International Auto Show aren't likely to miss the big emphasis on fuel economy.

Ford's redesigned 2013 Escape small sport utility vehicle should add about 5 miles per gallon to its predecessor's performance, for instance, Mike Murphy, global car and crossover marketing manager, said on Thursday as final touches were put on displays.

More than 700 vehicles from 35 manufacturers will be shown today through Monday in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

"The internal combustion engine isn't dead. The technology today is allowing us to get so much more horsepower and torque out of a four-cylinder, and even a six-cylinder" vehicle, said John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association, which sponsors the show.

With improvements in engine efficiency, "Unless you're an inner-city dweller, you can do almost as well" driving a gasoline-fueled model as a hybrid, he said.

The show still has its "Green Street" section, with seven vehicles, including the Toyota Prius and Prius V wagon hybrids, plus an Audi A3 and Volkswagen Jetta that run on clean diesel.

"There are a lot of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles," Putzier said. "The (Chevrolet) Volt and (Nissan) Leaf (both electric powered) and others are intermingled among the brands." Toyota's display includes the new Prius C compact, due out in March.

At least 60,000 people are expected to attend this year's four-day show, up from between 50,000 and 55,000 last year. "All the shows across the country have seen an increase this year, at least 5 percent and as high as 20 percent," Putzier said.

Pent-up demand for new cars, improved consumer confidence and this weekend's expected mild weather should help, he said. So should the event's new link to the Rivers Casino on the North Shore, where auto show visitors can park for free and ride a free shuttle to the convention center, if they're 21 or older.

Other firsts for the show: A Lotus display by Wright Automotive Group in Wexford. A deep red Lotus Evora 2+2 is priced at $77,215.

Also, a larger Fiat display near the Chrysler and Dodge models, with four models including the 500 Abarth hatchback for $26,500, and a larger display of motorcycles than last year.

Five Ford and Lincoln models, including the 2013 Escape and Fusion midsize sedan, are making their Pittsburgh market debuts at the show.

The Escape should range in price from $23,000 to $33,000 when it goes on sale this summer, Murphy said.

Its most unique feature: A "hands-free liftgate." A motorist holding grocery bags in both arms, say, can make a gentle kicking motion to trip a sensor under the rear bumper and lift the back-end door. The sensor picks up the presence of the vehicle's coded key fob nearby.

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh International Auto Show

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and Monday.

Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Admission: $10, seniors and military, $8, children 12 and younger, free. Monday, half-price admission.

Parking: Lots and garages near convention center; also, Rivers Casino is providing free parking and continuous shuttle service to the show for those 21 and older.

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