Get ready for electric vehicles; shiny new SUVs, trucks and cars; and plenty of smiling faces — or maybe at least smiling eyes.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus for 2021, the Philadelphia Auto Show will be back for its 120th event. It begins its usual nine-day run at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on March 5, which will follow the city’s updated COVID-19 restrictions.
Highlights will include the chance to experience electric vehicles such as the Ford Mach E SUV and Lightning pickup and the new Kia EV6, to ride in or drive vehicles from Toyota, and, of course, see a whole range of vehicles from across the spectrum of manufacturers.
But the real highlight of this year’s show is e-Track, an indoor track where visitors can ride in actual electric vehicles provided by several manufacturers, including Ford, Volvo, and Kia. But it’s more than just a fun ride — it’s an educational and informational experience for people who haven’t been in electric vehicles.
The industry has been talking about electrification for a long time, said Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Philly Auto Show. “Now you’re seeing commitment from the manufacturers and in the portfolio of the vehicles coming out.”
The e-Track will give people about a minute to experience a ride in an EV, Mazzucola said, and also learn about the ins and outs of charging, mileage range, rebates, or other things to know about the new technology.
Other EVs on display at the show but not part of the e-Track rides will include electric SUVs, such as the 2023 Subaru Solterra, 2023 Nissan Ariya, and 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5.
EV buyers in Pennsylvania can get a $750 DEP rebate, or up to $5,000 in New Jersey, plus up to $7,500 from the federal government.
EVs are the direction the industry is going, and being able to ride in the Ford Lightning puts show visitors in one of the industry’s hottest vehicles to watch, says Edmunds’ automobile industry analyst Jessica Caldwell. The electric pickup based on the top-selling Ford F-150 should boost EVs industrywide.
“It’s probably what the sector needs to gain some more mainstream traction,” Caldwell said.
EVs remain about 3% of U.S. sales, while electrified vehicles of all types — which includes hybrids and plug-in hybrids — add up to almost 10%, according to NADA chief economist Patrick Manzi.
Carmakers are planning to sell nearly 100 EV models by 2024. Volvo, for example, has vowed to sell only electric cars by 2030, while GM aims to eliminate gas and diesel vehicles five years after that. Several other automakers have made similar predictions.
In Europe, the uptick is going faster. The continent’s EV fleet is projected to grow from its current base of less than 5 million to 65 million by 2030 and then doubling over the following five years, according to a joint report from Ernst & Young and the electricity industry trade association Eurelectric.
U.S. automobile sales overall have been fairly strong, certainly stronger than anyone expected at the pandemic’s outset almost two years ago. A slight increase from 2020 to 2021 puts vehicle sales just under 15 million units, but that’s down from 17 million in 2019.
Most of the trouble with sales has been because the industry cannot make cars fast enough. Auto Forecast Solutions expects that 11.3 million vehicles will not be produced globally as a result of the chip shortage, and vehicles are expected to remain difficult to buy at least through the first half of the year.
“Inventories were down 80% from a normal time period,” Caldwell said. “Things just can’t come back that quickly.”
Auto show organizers had their hands full trying to make this event work: Between the chip shortage cutting into vehicle production and skyrocketing sales, it’s been hard to find vehicles for the show.
Mazzucola admitted the footprint of the auto show is smaller than before, but the chip shortage may actually be working in the show’s favor.
“Some of the vehicles on the floor may not even be on the dealer’s lot because of the inventory shortage,” Mazzucola said.
Hot new non-electric vehicles that will be on display include the 2022 Ford Bronco Wildtrak, 2022 Toyota Tundra, and the redesigned 2023 Toyota Sequoia, 15 years since its last redesign.
» READ MORE: An electrified vacation in the Volkswagen ID.4
Another ride event returns: The popular Camp Jeep is back. This will be the brand’s ninth year in Philadelphia, and the indoor trail-like conditions will be traversed this year by the Wrangler Rubicon 392, Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave pickups, Grand Cherokee L Overland, Cherokee Trailhawk, and Compass Trailhawk.
Get behind the wheel: Outside the show, visitors will have the chance to drive Toyotas on Philadelphia streets. The Venza, RAV4 Hybrid, and Corolla Cross crossovers, and the Tundra pickup will be available for cruising around Center City — on a preselected course, of course.
Mazzucola said he’s not sure what to expect as the pandemic seems to be waning.
Though it’s not a perfect comparison, the Pittsburgh Auto Show just wrapped up on Presidents’ Day. CEO Lisa McIntyre said attendance was down just 10% from 2020, and she calls that a victory. Many shows have been down down 30% in attendance, she said.
Organizers of the Philly Auto Show hope the move from February to early March and people’s desire to get out of the house work to their advantage. They hope people are eager to shop for a car — for some point in the future, if not now while inventories are down.
“Studies show that people want to see and touch and feel the vehicles that they’re buying,” Mazzucola said.
Philadelphia Auto Show
March 5-13; Saturdays 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sundays 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; weekdays noon-9 p.m.
Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.
$16; ages 7-12, $10; 6 and under, free; 62 and up, $10; military, $13