DaimlerChrysler's PT Cruiser promises to be star of auto show

Retro car is among 350 on display in Timonium

Motor vehicles

February 05, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

For nine days in Timonium, it's one-stop shopping for car buyers.

More than 350 vehicles by 36 manufacturers are on display at the 16th Annual Maryland International Auto Show, which opens today at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

"The main purpose is for people to come here completely unhassled and see everything new the auto industry has to offer right next to each other," said Richard Kohles, show director.

"Instead of going to a dealership, they can come here and jump in the three or four vehicles they've narrowed down to and get the feel for themselves and the whole family. That's something you still can't do on the Internet."

The vehicles at the auto show include this year's models, some 2001 models and a handful of "concept" cars. They range in price from $9,995 for the Kia Sephia to $85,500 for the Mercedes-Benz CL 500.

But it's DaimlerChrysler that has what promises to be the star of the show. The 2001 PT Cruiser, a retro-inspired vehicle, is like nothing else on the market.

Billed as a "flexible activity vehicle" -- PT stands for personal transportation to emphasize its versatility -- it has the frame of a small car, interior space to rival that of a luxury vehicle and removable seats to provide the cargo room of a minivan.

Though heavy on design, the PT Cruiser is not that heavy on the wallet -- relatively speaking. When available in the spring, it will start about $16,000 and come fully loaded for about $20,000.

About half the vehicles displayed at this year's show are light-duty trucks, including vans, pickups and sport utility vehicles.

New models of note in this segment include the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Hyundai Santa Fe.

The Sport Trac, called a "sport utility truck," combines the front-end design of an Explorer SUV with a short pickup bed, and will cost about $25,000 for a four-door, four-wheel drive model.

The Santa Fe is Hyundai's first venture into the hot SUV market. This mid-size SUV starts about $20,000.

Also on display were Honda's two-passenger Insight, a hybrid fuel vehicle that combines a gasoline-powered engine with an electric motor, and the Mazda MPV, the first minivan with rear windows that can be rolled down.

The concept cars offer designs to tantalize the imagination. The futuristic Buick Signia is a combination sedan and station wagon, with a removable rear roof and a rear hatch that opens in the middle like French doors.

The auto show runs until Feb. 13. The hours are noon until 10 p.m. Saturdays; noon until 7 p.m. Sundays; and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children under 12. Children under 3 get in free.

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