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Buffalo Auto Show highlights local wheels

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wned/local-wned-951730.mp3

Autoworker-turned-car salesman Ken Staszak says it's easier to sell a car with a local connection. So for him, the Buffalo Auto Show is a chance to find out what's made here (at least in part).

"You're able to say that this was built by people from western New York. So these are your neighbors, these are your friends, your relatives, what have you. There's always a tie-in. Somebody from somewhere in Buffalo knows somebody that’s working there," Staszak says.

About 300 vehicles are on display at the show, which runs until Sunday. The event is an annual shindig that's been giving drivers new car fever for the past 108 years. And this year, in addition to flashy new luxury cars and innovative models like the Chevy Volt, the show is highlighting a resurgence of sorts for western New York's auto industry.

The Ford Stamping Plant in Hamburg (which make exteriors for the Ford Edge and Ford Flex) has taken its lumps and layoffs. But this year the company has been on the rise, more than doubling its earnings over 2009. The fact that the company didn't accept a bailout also helps it connect with buyers, according to Staszak.

That's unlike General Motors, which, with help from the U.S. Treasury, is investing $800 million in the Tonawanda Engine Plant. The result is the Ecotec engine line, which will go in cars like the Chevy Malibu.

According to Mike Knop, a retired GM worker scoped out the engine during the show, the Ecotec engine is more environmentally friendly than the machines he worked on during his 34 years on the line.

"[It's] more efficient, lighter weight, stronger ... all of the above, that's what we're seeing in the newest engines," Knop says.

And there's a bonus for Knop: the Ecotec keeps his friends who are still working for GM, in a job.

Sales growth for Ford and R&D investment by GM is a good sign for Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers.

"I can comfortably say I think our market is pretty re-energized," he says.

So how appealing is that energy to buyers?  

David Mack, who visited the show to hunt for a new vehicle, spent part of his day ogling a few Lexus and Mercedes models, along with the Ford Edge. His verdict:

"[The new Ford Edge] is nicely done, but I think it's pretty high-priced when you can get a more luxurious car for just a few thousand dollars more," he says. "Which [puts it] on a different level."
 
For Mack, the local connection to the Edge doesn't make a difference.

"Not at all. Very few [cars] are all made in the USA anyway. The engines come in from Japan or Germany."

And that's the other side of the Edge's local roots - some of its parts come from Canada and Mexico.

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