Toyota rolls into its new hometown via the DFW Auto Show

When automaker Toyota shows off its new 2018 Camry at the DFW Auto Show this week, it will debut as a member of the home team.

Toyota, which is in the final phases of constructing a mammoth campus in Plano for its North American headquarters, already has about 1,600 workers in North Texas, just under half of the estimated 2017 year-end total of nearly 4,000 employees.

Toyota starts moving furniture and equipment into the complex next month.

As the Japanese-born automaker looks to boost brand awareness among its new neighbors, the Wednesday through Sunday show, one of the five largest shows in the nation, is a good place to start.

The 35th anniversary DFW Auto Show runs from Wednesday through Sunday (March 22-26) at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. The five-day show will feature about about 650 vehicles from 35 domestic and international manufacturers. The new cars, trucks and an occasional motorcycle occupy 650,000 square feet of space.

General Motors, including Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, has the most square footage at about 45,000 square feet, said Marianne Jones, director of communications for the Irving-based Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan New Car Dealers Association, which hosts the show. The Dallas Morning News and subsidiary DMNMedia are sponsors.

Going to the show is a bit like watching movie previews. No vehicles are sold there “however we do like to say our show is a springboard to the spring selling season,” said association president Lee Chapman.

Jones said she does not have stats showing what happens to vehicle sales after the show.

In general, however, auto shows “continue to be one of the most effective ways to reach consumers who are in the market for new vehicles,” said Don Herring, Jr., DFW Auto Show chairman.

“Certainly we expect 400,000 [consumers] to come through the show this year,” said Herring, adding that in a typical year about 10 percent are in the market for a vehicle “right now.”

He said the buying season in North Texas is strongest from April through August, when the days get longer and consumers are flush with tax-return cash.

The show launches months after the close of 2016, which saw overall vehicle sales in the four-county DFW area (including Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties) increase by 2 percent, according to The Freeman Metroplex Recap, a highly watched report that tracks vehicle sales locally.

That’s a slightly slower pace than the 2.8 percent sales gain in the previous year.

Because of changes in methodology, year over year comparisons can’t be made for individual market segments — domestic and imported cars and trucks.

Based on the new vehicle categories, Toyota sales were strongest locally in the domestic car segment. The car maker last year sold 29,343 vehicles categorized as domestic cars or 66 percent of Toyota’s local total.

Toyota makes vehicles both inside and outside of the U.S., so it has sales in all four categories.

Nationwide, the number of passenger cars sold in 2016 dropped by 8.1 percent to 7.1 million cars, according to New Jersey-based Motor Intelligence, which tracks vehicle sales. That’s compared with a 7.2 percent gain in the sales of light trucks to 10.44 million.

The DFW Auto Show will feature the Texas debut of the  2018 Toyota Camry.  Most U.S.Camrys, still the best-selling car in America, are made at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky in Georgetown.

In the 2018 model, new gas and hybrid powertrains generate more horsepower and offer greater estimated MPG, the company said, without quantifying the difference.

The 2018 Toyota Camry will begin rolling into dealerships in late summer 2017. Pricing has not been released.

Also on display will be the 2018 C-HR, a Toyota crossover that comes standard with a pre-collision system with active braking. They arrive in dealerships  in April and sport a $22,500 suggested retail price.

The Toyota Tacoma and Tundra, two pickup trucks that are manufactured at the Toyota plant in San Antonio, also will be on hand.

“They’re coming into North Texas with a bang and participating in the auto show at an all-new level,” Herring said of Toyota.

Will show-goers — largely males ages 25 to 54 — pay more attention to the new kid in town? Toyota demurred.

“While we hope our presence helps local buyers have more interest in our products, our foremost goal with the relocation is to allow us to be even better at responding to changing customer preferences and market needs,” the company said in an emailed response.

Chapman said this year’s show is similar to previous years in terms of size and expected attendance.

A high-end luxury area will feature vehicles from Aston Martin, Bentley, Maserati, McLaren and Rolls-Royce, with a spotlight on the new 2017 Aston Martin DB11 (about $214,800) and the Bentley Bentayga (about $229,000).

In one new feature, Fiat Chrysler will debut the 60,000 square foot RAM Truck Territory Experience. Professional drivers take consumers through an indoor obstacle course that highlights the capabilities of the RAM truck lineup.

The auto show also will present an expanded outdoor “ride & drive” event, sponsored by CBS11. Fifteen manufacturers will offer more than 75 vehicles to test drive through the streets of downtown Dallas.

Consumers can choose from pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, sedans, convertibles and energy-efficient hybrids from Acura, Buick, Chevrolet, FCA (including Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and RAM), Ford, GMC, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.

There’s also a Classic Car Corral featuring about 60 classic vehicles, and a motorcycle exhibitor.

What to know if you go:

DFW Auto Show

Dates:  March 22-26, 2017 (Wednesday through Sunday)

Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 22; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 23-25; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 26.

Cost: $14 for adults;  $7 for senior citizens 65 and older;  $7 for children 6 to 12 years old; children 5 and under admitted free. $10 for active and retired military members (ID is required)