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Auto show gets off starting line with Landau

The 2012 edition of the West Virginia International Auto Show left the starting line with an invitation-only charity preview gala that featured an appearance by "America's Got Talent" winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.

"I always used to go to auto shows when I was washing cars," Murphy joked to an appreciative crowd that was dressed to the nines.

Instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday evening, Murphy and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., opened the show by unbuckling a giant replica of a seatbelt.

The show at the Civic Center opens to the public at 10 a.m. today. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children. Admission is free for children 6 and under.

"This show is the rebirth of the auto industry," said Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Auto & Truck Dealers Association.

Indeed, Toyota - which suffered through parts shortages in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March and, more recently, flooding in Thailand - is among the manufacturers who have come to this year's show in full force.

Several company executives are in town, including Kim Menke, manager of external affairs and government relations for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc.

 Menke said he and several associates spent Thursday meeting with state legislators "and what better way to top it off than to come to the auto show, help Hospice, and look at some cars?" He has owned two Toyota Highlander hybrids. It remains his vehicle of choice but Menke is also looking at a Camry hybrid and a Lexus hybrid.

The Camry hybrid XLE sedan on the show floor gets an estimated 40 miles per gallon in the city and 38 miles per gallon on the open road, with an impressively low average annual fuel cost of $1,400.

Honda also has a robust display at this year's show. One vehicle garnering a lot of stares is a 2012 Accord four-door with a V-6 engine and polished metal metallic paint job. State Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, let out an audible "Oooh," when he got in the driver's seat.

The entire Coliseum floor is covered with General Motors products, from Cadillacs to Chevrolets.

A Buick 2012 LaCrosse was drawing some attention. The vehicle is equipped with e-assist, which means that when you stop at a red light the engine cuts off and an electric system takes over; when you step on the accelerator, the engine automatically restarts. The vehicle at the show lists for $32,755. It gets an estimated 25 miles per gallon in the city, 36 on the highway, and has an average annual fuel cost of $1,915.

It was hard to move around the gala without bumping into a dignitary. Among the folks spotted in the crowd:

Former car dealer Jim Pitrolo Jr., who is now chairman of the state Health Care Authority; Charleston City Councilman Mike Clowser, who also is executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia; Elizabeth "Betty" Chilton, president and publisher of the Charleston Gazette; Charleston City Treasurer Vic Grigoraci, an accountant, and his wife Judy Grigoraci, author of the Sunday Gazette-Mail Healthy Bites feature.

Also, Jama Jarrett, interim president and chief operating officer of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Pat Graney, east regional president of Maxum Petroleum Inc. and a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's Board of Directors.

Proceeds from Thursday evening's gala benefit HospiceCare.

Coupons good for discounted admission to the show are available at participating area new car dealers and in the Charleston newspapers. A "Buy One, Get One Free" coupon is available with the purchase of eight gallons of fuel at a One Stop fuel center. Discounts also are available online at www.WestVirginiaAutoShow.com.

The Daily Mail will host a live online chat about the show at 10:30 a.m. today at www.dailymail.com

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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