State automotive leaders are celebrating a re-energized industry this weekend at the Connecticut International Auto Show, set for Friday through Sunday at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans to open the show Friday, joined by Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Melody Curry and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty. The show features some of the newest models of hybrid, luxury, family, and specialty cars.

New car sales in the state are revving up again, with figures inching toward pre-recession levels, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Prior to the 2008 economic crash, Connecticut’s annual automobile sales averaged $9 billion a year, but that figure plummeted to $6.3 billion in 2008. Total sales now are back up to $8 billion and climbing.

“The fact that car sales are taking off is a real sign of a recovery in Connecticut,” according to Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association. Dealer interest in the show was so high this year that floor space sold out for the first time in three years, he said.

While cars are not for sale at the show, one of the benefits of attending is that consumers can view and compare different brands of cars in one place, he added.

New dealerships also have opened to replace the ones forced to close during the height of the recession. Between 2008 and 2009, 30 percent of the state’s new car dealers went out of business, Fleming noted. The newest dealers are helping fuel the economy with jobs and money; revenue from automobile sales accounts for 14 percent of sales tax collected annually in Connecticut, Fleming said, on top of the payroll and property taxes paid by the state’s car dealers. The association represents more than 250 new car dealerships in the state that employ more than 12,000 people.

Consumer confidence has rebounded since the depths of the recession, noted Barbara Putney, vice president of the Paragon Group, the show’s producer. “People no longer are feeling like if they buy a GM car, they might go out of business.” The shortage of newer used cars in the market also is prompting many people to consider buying new, she added.

The return of credit also is boosting sales, according to Fleming. Two or three years ago, dealers were unable to get credit to finance their inventory and consumers struggled to get loans.

While Connecticut consumers are particularly environmentally-conscious and many are drawn to hybrids, large cars such as sport utility vehicles (SUVS) remain popular, added Fleming.

Overall, consumers are showing particular interest in hybrid cars and those that boast high gas mileage, continued Putney. “Virtually every brand has a hybrid car in its line. People want to know how the car lines are making engines perform better so they use less fuel. It has to do with the cost of gas, the idea of helping the environment and getting away from the dependence on foreign oil. For nearly 100 years, the car technology barely changed. Now there are different ways of looking at things.”

Other attractions at the show include an appearance by Sean Casey and the Tornado Intercept Vehicle from the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Comic Bot, the eight-foot-tall robot from “America’s Got Talent,” is scheduled to perform Friday at 3 p.m., Saturday at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. Some vintage cars from the 1900s, 1920s, and 1930s also will be on display, courtesy of the Klingberg Foundation.

Car show hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under age 6 are free. In honor of Veteran’s Day on Friday, all active duty military personnel and veterans with valid military ID will receive free admission.

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