Elvis Presley performed eight years of sold-out shows at the Las Vegas Hilton, putting that place on the map when it opened in the late 1960s as the first major casino hotel built off the Strip.

So one doesn't know what to make of this:

When the National Automobile Dealers Assn.'s annual convention hit town last month, the Hilton's giant freestanding marquee sign, the one that once heralded Elvis's shows, promoted the gig of an Elvis impersonator.

Impersonators are all over Las Vegas these days. Pseudo-Elvises lead the pack, which includes a Rat Pack show of Frank, Dean, Sammy and Joey impersonators.

If Las Vegas show business sometimes seems frozen in a time warp, the city itself gets bigger and richer as it rolls into the future.

The population grows about 4% annually. It's gone from 453,000 in 1980 to a projected 1.71 million this year and 1.78 million next.

Driving this boom town is the city's $7.6-billion-a-year gaming industry. The University of Nevada in Las Vegas predicts it will grow 3.4% this year and 4.1% in 2005.

The number of hotel rooms is expected to increase from 132,350 this year to 137,675 in 2005. That's enough to house the entire city of Pasadena, CA and still have 4,000 rooms left over.

Las Vegas is expected to break the 36-million visitor mark this year and hit 37.3 million next year as the flashy metropolis remains wildly popular with vacationers and conventioneers, especially the NADA crowd.

Attendance is high whenever the NADA convenes in Las Vegas at the city's sprawling convention center adjoining the Hilton (which featured Beatle impersonators the week before the Elvis impersonator).

About 30,000 people attended this year's NADA get-together. It featured 530 exhibits occupying 327,000 sq. ft., 150 workshop sessions, 57 official receptions, 35 franchise meetings, 19 press conferences and talks by notables ranging from General Tommy Franks to The Newlyweds TV show host Bob Eubanks.

Unlike the impersonators who seem such a part of Las Vegas show business these days, the NADA convention is a genuine event, going on 88 years. The convention can seem playful at times. Beyond that frivolity, a lot of business is done. Just like Las Vegas itself.

NADA's big show not only draws lots of dealers. It's become a must event for top auto executives.

In a keynote speech, Chrysler Group President CEO Dieter Zetsche said, “If I were invited back to this conference 25 years from now, I'm sure I'd find the franchise dealer system alive and well, evolving and adapting, and as strong as ever — probably stronger still.”

You could say the same for what Las Vegas might look like in 2029.

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield, once a Las Vegas regular headliner (yes, there's a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator in town) jokes about “getting no respect.”

Outgoing NADA Chairman Alan Starling was more serious when talking about respect during his NADA sign-off speech. He thinks dealers could use more of it from auto makers, the media and government.

He says, “I'd like all manufacturers to understand: selling cars and trucks is an enormously complex business. We are the experts. We work closer to the consumer than anybody. You don't have to hire any more consultants…We know what it takes to satisfy customers. It's time to give our business the respect it deserves.”

Las Vegas can sometimes seem unreal or surreal, especially when the glitz goes ga-ga. But socio-economically, it's the real deal.

Its employment rate has climbed from 215,911 jobs in 1980 to more than 750,000 in 2003. Personal income went from $5.27 billion to $45.92 billion during the same period.

Dealers enjoy much of that prosperity. Nevada dealerships averaged $48.42 million in revenues in 2002, fourth in the nation, says NADA. They pay employees an average wage of $993 a week. That leads the nation.

Periodic reality checks are in order. But Las Vegas is a for-real city and hot market. No wonder NADA conventioneers like it so much.