NEW YORK – Exhibit space for the 2009 New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public April 11, is sold out despite the gloom hanging over the industry.

Only two premium brands, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, have bowed out, but all the major auto makers are in again. Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America Inc., kicks off the event with a keynote speech.

The show is the 109th exhibition and promises to be a success as far as public attendance is concerned. “We're very fortunate,” says Mark Scheinberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn. “We're almost unscathed.”

In fact, although auto makers are cutting back on the cost of their exhibits, most seem to want more space.

Scheinberg says the lower exhibit cost can be tracked by the amount of freight destined for the show floors. Last year, 12 tons (10.9 t) of freight were delivered to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where the NYIAS takes place. He estimates freight will be in the 10.5- to 11-ton (9.5-10 t) range this year.

Exhibitors have scheduled 35 world or North American previews, including rare sports cars, such as the Koenigsegg that's made in Sweden and Spyker from Holland.

The GNYADA represents 610 franchises in the metropolitan area. That's 40 less than last year at this time. Scheinberg says 25 dealerships (mostly General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. stores) were shuttered in just the last three months. “We added a few Suzuki- and Hyundai-brand dealers, though.”

“Dealers are offering free oil changes and service, whatever they can (to spur sales),” he says. Some dealers are tapping into “holdback” money to increase the “great incentives” now available. Local media also donated $5 million worth of free advertising to help spur sales.

Financing is available to qualified customers, although banks are more careful and require bigger down payments, and the length of finance contracts are changing.

“The biggest struggle for our dealers right now is lack of floorplanning,” Scheinberg says. “The banks have not freed up capital.”

In keeping with the grim sales climate, regional dealers, especially domestics, have been forced to reduce their employment rolls. Even import dealers have had to make some quick adjustments. “Their facilities are geared for more transactions,” Scheinberg says. “The biggest potential savings is in personnel.”

He also says the service and used-car departments are performing better than new-car sales.

One interesting development for GNYADA is at the technical-training facility it runs in Queens, NY. Enrollment is at 600 people, an all-time high achieved 18 months ahead of target.

Scheinberg says 75% of graduates find jobs but not all go to member dealers. Some find employment at body shops or work for roadside service companies. “Dealerships are looking for the cream of the crop.”