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Toronto auto show aims to please, and it does

Sunal Bhalle was at the Toronto auto show with a clear goal in mind: he's buying a new car within the next few months and was trying to decide between a Toyota Matrix and a Corolla.

Sunal Bhalle was at the Toronto auto show with a clear goal in mind: he’s buying a new car within the next few months and was trying to decide between a Toyota Matrix and a Corolla.

He used the show as an opportunity to sit in the cars, talk to representatives from Toyota and learn more about each vehicle.

“Both are made in Ontario and I want to get a Canadian-made car,” he said. “It’s not about the current economic situation; I always buy Canadian-made cars.”

Bhalle said he’s always driven cars manufactured in Ontario, his most recent being an Oshawa-made Buick.

Given the gloom hanging over the industry, Bhalle might seem to be a rare species. But on the jam-packed opening weekend of the Canadian International AutoShow, the opposite appeared to be true.

Throughout the three venues of the show, there were families piling into cars to see how they all fit in anticipation of an upcoming purchase, couples on dates, friends gawking at exotics and friends wandering the floors while they enjoyed each other’s company.

Not everyone came with a car purchase in mind. Vashti Campbell, whose last trip to the auto show was with her father 17 years ago, was there with her partner as part of their Valentine’s Day celebrations.

“I really liked the student concept car art and we’re headed down to see the motorcycles,” she said. “The classic cars are beautiful, so we stopped by to look at them. We don’t even have licences; we’re spending a couple of hours here before going ice skating.”

Over by the Subaru display, a man was lurking with a big honking lens on his camera. “He must work for a newspaper or something,” a nearby couple whispered to each other.

In fact, it was Greg Stefanic, a National Grocers employee who had rented the lens for the day to take photos of cars.

Stefanic isn’t an auto enthusiast, but he does relish any opportunity to take unique and interesting photographs. He had spent his time taking photos of concept cars and exotics.

“Basically anything that doesn’t have people in the way,” he said. “I’ll touch up and edit the photographs and then upload them to my Flickr account and Facebook.”

For some, the auto show is a tradition. Such was the case for three late twentysomethings, Chris Baltrunas, Andrew Vasilak and Leah Tompkins. The three sat in a Nissan Altima en route to checking out the GT-R. Baltrunas organizes the outing every year, saying that some years the group is larger than others.

Tompkins said she reads a lot about cars and said a friend of hers is really into them so she stays abreast of the industry through him.

“I actually came two years ago and I found the car I wanted by coming here,” she said, eventually buying the Honda Civic she saw at the show.

Most of the people had no more than a one-hour drive or GO ride to the auto show, but José Hernandez, on vacation from Venezuela, took time during his trip to Toronto to check it out.

“We’ve only ever had one auto show close to my home in Venezuela,” he said. “I didn’t know this would be going on when I came to Toronto for vacation but when I heard about it I knew I wanted to come.”

Hernandez said he was enjoying the show because he got to see models not available in his home country – and also for all the motorsport equipment on display.

“I’ve never seen so many ATVs in one place,” he added.

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