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Auto show goes ‘topless’ in Miami Beach

Now on display at the Miami Beach Convention Center: “Topless in Miami.”

No, it’s not the adult film convention. It’s the restyled Miami International Auto Show.

The annual show, which opens Friday and runs through Nov. 18, has been attracting auto enthusiasts to Miami Beach for more than four decades. But it has a fresh look and feel for 2012.

For one, there’s a new emphasis on eco-friendly technology. Free parking and charging is available for electric cars. Inside the convention center, electric cars will also take center stage as attendees get to ride in alternative-fuel vehicles around a 25,000-square-foot track.

Also new for 2012: large screens on the showroom floor featuring live Twitter and Instagram feeds.

Then, there’s “Topless in Miami,” an exhibit dedicated to sleek convertibles like the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Roadster and the breezy South Florida lifestyle. The exhibit is designed to resemble the MacArthur Causeway.

“We wanted to sex it up a little bit,” said Richard Baker, show manager and president of the South Florida Automobile Dealers Association, which organizes the event. “We want to gear it more toward the younger generation.”

This year’s auto show will feature more than 40 manufacturers and 500 cars, from the Ford Focus to the Fisker Karma.

Organizers expect about 600,000 people to walk through the doors.

There will be some returning exhibits, such as Memory Lane, which showcases antique and classic cars, and Camp Jeep, where visitors can have an off-road experience.

Also returning: the Million Dollar Alley exhibit, this year featuring four Maseratis, four Ferraris, three Aston Martins and a pair of McLarens.

“The consumer expects to see our exotic cars,” said Ken Gorin, CEO of The Collection luxury car dealership in Coral Gables, which presents the exhibit. “It’s a big draw.”

But expect to see some changes, both big and small.

The show is no longer the South Florida International Auto Show; it’s now the Miami International Auto Show.

There’s also a new logo and updated color scheme. The Miami-inspired pallette includes orange, teal and lime green.

The social media campaign is part of an effort to attract a new generation to the show.

“Our goal is to engage more with our consumers,” Mario Murgado, owner of Brickell Motors and the show’s chairman. “We want to let them experience the cars and fall in love with the cars.”

Looking to buy a car? Nine manufactures will allow attendees to test drive their cars.

There’s also a new exhibit called Havana Classics, which will feature cars from the 1950s on a dramatic set that calls to mind old Cuba. The vintage cars will be accompanied by mojito tastings, domino tables and a Celia Cruz impersonator.

Baker expects the event to net just under $1 million for the South Florida Automobile Dealers Association. He noted that a sizable chunk will go to charities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

On Thursday, the day before the official opening, scores of specialists buffed and waxed the cars on the convention center floor.

“The lighting is very bright,” said Lise Pivaral, a professional car detailer from California, while polishing a gray Kia Sportage. “You can see every little detail.”

At the “Topless in Miami” exhibit across the hall, a team of sand sculptors from Fort Myers known as The Sand Lovers readied a 40-ton pile of golden, grainy earth. They’ll be building an 11-foot-tall sand sculpture inspired by iconic images of Miami.

“This is a world renowned show,” said Bill Knight, who runs the business with his wife Marianne. “The fact that they are having a sand sculpture as one of their main pieces is awesome.”

Baker, the auto show manager, hopes the updated event will encourage people to buy a new car.

Times have been tough for the industry. In 2002, auto dealers sold about 17 million cars nationwide, Baker said. The number tumbled to 9.5 million in 2009.

But Baker said sales are “crawling back.”

“The goal is to get people excited about buying a new product,” he said.