Manufacturers, Dealers Share Excitement For Mid-Sized Market Auto Show Designed For Consumer
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
June 5, 2012 - An innovative approach referred to as a “missing link” to an auto show makes its debut in Long Beach Father’s Day weekend: attendees have the opportunity to test drive affordable vehicles in a non-sales environment.
The SoCal Test Drive Expo rolls into town June 15 for three days of test-drives, demonstrations and more. The Long Beach Convention Center will showcase 100-plus cars from a dozen or so manufacturers and brands. The vehicles can be test-driven around a portion of the track used for the annual Toyota Grand Prix.
For many years, Long Beach hosted an auto show presented by the Southland Motor Car Dealers Association (SMCDA). The event moved to Orange County in 1996 as part of a joint venture. After 15 years, the venture ended, and SMCDA Executive Director Todd Leutheuser realized the show needed to evolve.
“I’ve been to the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Birmingham Auto Show in England, I’ve been around the world and I’ve never seen an auto show built around a test drive,” Leutheuser told the Business Journal. “That’s not to say there isn’t something at a county fair someplace, but as far as having a manufacturer-sponsored event . . . if this goes as planned, I have a feeling that parts of this will be copied and emulated around the country, especially in the mid-sized markets. L.A. and Detroit and New York will always be major press event shows. This is designed for the consumer to see the vehicle, and it’s the missing link at the auto show.”
The idea came to Leutheuser in February 2011, and he saw Long Beach as a great venue to introduce his concept.
“We went to the convention center staff and found the space, told them our plan, created a floor plan and concept, and they seemed to agree with it and said this is a feasible event,” he said. “We have everybody on board with it. I think the convention center staff seems to be excited. It’s not a traditional convention or conference.” The SoCal Test Drive Expo is owned and operated by SMCDA.
One of the manufacturers scheduled for the event is Volkswagen of America, which was announced recently as the official automotive partner of the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon & Half Marathon and sponsor of the Volkswagen 26.2 Bike Tour. Volkswagen’s Hallie Rinderle, marketing manager for the Pacific Region, told the Business Journal via e-mail that the company is excited about this test-drive expo and is thrilled the event is in one of the brand’s largest markets.
“With a very competitive lineup with products like the totally redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Passat, iconic Beetle and popular Jetta, we often search for unique ways to introduce these vehicles to consumers in an engaging, intimate manner,” Rinderle said. “The format for the all-test-drive auto show provides car companies like VW with a level of interaction not found in traditional auto show environments. It’s because of this new concept that we wanted to not only showcase the VW brand, but gauge consumer response to this type of program.”
The test drives will occur along a service road and then onto Shoreline Drive to make a three-quarter-mile loop. “You can get a good feel for the vehicle in that short period of time,” Leutheuser said, estimating each test drive would take about 10 minutes or less. Because it is a public course, drivers must obey street speed limits. The course will be coned off, and Leutheuser said the appropriate measures have been taken to ensure traffic impacts are mitigated.
“We are excited about this event,” Bob Davis, president of Glenn E. Thomas Dodge Chrysler Jeep, said. “Instead of just looking at the car and wishing you could drive it, a qualified attendee can drive the vehicle on the same streets used in the Long Beach Grand Prix. We are especially excited about Camp Jeep, where a person can ride along with a professional driver on a course built to show what a Jeep can do off-road.” The Camp Jeep test track is an interactive adventure zone where attendees can ride along with a professional 4x4 driver, and is included with registration.
In addition to being the nation’s first-ever auto show allowing attendees the opportunity to drive any car on the lot, the SoCal Test Drive Expo features a one-stop registration process.
“Technically, you could get there when the event opens and test drive all 100 vehicles while only registering once,” Ron Charron, chief operating officer of Boulevard Buick GMC Cadillac, said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself. Usually manufacturers don’t want to copy anyone else; they want to do it this way, we want to do it that way. We finally got them to agree to a central registration, so with a wristband they will be able to go from one manufacturer or car to the next and really make an educated decision on their next purchase. It’s what the factories wanted, and what the customers wanted. It’s a win-win, so it has to be a success.”
Drivers must be 18 years of age, show a valid driver’s license, pass a breathalyzer test and sign a waiver – similar to a test drive at a dealership. The SoCal Test Drive Expo waiver is a conglomeration of all of the manufacturers’ disclaimers, which allows for the streamlined registration. Drivers may have passengers with them, age 12 and up, who must also register and sign a waiver. More than 50 individuals will work on the showroom floor managing pedestrian traffic flow and registration.
While Leutheuser anticipates each vehicle will have up to 130 test drives, the event has a capacity of 20,000 test drives. Leutheuser hopes to get 10,000 to 15,000 people to the three-day event. Traditional five-day auto show event numbers are double that, Leutheuser said, but this event was built for drawing up to 15,000 people in the three-day window. Safety staff will be on hand at all times, including four Long Beach firefighters, on top of the standard police patrol on the street.
“We are extremely excited to have an Auto Show back in Long Beach,” said Nick Worthington, corporate director of Worthington Ford in Long Beach. “A unique show like this will bring much- needed publicity and excitement to our wonderful city. With the support of the community this show will become an annual celebration of the revitalized Downtown Long Beach area and the American passion for the automobile. Plus, if you're looking for something to do on Father’s Day, what could be better than an entire convention center filled with cars?”
For more information on the SoCal Test Drive Expo, visit www.testdriveexpo.com.
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