Because the VIP tours are one of the most popular features of the Washington Auto Show, show organizers expanded the schedule this year, with a record 29 tours given by a diverse group of six guides. The weekend tours were as crowded as ever, or fans could choose a more relaxed weeknight tour.
The tour guides were Mike Collins, founder and managing partner of Meathead Racing, one of the largest amateur motorsports teams; John Davis, host and creator of PBS’s “Motorweek;” William Hopper, producer of the Automotive Business Report and president of the Washington Automotive Press Association; Les Jackson, distinguished auto journalist and cohost of nationally syndicated radio show “Cruise Control”; Alvin Jones, host of automotive TV show “Planet Vehicle”; and Fadra Nally, who covers the car scene on her lifestyle blog “All Things Fadra.”
Most of the people on the tours said they were not currently in the market for a new vehicle. They just wanted to see what was at the Auto Show and be taken around by a car expert. Nally said one of her tour groups was so pleased with the tour they wanted to take a picture with her at the end.
Some tour goers took the long-term view. “One woman was looking at cars for her 13-year-old daughter for when she was old enough to drive,” Nally said.
Jackson found that in addition to wanting to see an overview of new vehicles at the Auto Show, people were interested in the technology: What’s in new vehicles now and what’s coming with autonomous vehicles?
“I was expecting about 25 percent would be interested in electric or electrified vehicles,” Jackson said. “It was more like 15 percent. But they were all interested when I talked about it because they didn’t realize how far [EVs] have come. Every manufacturer will have an electrified version of all or most models in their fleet by 2023. They were surprised to hear that.”
As has been true in past tours, teenagers were interested in high performance vehicles and women were interested in value for the dollar. Nally and Jackson both brought their tours by the Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride fuel cell concept car and the new Jeep Wrangler, two of the highlights at the Auto Show. They liked to throw out fun facts, such as Volkswagen is the world’s largest car company, or to ask the people on their tour what they thought “FCA” stood for. (Fiat Chrysler of Automobiles
Jackson got a lot of questions about trucks, and not just from men.
“Trucks are becoming very, very commonplace for individual commuters,” he said. “I see them all the time on I-395.” Truck owners told him they feel safe with the height of a truck.
SUVs remain popular, and especially crossovers. “Inevitably, the crowd doesn’t understand the difference between a crossover and an SUV,” said Jackson. “I explain that a crossover is a car. It drives like a car.”
To explain autonomous vehicles, Jackson said, “I give them two numbers: 2.4 million, the number of Americans killed in combat since the Revolutionary War, and 3.3 million, the number of people killed on the highways since 1900.
“Now we’re killing close to 40,000 per year [on highways],” he said. “It’s a crisis, and it’s why cars are going to drive themselves – because people make mistakes, get tired, and get drunk.”
Nally had a family on her first tour, on the first Saturday of the Auto Show, where the mother said she had been nervous about bringing her two children on the tour, afraid they might be bored. “I didn’t want somebody who would talk over my head,” the woman told Nally. After researching the guides’ background, she chose Nally, the only female guide, who writes about cars for her lifestyle blog. The family was pleased with the experience.
One couple on Nally’s tour came as their Christmas gift to each other. Another couple came to Washington from North Carolina for the man’s 30th birthday. The tour was the wife’s surprise birthday gift to her husband, a car fan who didn’t know the Auto Show was in town.
“By the end of the tour she’d already decided on her next car, so she ended up getting into it, too,” Nally said.Download Bulletin PDF