Expanded VIP tours cover self-driving cars, EVs

Expanded VIP tours cover self-driving cars, EVs

Because of the popularity of previous years, VIP tours, at the Washington Auto Show this year saw an expanded schedule, with four experts giving 21 tours, including, for the first time, kid-friendly tours. Weekend tours sold out quickly, with some of them including father and son, mother and son or even grandfather and son.

Consumer attendees who took the VIP tours led by local auto experts were not necessarily in the market for a new car, said two of the tour guides. But they were very eager to hear about autonomous cars and electrified vehicles and to see both high-end luxury cars and SUVs meant for the rest of us. The tour experts included Les Jackson, a return tour guide and veteran automotive journalist; William West Hopper, automotive journalist and incoming president of the Washington Automotive Press Association (WAPA); John Davis of PBS Motorweek; and Alvin Jones, broadcast journalist.

–They came there to see certain things as opposed to just generally looking around,” said Les Jackson. –They were there to learn whatês around, whatês all this new technology.”

When people on Jacksonês tours asked when driverless cars would be on the road, he said four main changes would have to happen before self-driving cars are universally used. First, the 20 to 30 million regular cars on the road now will have to be gone, and that could take up to 20 years. Second, the legal aspects will have to be sorted out, both liability and local laws that donêt permit actions such as a car parking itself. Third, the GPS system will need to be remapped to be much more accurate. And fourth, vehicle-to-vehicle communication will have to be deployed on all cars.

–I think most people are pretty positive about [autonomous cars],” Jackson said. –They just donêt know how they are going to work. Folks want to know: is it going to be tremendously more expensive? Can I still drive my car?” (Yes to the second question.)

Jackson took care to show his tourgoers examples of EVs, such as the Chevy Bolt. He mentioned that Hyundai and Kia now guarantee the batteries in their cars for life, something no other automaker has done.

–Itês fun to get people to understand things like, the Jeep Renegade is a Fiat 500x,” Jackson said. –The Fiat 124 starts life as the basic components for a Mazda Miata. Itês a global industry. Most people were rather surprised when they heard that.”

As for particular models, –They love looking at the expensive cars,” such as the Lincoln Navigator concept, said Jackson. And –everyone is interested in seeing the NSX.” He also liked to point out the Kia Stinger, a very affordable sport sedan.

–For us normal people who live on budgets, every automaker has a really, really good low-priced, tremendous value car, from the Hyundai Elantra to Honda Civic to Toyota Corolla, to Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze,”Jackson said. –These are great cars for the money.”

Younger women on Jacksonês tour were almost solely interested in SUVs and trucks. –They were really gravitating toward big vehicles, sitting up high, because of the safety aspect,” he said. –The younger they were, the more they went to full-size SUVs. Theyêre pragmatic, interested in practicality and utility.”

William West Hopper, automotive journalist, also gave tours at the Auto Show. –I made sure they knew where the car show cash was,” Hopper said, referring to some sales representativesê offer of $50 to anyone who came to the dealership and did a test drive. –Itês a great way to follow up.”

–What I got from the majority of folks on my four tours was the desire for an insiderês look at the Auto Show,” said Hopper. So he made sure to show them the cars being shown in public for the first time at the Show, such as the Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Stinger and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

–Because of being in the automotive press corps, we know some of the people in the OEM exhibits, Hopper said. –This enabled us to give the people on the tour some serious one-on-one with the OEMs which enhanced the experience.”

Hopper said the most interesting group he showed around the show was several high school students with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus. –They were debating whether fossil fuel vehicles are more environmentally friendly than electric vehicles, with all the products that have to be mined for electric cars,” he said. –I encouraged them to continue that debate when they got back to school. They were a much more engaged group than the typical folks on tour.”

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