With more than 100 test drive opportunities from 13 top automakers, the San Diego International Auto Show is a must-attend event for all car-lovers.

And that’s especially true if you’re in the market for a new car now or planning to be anytime this year.  With over 600 new cars on display and the opportunity to look, touch, feel and ask questions all without the pressure to buy – you simply can’t go wrong.

Perhaps best of all there’s no better opportunity to bond with your kids, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or even colleagues and clients than a family-friendly auto show.

And for us, SoCal residents the LA Auto Show and OC Auto Shows are in the rear-view mirror until next year.  So you don’t want to miss this!  Click play below for the details and make a date to start an auto show tradition in San Diego-style!

Alpha Romeo booth at the San Diego Auto Show

Alpha Romeo booth at the San Diego Auto Show

***Transcription***

Recorded in San Diego, CA

2018 San Diego Auto Show

Kevin Leap: There’s probably well over a hundred different models and makes that you could actually test drive.

You know when you get in and you turn it on and you feel how it drives and you experience the technology.

It’s the only place where you can go and see pretty much every manufacturer, all of the new things that they have, in one place.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, southern California. Tom Smith here, and I am excited to be in San Diego County. This is the furthest south that iDriveSoCal podcast has been recorded. San Diego County in, where are we exactly again?

Kevin Leap: Sorento Valley.

Tom Smith: Sorento Valley. And joining me is Kevin Leap. Mr. Kevin Leap of the San Diego International Auto Show and the San Diego New Car Dealers Association. Thank you so much for joining me.

“…December 27th thru 30th… San Diego Convention Center, downtown San Diego right on the water on Harbor Drive.”

Kevin Leap: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Tom Smith: iDriveSoCal, we’re rounding our first year here, and this is the first podcast that we’re doing with you that we hope to be doing a year after year in association with the San Diego International Auto Show that’s coming up here in, let’s see, we’re recording this in, what is it, November 20th and the show in December…

Kevin Leap: December 27th through the 30th. So we’re about 35 days away.

Tom Smith: All right. And the show takes place in…

Kevin Leap: The San Diego Convention Center, downtown San Diego right on the water on Harbor Drive.

Tom Smith: We were talking off mic a little bit. The San Diego International Auto Show has been going on for quite some time.

History of the San Diego Auto Show

Kevin Leap: 1928. The first year was in Balboa Park in the Esplanade. I think they had seven or eight cars. It was just a huge social socialite event, very, very high-end San Diegans dressed to the nines coming to see the horseless carriage if you will.

Tom Smith: The horseless carriage.

Kevin Leap: The horseless carriage. Back when you could trade in a horse for a car.

Tom Smith: You know, I find that interesting actually these days as we read stories about autonomous driving and the inevitable accidents that happen with autonomous driving.

Kevin Leap: Which are mostly caused by humans.

Tom Smith: Right. Exactly. But it makes me think, hey, on the one hand, we think, hey, this is something that we’re experiencing as a first time. But it’s really not, right?

“It was just a huge social socialite event, very, very high-end San Diegans dressed to the nines coming to see the horseless carriage…”

There was a massive shift when cars came about, and I’m sure there was lots of issues with horses and buggies and cars replacing them on the roads and that transition, right.

Kevin Leap: Absolutely. Absolutely. I wasn’t there for it, but I can imagine.

Tom Smith: You weren’t? I remember it like it was yesterday, actually.

Kevin Leap: Watch Little House on the Prairie or Bonanza or something.

Tom Smith: Something like that, right? Okay, so 1928. You guys have been around for a long, long time. I know you’ve only been here at the show for 12 years. Let’s talk a little bit about the history of the show.

Kevin Leap: Okay. It was basically in Balboa Park for a very long time. In the seventies and eighties to show moved into Golden Hall, which is in downtown San Diego right next to the city hall. And that was when it pretty much had about probably 50 cars there and any given time.

600+ New Cars on Display 

So, it was relatively… It was not a large show at that point. But 26 years ago, when 1992, when the new convention center opened, we took over all 525,000 square feet of the floor in addition to, some years, 100,000 square feet in the tent sale area.

Plus, we have 130,000 square feet of outside test drive courses. So we have a pretty big footprint and about, all said and done over 600 vehicles, and we have, I think it’s 13 test drives this year, which is, we’re really excited about.

Hyundai at the San Diego Auto Show

Hyundai at the San Diego Auto Show

Kevin Leap: Alfa Romeo is coming this year, which is great. We’re going to be doing something with Ram trucks and Ford Ranger, and our usual folks. Toyota and Chevy has two ride and drives. FCA is doing all of their brands in one as well as Mazda, Subaru, Nissan. So we’ve got a lot of folks joining us.

Tom Smith: Will all the ride and drives be outside?

Kevin Leap: There are… Yes. All of them are outside with the exception of Camp Jeep, which is inside, which is 35,000 square foot off-road track inside.

Tom Smith: Excellent.

Kevin Leap: Which is super Fun. Total Disney e-ticket, if they still do the e-tickets, yeah, right.

“…over 600 vehicles, and we have… 13 test drives this year… we’re really excited about.”

Tom Smith: Speaking of which, Disney, a lot cheaper than Disney for sure.

Kevin Leap: That’s right.

Tom Smith: But the show isn’t free, right? There is a small cost for tickets?

Kevin Leap: Yeah, it’s $15 for an adult and $12 for kids and seniors and military. And it’s pretty hard to not find a $2 off coupon at a local dealership or 7-11. And online at SDAutoShow.com.

100+ Ride and Drives Offered

Tom Smith: So SDAutoShow.com is where you can go to get a discount for tickets. And again, while we’re on the stats there, it is the 27th through the 30th, right?

Kevin Leap: 27th through the 30th of December.

Tom Smith: Of December. What days do those fall on? Is that Thursday through Sunday?

Kevin Leap: Thursday through Sunday.

Tom Smith: Okay, perfect. Now the ride and drives, you mentioned 13. Now is that 13 different manufacturers or 13 different vehicles that will be ride and drives?

Kevin Leap: There’s 13 unique ride and drives. The only one that’s a double up is Chevy has two, but it’s just because they want to make sure that every single one of their vehicles, makes and models is available to drive. The rest of them are unique.

“…well over a hundred different models and makes that you could actually test drive.”

Tom Smith: Okay. And now, will those be taking place, the ride and drives be taken place Thursday through Sunday each day of the show, or the ride and drives only going to be on specific days?

Kevin Leap: No, they’re all four days. The only thing is they do close a little bit early just due to the darkness falling on us.

Tom Smith: Sure, sure.

Kevin Leap: And in each one of those actually represents multiple different models, makes and models, the models of the vehicles.

So if you look at the of the FCA, the Fiat Chrysler America ride and drive, it’s gonna have Dodge represented and Jeep represented and pretty much everything, every other brand that they make.

But they do have a unique Camp Jeep that we spoke of before, and a unique Alfa Romeo and the unique Ram. So there’s probably well over a hundred different models and makes that you could actually test drive.

No Pressure Test Drive Experience

Tom Smith: Got it, got it. Okay. So basically you could come to the show all four days in order to drive everything that is being offered to drive.

Kevin Leap: And probably still not do it.

Tom Smith: The ride and drives I know have become a really big part of all auto shows, new car auto shows, and that’s an awesome thing, right? It’s a way for consumers to go and kick the tires, quite literally, drive something and get all the information without any of the pressure.

“…you get in and you turn it on and you feel how it drives and you experience the technology.”

Kevin Leap: Right. And it’s just a really… I mean there’s a big difference between going and sitting in a stationary vehicle, and experiencing the comfort and the styling and all of those different things.

But you know when you get in and you turn it on and you feel how it drives and you experience the technology.

And the beauty of it is is that you’re driving with a highly trained specialist who can answer any of your questions, and he provides you with any information that you need. There’s no selling at the auto show. So basically if you find something that you like, you basically just go to a dealership at that point.

One of the things that we found fascinating is that there are a huge amount of people that actually change their mind on what they’re going to buy being at the auto show.

Just because of the fact it’s the only place where you can go and see pretty much every manufacturer, all of the new things that they have, in one place. And you’re talking to like I said, highly trained product specialists, and there’s no sales pressure.

Learn from the Experts In-Person

So you go there, the average stay of our guests is about three hours. They are more educated in that three hours about everything that’s available than they could possibly be if they spend it on the web or went to… I mean, it’s not physically possible to go to that many dealerships.

Tom Smith: And I mean, that’s the key thing is being able to go from one to the other to the other all in one sitting, in one setting. And you can do so on a family-friendly environment.

I want to talk about any special family activities that are going on. But before doing so, I have to comment that, you know, we’re podcasting, so obviously we’re leveraging technology. And you mentioned the internet, obviously.

Everybody’s leveraging technology in their vehicle purchases. But the concept to me with some of the vehicles, and you see the television commercials, like hey, the app…

“They are more educated in that three hours about everything that’s available… [online]…”

And there’s so many of them that are coming out and trying. But the concept of using an app to buy a car end to end and the car’s is just gonna drop at my doorstep. I get it, and it’s kind of like a nice novelty, but personally, never, in a million years.

Kevin Leap: Yeah, I’ll do it with Grub Hub, but… And then sometimes that’s not even good. Right?

Tom Smith: Yeah. That’s not a big commitment. Well, I don’t have to eat it all, I didn’t spend much money.

Kevin Leap: That’s not a five-year thing, sitting in your… That’s a one and done.

Tom Smith: I like that analogy. That’s a good one. But yeah, our vehicles are, in almost all cases, the second most expensive purchase that we make in our lifetime.

Car Buying Process

And the concept of doing one without actually interacting with a person, without actually sitting in the thing. I’ve said before I want to sit in it when it’s parked, I want to sit in it when I’m at a stoplight, I want to sit in it…

Kevin Leap: When it’s in traffic.

Tom Smith: Yeah. All of that is a factor, especially here in southern California because we spend exponentially more time in our cars than… I don’t know if you’re familiar with the company Inrix.

Red SUV at the San Diego Auto Show

San Diego Auto Show

Kevin Leap: I’m not.

Tom Smith: I-N-R-I-X. They’ve been doing studies and southern California… LA. We’re down in San Diego, but LA has earned the mantle of the most traffic congestion on the planet for the last six years running.

Kevin Leap: I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised, and San Diego’s not too far behind, and we’re really growing a lot here.

But one of the things to is that people are keeping their cars for a very long time these days. As you reference, a commitment, that’s a commitment. And you don’t want something sitting in your driveway for seven or 10 years that you just are not fond of.

“…you don’t want something sitting in your driveway… that you just are not fond of.”

Tom Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know… Okay. On that note, I want to throw out one other personal thing, and podcast listeners know this. I started leasing a few years back, and I love leasing because I’m always under warranty.

I’m not so concerned about where I park it as far as at Costco if some knucklehead’s gonna run a grocery cart into it and it gets a ding. It’s like, well it’s a lease, it’s going back.

Buy or Lease?

And the coolest thing is that I get, every two to three years, whatever my lease term is, I get to go out and shop and get the latest, greatest technology that the manufacturers, all manufacturers are putting out these days.

Tom Smith: And I mean, these things are technological marvels on wheels. They’re computers on wheels, really.

Kevin Leap: Oh man. I just bought a Lexus 450 hybrid, and I still can’t figure it out. I had to pull over the other day just to look in the phone book sized manual, owner’s manual to figure out how to turn off something that was blinking. I’m like, okay.

“…I get to go out and shop and get the latest, greatest technology that… all manufacturers are putting out these days.”

Tom Smith: So back to the show. Family friendliness goes hand in hand with automotive shows everywhere. What do you guys have on tap, first family event wise, and then maybe anything else that’s perhaps unique other than the ride and drives.

Kevin Leap: We actually, the thing that we really focus on for families, there’s families there every day. In fact, one of the things that I found super interesting is that I can’t tell you what a history families have of auto shows. It’s tradition.

Tom Smith: Yeah, absolutely.

Kevin Leap: The grandfather started taking the father who’s now taking the son who’s now taking the grandson, and things along those lines.

Tom Smith: It’s a great way to bond.

Kevin Leap: It is, it’s a super way just to go and they have a great time. They get to look at the engines and talk with a product specialist. But we have family…

Tom Smith: I don’t agree with your haircut. I don’t agree with the music you listen to. I don’t agree with the clothes you wear. But isn’t that a nice Corvette?

Auto Show Family Tradition

Kevin Leap: And put that dang phone down. But no, it’s actually, it’s really fun, and you can just see the joy. I mean it’s just all…

There’s a few criers every once in a while, but you can’t avoid that when you got a half a mile floor filled with people. But we have family day, which is our special day, and that’s actually on Sunday. And that’s when all kids 12 and under are free.

Tom Smith: Nice.

“The grandfather started taking the father who’s now taking the son who’s now taking the grandson…”

Kevin Leap: And then we have all sorts of stuff. Like we’ll have Black Panther there. Last year we had Spider-Man and Captain America, and we’ve had Supergirl, and we have the clowns with balloons and face painters and spinning for prizes. You know, fun stuff.

Tom Smith: Sure. Keep it fun for the kids of course.

Kevin Leap: Absolutely. Keep them entertained.

Tom Smith: What do you see in the future? Now you have a unique perspective being the head of the New Car Dealers Association for San Diego, San Diego County.

Kevin Leap: Actually, I’m just the head of the auto show.

Tom Smith: Oh, just the head of the auto show. Okay. I’m sorry.

Kevin Leap: That’s okay.

Tom Smith: So, then what do you see for the future in that unique position? For the future of auto shows?

Kevin Leap: You know, there’s a lot of disruptions happening out there right now with the ridesharing, and downtown San Diego has more bikes and scooters, Birds and Green Bikes than it does cars, it seems like sometimes.

Tom Smith: Really?

Kevin Leap: Yeah. And millennials are really taking their time to decide whether or not to buy one. Plus some things in the dealer franchise system are being challenged.

Autonomous Driving Evolution

And autonomous vehicles is a whole new thing. San Diego’s a hotbed for it. I mean we could throw a rock outside the front door and hit Qualcomm. And they’re one of the top players in that area. Plus we’ve got a lot of testing going on down here.

It’s super interesting to see the difference in what people are focusing on in exhibits. There’s a lot more focus on technology, less so than there is styling. There’s a lot more focus on safety and comfort.

But it’s going to be interesting… And it’s not going to be a long time, I don’t think. It’s happening now. I think it’s going to be a very interesting five years to see how everything goes.

SD Auto Show's Kevin Leap & iDSC's Tom Smith

SD Auto Show’s Kevin Leap & iDSC’s Tom Smith

As we were talking about autonomous vehicles before, I went to an all-day seminar or conference on autonomous vehicles, and they were talking about the number of accidents that were caused by them.

And actually, they’re really not caused by them. They’re caused by the humans because the humans run stop lights and they don’t stop… They do the California stop, right? And autonomous vehicles do the full-on stop.

“It’s happening now. I think it’s going to be a very interesting five years to see how everything goes.”

So they’re getting… Most of the autonomous vehicles are getting rear-ended because they’re minding the rules of the road precisely, while I think they referred to us as the hams behind the wheel are not doing that. So anyway.

Tom Smith: One of the things that I fell in love with it or just marveled at, the first Popular Mechanics cover that I saw with a mockup of a flying car.

Kevin Leap: Yeah.

Flying Car Ride & Drives?

Tom Smith: And it was a suburban, it was an aerial view of a suburban kind of house, and I think it was a red flying car had just come out of the garage, and the husband and wife or whatever were in the flying car and happily jetting away from their house.

Any prediction… You mentioned five years will be interesting, but any prediction on flying cars? And I know that’s… I know it sounds fairy tale. Maybe it is a fairy tale. I don’t know. It seems like it might be a little bit more real. Certainly, it’s more realistic than it’s ever been.

Kevin Leap: I don’t think it’s an unrealistic thing. I think our infrastructure couldn’t handle it. I mean, you know, we’re having a hard enough time with drones, and I think that drones are going to be the precursor to something like that.

“…that’s just putting a gigantic slab of ice down and letting everybody go wild.”

And when you see all of the different things that are happening with potential delivery service and surveillance and law enforcement using it to get to the scene of the crime more quickly and things like that. But that’s just putting a gigantic slab of ice down and letting everybody go wild. Because there’s no…

Tom Smith: I like that analogy.

Kevin Leap: There are no lines on the road, there’s no place to stop you’re sliding around. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something in the works, but I just am not sure how that would, how the infrastructure would handle the dynamics of traffic.

Cities Planning for Flying Cars

Tom Smith: Yep. Yep. And I agree that the slab of ice, I liked that one. But the one thing that I posed in various conversations is look with autonomous driving, there’s a lot of stuff on the ground to hit. Whereas in the air, there’s less to hit. So in theory, I don’t know, I don’t know, but it’s fascinating. It’s fascinating.

Kevin Leap: Well, it depends on how many flying cars there are I guess, right?

Tom Smith: Right? Well, and I was in, I sat through a presentation, it was actually at the Petersen Automotive Museum, and it was on reimagining mobility.

And Seleta Reynolds, the head of LA’s City Department of Transportation, did a presentation, and it was interesting that the city has already thought through how they will monetize traffic in their airspace.

And basically they’re saying, “Look, we’re going to charge per altitude. It will cost more the higher you fly. But of course the higher you fly will be less congested.” So those of us that aren’t on the higher tax brackets will be flying at lower levels and still be dealing with traffic congestion.

Kevin Leap: Right. Who knows.

Tom Smith: Right. Interesting.

“I think it’s going to take that long for the autonomous vehicles to work through their kinks…”

Kevin Leap: It’s fascinating to think about, though.

Tom Smith: So maybe five to 10 years we see flying car ride and drives at the San Diego International Auto Show?

Kevin Leap: I doubt in five years the flying cars. I think it’s going to take that long for the autonomous vehicles to work through their kinks and things along those lines. Because it’s, again, it’s an infrastructure issue and the human factor.

Free Admission for Military 

Tom Smith: Yep. Okay. Well, Mr. Kevin Leap, thank you so much for joining me for the iDriveSoCal podcast. Before we wrap it up, is there anything else that you’d like to add about the San Diego International Auto Show that I missed?

Kevin Leap: It’s gonna be a great year, and San Diego is a military town, and Nissan is giving thousands of free tickets away to military folks, all their dealerships, which is great.

People gathered at the FCA, Dodge, Alpha Romeo booths of the San Diego International Auto Show

San Diego International Auto Show

So you go to any Nissan dealership if you have active or retired military ID and get free tickets to the auto show. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of activity. It’s not just going in and looking at cars and carpet.

There’s a lot of interactive pieces that the manufacturers are bringing. And like we talked about before, you could be there for all four days and not drive every car that’s there.

“…both active and retired, can go into a Nissan dealership and grab free tickets.”

Tom Smith: Always a good time. And I’m going to reiterate that. That’s a pretty interesting point. And a good point. Thank you to all of our service men and women, both active and retired, can go into a Nissan dealership and grab free tickets.

Kevin Leap: Yes, absolutely. Starting about a December 17th.

Tom Smith: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. And well deserved.

Kevin Leap: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: Mr. Kevin Leap, the director of the San Diego International Auto Show. Thank you so much for joining me. And for iDriveSoCal, I am Tom Smith. Thank you, as always, for tuning in.