The annual Philadelphia Auto Show will be hosted at the Philadelphia Convention Center from Jan. 30 to Feb. 7. It is easy to become lost in row after row of sedans and crossovers, but there are a number of gems buried in the monotony of cookie cutter cars.
On the main floor, roughly 40 car manufacturers in attendance have brought their newest lines of automobiles. If you are in the market for a brand new car, this is the place for you. Nearly all of the vehicles on the main floor are unlocked, which presents a rare opportunity for car buyers to rapidly try out a great number of cars from a large set of manufacturers. In fact, the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia — the group that produces the auto show each year — claims that upwards of 48 percent of new car sales in the greater Philadelphia area are influenced by the auto show.
If sitting in the driver’s seat alone does not leave you completely satisfied, Kia, Mazda and Toyota all offer “Ride & Drive” experiences for a number of their vehicles. I didn’t personally get a chance to test drive any of the vehicles, but “Ride & Drive” seems to offer a fairly standard test drive. Jeep brought their “Camp Jeep” track that they bring every year. While from a distance this may seem like a fun experience, it amounts to a chauffeured drive on a slow speed roller coaster while receiving a sales pitch for whatever Jeep model you happen to have chosen. The convention center is always less crowded earlier in the day, so if you’re interested in either of these opportunities try to get there early. If at all possible, you should try to attend the auto show on a weekday, while most of the potential attendants are at work.
One thing that I noticed this year is that car manufacturers seem to be embracing Virtual Reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift. Toyota’s VR demonstration puts the viewer in the passenger seat of one of their vehicles equipped with Toyota Safety Sense. Inside the simulation, the car is driven by a test dummy, who represents the Safety Sense computer. The simulation goes through one of several scenarios that are meant to demonstrate the utility of Toyota Safety Sense. In one such simulation, the car is driving along, and a pedestrian crosses its path. The Safety Sense test dummy is able to stop the car, avoiding a collision with the pedestrian.
As in years past, Lexus and Mercedes have physically separated themselves from the rest of the manufacturers. The two luxury brands can be found by crossing the skybridge over Arch Street. It’s worth it to head over to this area, if for nothing else to witness the smart car that Mercedes have on display in the back, facing the corner as if it has done something wrong.
The main floor, of course, only represents half of the auto show. The other half offers a staggeringly different experience. The DUB Show, which gets its name from DUB Magazine, is the portion of the show that presents custom cars, trucks, bikes, and SUVs. I used to roll my eyes at the thought of it, but every year I attend the auto show I find myself more interested in the DUB Show and less in the main floor. The main floor is focused on selling cars, while the focus of the DUB Show is the cars themselves. The DUB Show offers something that the main floor doesn’t: smiles. While the main floor offered neat rows of pristine cars, the DUB Show was still rolling in when I entered the lower level. As I wandered around the lower hall, a man drove in on a three-wheeler with glowing rims. A small crowd soon formed around him and they struck up a friendly conversation. Soon the group separated and got back to what they were working on before, mostly making sure their cars were as clean and shiny as possible.
Overall, the DUB Show exudes a sense of passion that simply isn’t present upstairs. The presenters appear to be aware of this, as there are three different vocational schools — Automotive Training Center, Lincoln Technical Institute and Universal Technical Institute — have booths downstairs.
There are four additional school groups at the auto show this year. Three of the schools have bought cars from their Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) teams. The University of Pennsylvania’s Formula SAE Electric team is present with their REV1 car, which took 1st place for the Electric category in Lincoln, Nebraska last year. Temple Formula Racing brought their newest car, which they plan on bringing to the FSAE competition in Lincoln in June. Villanova FSAE is also in attendance with their VU07 car. Villanova took 18th place overall, out of a total of 112 entrants, with VU07 at the 2015 Michigan FSAE competition. Philly Hybrid X, a part of the Workshop School, has brought their EVX 818, a custom made sports car that runs off of biodiesel. The EVX 818 was modified by the members of Philly Hybrid X to be both fast and fuel efficient. They have modified a kit car using parts from a Subaru Imprezza WRX and a Volkswagen TDI drivetrain.
For some, the auto show is a yearly celebration of a passion for automobiles. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new van to truck your kids to soccer practice, or want to see which car has the most negative cambre in the DUB Show. As long as you have any interest in automobiles, you will find something at the auto show that piques your interest. The show opens at noon on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Tickets are available online and at the convention center.