Skip to main content

Orange County CA Auto Show 2018: A Preview What’s to Come for the LA Show

Although the annual Orange County International Auto Show is the eighth largest auto expo in the world, it’s not the show New York, Geneva, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo has. What the show does do, however, is it gives you quality time for serious car shopping, and for us all a preview of the chicks to hatch without giving away the auto henhouse. That’s what the annual LA Auto Show is for, just eight weeks and 30 miles way.
Posted: October 11, 2018 - 9:36PM
Author: Al Castro


“The Orange County International Auto Show features more than 600 new vehicles from 35 manufacturers, 150-plus vehicles to test- drive, an Exotic Gallery, driving simulators, commercial trucks and vans, alternative fuel options and more. The show is owned and presented by the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association and produced by Motor Trend Group, LLC.”

If you are looking to go to an auto show that won’t get you snarled in severe downtown city gridlock traffic coming or going, comes a month or two before one of the biggest auto shows in the world just 30 miles away, that if you go here you don’t really have to go there four to eight weeks later, gives you the essentials and fundamentals of the big shows without all the fanfare, and you can live happily ever after if you don’t get to see a new car unveil or reveal that you more likely do at a bigger show, then the Orange County Auto Show is your auto show to go to. And with four days in October right next to Disneyland, 150 new cars you can test drive for free, 600 cars on display, and tons of demos, presentations, food trucks, souvenirs to buy, and free gifts, you can’t go wrong with Anaheim:

  • The Orange County Auto Show is held annually around the month of October at the Anaheim, CA Convention Center.
  • The LA Auto Show is usually held about 4-8 weeks later and 30 miles away in Downtown, LA, at the LA Convention Center somewhere in November.
  • Why they do it this way is still a mystery. The car model year selling cycle, and the upcoming holiday season, may all have a hand.
  • The 2018 Orange County Auto Show was held October 4-7. This is a review.
  • The 2018 LA Auto Show is held November 30-December 9. I’ll be there too.

Things to do:

Kids Scavenger Hunt
-Pick up a Scavenger Hunt Handout at all entrances, stamp the card at kiosks around the show floor for your chance to win a remote control race car!
Kids Test Drive
-Kids can take their own test drive in vehicles around a small race track that is located in the Kids Activity Center, next to Kia.
Photo Booth
-Get a printed and email version of your photo at the auto show!
OEM Actiities
-Chevrolet: Trading Card Activation
-Dodge: Challenger Driving Simulator
-Ford: Technology Robot & Driving Simulator
-Honda: Disney “Minnie” Van
-Hyundai: Racing Game Experience
-Jaguar: I-PACE Virtual Reality
-Toyota: NASCAR Display
SOCAL Work Truck Display: 50 light, medium, a few heavy duty trucks in various configs.

Interesting Facts:

For the 2019 Model of the next OC International Auto Show by Numbers:

• It takes almost a week to set up the auto show but tear down takes less than 48 hours.
• The show covers approximately 14 football fields of exhibit space.
• Approximately 260 truckloads of display and exhibit space are unloaded before the show starts.
• The auto show uses enough carpet to install a three-foot wide runner from the Anaheim Convention
Center to Catalina Island. The carpeting in just the aisles alone could cover 250 average-sized homes.
• More than 1.25 million pounds of combined exhibitor freight is moved in for the show.
• About 700 workers build the auto show in 14,000 hours, using:
o 50 miles of carpet tape
o 8,000 square feet of signs
o 10,000 feet of extension cords
o 500 overhead quartz light
o 600 electrical outlets with enough electricity for nearly 500 homes

  • The Orange County Auto Show is the eight largest auto show in the world, but it isn’t as strategic as the landmark “Big Five”: Geneva, Frankfurt, Detroit, Paris, and Tokyo, where car makers show lots of prototype or concept vehicles, or unveil new models.
  • An auto show is a professional event represented by either the car industry itself via manufacturers or a common trade association in which the car makers all belong. It is based on an international level. Motor Show or Expo are international terms for auto show, the same thing.
  • A car show is different. That’s either a professional or amateur event in which the car show participants are usually based locally, and locally or nationally organized by car clubs and owners associations, local businesses, and suppliers, who want to demonstrate their members’ assets, a supplier’s new products, or have a meet-up with common car owners and have something like a large outdoor picnic while the club members and the public look at their unique cars, or a fundraiser for a charity, or a contest with judges to see which car attending is the best example, or an auction to sell assets based on the theme of the show.
  • Auto shows showcase new vehicles, concept cars, new technology, and out of production classic cars. They’re usually held mostly indoors.
  • Car shows usually showcase custom, classic, unique, exotic, or theme or category cars. The events held annually during Monterey Car Week might be considered more of a car show than auto show. They’re usually held mostly outdoors.
  • The lines sometimes become blurry. The Orange and LA shows put custom vehicles, the exotics, the bespokes, accessories, vendors, and suppliers downstairs in the basement of their shows. The exotic and bespoke brands like McLaren, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, and Bentley usually show up at Monterey Week or maybe the Concours de’Elegance at Pebble Beach with new and concept cars even though that’s more of a car show than auto show.

What was Noticeable and What was Not:

Although some of the fancier brands like Rolls Royce and Bentley weren’t there, to instead send either a dealership proxy or in this case, use the sponsorship of the Dupont Registry to send a select sample of one or two vehicle(s) for display
that you can’t even touch anyway. Audi has every reason to be proud of their new e-Tron, and it was evident with the one they had on prominent display. Cadillac was nowhere to be found. Daimler sent trucks, but not one car. Volkswagen in spite of what it put itself through the last two years with the Dieselgate Scandal, didn’t bring e-Golf or even a MEB electric prototype, at least what I saw. You would figure. The optics was a bit short sighted given that Orange County, CA has its share of the well heeled and eco conscious as the rest of the Southland does, starting with a place called Newport Beach. Maybe those folks wanted to beat the Anaheim onslaught and are heading up to LA next month.

Where’s the Electric Cars?

Regardless, this was another missed opportunity for the auto makers. As I waited for the next available Jaguar i-Pace (the electric) I could test drive that I’ll report next time, as that’s all the visitors wanted to drive that was either sports car or electric, and as I strolled around the convention floor that Sunday afternoon, I saw more people interested in whatever electric or hybrid offering the auto makers had than anything else, short of something unique like that Bullit Mustang on the floor.

Electric car fever is catching on across America folks, and I’m wondering if these car folks will ever get it. My impression other than maybe Nissan, Chevrolet, Audi, Hyundai, Kia, and Jaguar, the rest give or take were some kind of unprepared for BEVs or at least PHEVs. Toyota has their hydrogen Mirai demo display in a sliced schematic of the platform, and Prius of course, I’ll give them that, same thing with Honda and Clarity. Even Chrysler had their compliance EV vehicle, the Fiat e500 on display, for now the only BEV they have from up to at one time seven different car divisions! But Toyota, Ford, and VW had nothing to display as far as a BEV that they could have. They left the Focus electric and e-Golf home like it was homework they forgot. Focus may be an endangered Ford car, but it’s still for sale.

VW’s case they’re spending billions of dollars building electric car plants around the world for the some 25 models they’ll introduce by mid-decade, no one at VW saw fit to at least use a test model, a prototype, a glider, or even a MEB platform display from somewhere in VWland, wash and wax it, to set it up at Orange. Just one, please. But nope. It’s only Orange. Not Geneva.

A ritzy rich car guy who goes to the Geneva show or Pebble Beach is most likely not interested in an e-Golf. VW’s demographic for such a car, BUZZ ID too, was waiting here, a lot of them working class Orangers, serious shoppers I see, as families piled into floor room display cars to see if they all fit, while their decision makers crunched numbers, for VW to be an electric no-show. Somebody high enough at Wolfsburg should take out an axe and start chopping people’s jobs. Have they learned anything?

Orange v. LA Auto Shows

In spite of its shortcomings Iike these, the Orange County Auto Show is still a decent respectable show. Of course car makers like Porsche or BMW or even Chevrolet are probably not going to wait and use the OC show to announce or reveal a new upcoming model like they do at other bigger landmark shows, but if you are in the market for a new or late model vehicle, I’d rather go to the OC show than LA, because that’s what the OC show is more about.

For hypothetical example, I love the Acura NSX and the Acura brand, I do, but if I’m car shopping I care less about NSX five years from now to prefer not to see and hear about it, that I’d rather see what Acura has now in my needs and pricepoint. Most of the people around me car shopping at OC seemed oriented that way. That’s more this show, less so the LA one. Remember Hollywood is in LA, but my case goes flat when you also remember Disneyland is in Orange, and next door!

Electric Car Companies and the Auto Show Curcuit

This is the reason why Rivian Automotive will roll out their first two products at LA, not here, why when Dyson is ready with their cars they’ll most likely do it at a big show like LA or Geneva verses OC, and why there weren’t any startups or electrics like Tesla, Faraday, or Lucid at this event.

But that probably or hopefully will change soon, as all three companies are Californian, Faraday is based in LA for goodness sakes, and becoming mainstream with their products out in the public will make the OC show for them a command must-do appearance eventually. You could argue, the “California Big Three” have a civic obligation to appear at both shows once they have a product in production on sale. Tesla should’ve already been doing this. This is the perfect way for them to recruit new Teslaites or Teslaratis.

I can be forgiving of VW not having a battery electric at the show, there’s no excuse, none, Tesla too, why the three electrics shouldn’t be here next year. I can’t think of anything else more California car than the OC show, other than the LA show, which LA is really more cosmopolitan. Tesla doesn’t do industry events like this, but with so much competition headed their way, and their model range getting expansive with more new models on the way, they need to change strategy.

Their biggest obstacle is the ongoing feud between the Automobile Dealers Association that runs the show and Tesla, now probably the entire startup electric car industry, and how the electrics sell their cars. Both sides need to get over themselves frankly, and inasmuch that the legacy big three are glad neither of them went extinct to liquidation during the car crisis of 2009, there will come a time when the legacies and the electrics will appreciate the other, to move on and compete in a healthy manner, even at times to collaborate as Ford, GM, and Chrysler do, VW at times sharingnas well. They need to do this with the electrics. If Chrysler or GM had died in 2009, good chance the whole house of cards would have fell, and we’d be in a completely different timeline. Everybody play nice now.

Rolling out at Orange next year I think, would be a perfect way to debut the electrics on the Auto Show circuit, let bygones be bygones, show what California car companies are doing for both the auto and green tech industries, to move on to LA four weeks later, and find new ways to create excitement about their present and upcoming vehicles. A tweet and a website only get you so far, and as we’ve seen, in only so much trouble. It’ll also give Elon another way to touch base with his base. I could imagine the crowds around the Tesla section at LA and OC. They really need to start doing this and get out of startup mode. And if the Automobile Dealers Association won’t be the impetus, then there should be a Electric Auto Show!

So What’s There to do at OC?

If you take your time you can make this an all day event with plenty to do, like sign up for the some 150 cars available to test drive in the basement or outside the center. Speaking of the basement, make sure you go there next year or at LA as there’s fun stuff down there as well. One section I didn’t see in the OC basement I regularly see at LA is Zelectric Motors, the San Diego based VW BEV tuner shop that takes Type 1 and 2 VW Beetles and Buses and their variants like Karmann Ghia, and the Thing, and converts them into torquey BEVs.You see these kind of cool things in the basements of these two shows.

There are some 600 vehicles for you to examine, in the form of cars, trucks, vans, buses, campers, RVs, bikes, motorcycles, and scooters. The car makers are going through a self imposed crisis of kids not turned on to cars starting with their mishap with Millennials, so you’ll be assured that they give kids plenty to do with floor displays and demonstrations, some with games, to keep them busy and turned on again to one day having a set of dream wheels of some kind on their own out of excitement. In the meantime after you finish test driving that they can’t be in the car with you, you can have them go test drive their vehicles at the Kid’s Test Drive Center, a race track set up for them. Figures the kids can speed on a test drive but not us. That’s not fair!

Camp Jeep has its really neat all terrain demonstration that shows its products’ capabilities off road. It’s set up like a Six Flags ride with a mini line to go with it. An employee trained to drive the vehicle takes you and your party over very steep hills and simulated rocks and terrain to give you an idea what a Jeep was actually designed for, something most of them will never see daylight or night fall doing.

Even the diecast model car vendor I see at the LA show is also cleverly downstairs at OC for you to buy a smaller scale and more cheaply made scale model car your kid can actually play with, pretty please, as opposed to a rarer, more detailed and collectible $40 and up scale car in an acrylic display case you really should leave alone on a shelf. Some of mine on my shelf I’m embarrassed to say costs up to five times that being highly collectible. And no, I don’t play with them. Not lately. Not in the last few weeks. Ok, I’ll stop. But the car model guy’s expansive inventory he apparently puts in a food truck sized vehicle when the show is over, is quite impressive and worth taking a look at. You might even find your own car!

Speaking of food trucks, if you get turned off by the airport-like $10 sandwiches and the $3 drinks at the food stands on the floor and in the lobby, there are about a half dozen food trucks with websites that are outside but within the show’s boundaries, offering alternatives. All exits are final. So off site lunch or dinner means you’re done with the show as a visitor.

Rules: When and How Best to go to an Auto Show

Please, unless you’re law enforcement, please refrain from bringing weapons. Also refrain from drugs and alcohol to or at the show. All bags and persons are subject to search at entry point, and all persons by handheld spectrometer. Don’t cut in line and don’t hog the cars please! If there’s a partition around the car that you can’t walk up to it to see inside, that probably means they don’t expect fingerprints to be on it!

Of course you’ll be able to get in and out of the demo Chevy Volt and Bolt, Range Rover has a beautiful Velar droptop that’s open top down for great auto show pictures. But of course you won’t be getting anywhere close to the Phantom, the McLarens, the Bugatti, performance Porsches, the classic cars, and certain other vehicles.

Please watch fingerprints and respect boundaries. What if that were your car up on the display? If you were be able to get paid to have your car displayed somewhere, yours would be up there too. Good chance you may know of some ordinary person who has that kind of car for their business, and rents it out that way for display to help pay! Remember this: like being in the stock market, just because it’s an expensive car, doesn’t mean a rich person owns it, to afford to fix or replace it as if money is no object should something happen, for you to not care. Sometimes the owner is a working man, like you or me, who borrowed heavily from the bank to have a Bentley or a Phantom in the fleet for his startup business, let’s say. I know someone who has a small business and rents his fancy car out that way, not to be driven, but to sit in front of venues to do things, like attract high end business. Or the person responsible for it is just paid to watch over it and take care of it, most of the time it’s a person like you or me. Don’t be surprised if a few of the downstairs display cars for these kind of events show up that way. These cars are expensive and rare, that not even Rolls or Bentley has a healthy rolling inventory. They aren’t made that way.

I already mentioned all exits final, and anyone is subject to leave when asked or told. I don’t want to turn people off to the Auto Shows, I wouldn’t say they’re dangerous, but incidents have happened in New York, I’m sure at LA too, not sure about Disneyland. I’m saying the auto show is the same kind of dynamic that goes to a stadium or arena sporting game, as the demographics are basically the same for both industries. That would make sense. That’s all. Eyes wide open.

If you are doing a test drive, you must be the appropriate age depending on local law and car maker policy, that means between 18-25 minimum, you need to have a valid drivers license and no children in the test cars are allowed. It is a supervised test drive, like 10 minutes, that’s it, as you’re doing the driving but a car employee sits with you up front to direct the drive, ironically similar to a DMV road test, without pass or fail.

You must submit to a field alco-sensor device test that detects alcohol in your breath right before the drive. The testers can refuse anyone for any reason. You must sign a waiver. The guy I was with was friendly and professional, but when it came to road time he became a serious concentrated undisractionable dude who meant business, like I can be, no freaking nonsense, okay? The ride is free but it is not Six Flags, and in this case I was driving a brand new $80,000+ car without a purchase, lease, or even a rental agreement, something most people in this country of all places still haven’t done in their lives, especially if they’re young. The experience should be treated with propriety. There aren’t many other places in the world you can do this, drive a brand new nearly $100,000 expensive luxury electric car on the streets that’s not yours, and not pay anything to do that. There was already a crash at the LA show, that a half dozen people got hurt. It can take one inconsiderate person to screw this up for us all to not have this.

Friday and Saturday nights tend to bring unsupervised teenagers and more young people with larger crowds. Off site drinking then venue changing to an auto show with younger weekend crowds can be unsettling if not off-putting. Sunday’s all day and Monday to Thursday evenings are more family oriented. The sooner in the day you go, the better and the earlier the chance you’ll be strolling around with less crowds and with appropriately and professionally behaving media and corporate types. If you’re done visiting by dinner time good chance you and your family will miss a rowdy crowd depending on the event location.

Try to get tickets online with these shows. It’s cheaper than will-call in the lobby. This has been my experiences at all auto shows I’ve been to, regardless of city, as I once was part of the show itself helping to demonstrate in my previous career back in the day.

Free Gifts No Car Brochures

Like all auto shows like the ones I’ve been to in New York at both the New York Coliseum back in the day, and at the Javitz Center of recent, the earlier the event date you choose, the greater the chance of coming home with some great free gifts. The longer you wait for the end dates, the quality and quantity of the free gifts drops off. Please don’t be a free gift pig! That’s the reason for all this. Otherwise some of them are quite nice and useful!

For years I used all my Ford recycled plastic shopping bags to go food shopping. The bags were Ford blue with the brand oval in Ford script emblazoned big on each side. Over the years at LA I collected up to about 10 of them. I’m down to one or two. They were handsome looking bags. I even sent them to the cleaners for repairs that they lasted that long. When people noticed at checkout they’d ask if I worked for Ford, I was so honored they asked, that I never. Toyota one year gave out these nice wallets to put your driving papers in to hand to police when pulled over! I never got a chance to try that out. Yet.

This doesn’t include the pens, note pads, key chains, utility tools, tire pressure gauges (good to have especially with these run flats!), etc. I got over the years, all with different car branding. Some of the stuff you could make collectible. One thing I’ve noticed that’s gone from back in the day they had from dealership showrooms and these shows, probably because of the Internet and cost, is car brochures.

The car makers used to make these beautiful pamphlets of their brands’ portfolio lineups, with professional photographers shooting professional models posing around the car. If you look at a National Geographic Magazine back in the 1960’s through 1980’s, I don’t know about any other time, at the car ads at the beginning or end of the periodical, you get a flavor of what these brochures are like on the same glossy stock paper of the magazine. These brochures are collectible and Ebay is now a great place to find them.

The higher end the make the higher end the brochure. I remember my high school years around 1978-1983 that Buick always had the nicest brochures of their cars, with breathtaking background landscapes or even quaint backdrops of places, like a country store or an antique shop, to consider taking your Buick Electra 225 or Electra Park Avenue, or the top of the line Electra Limited or the Riviera or Park Avenue Estate.

Oldsmobile the same thing, oh the places you’d contemplate to consider as your journey unwinds, with an Oldsmobile on your mind . . . It didn’t have to be that beautiful 1978 Olds 98 Regency Coupe I still envision in burgundy on burgundy and white in the pamphlet. It was a beautiful car to wonder if it still exists anywhere? The journey could be in a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme or even a 1981 Oldsmobile Omega or a 1978 Firenza. Firenza? What’s that?

At OC you get fliers that go in the trash at the end of the visit.

What’s up Ahead in Car and Auto Shows?

That was Orange County Auto Show 2018.
I’ll be attending the Electric Car Show and Swap Meet in South El Monte, CA on Sunday November 4, 2018, from 9 am to 2 pm, to make a report on that. It would be nice to meet some of you readers, you can’t miss me there in a crowd.
And of course I’ll be at the LA Auto Show November 30 to December 9, 2018 for a report on that as well. Hope to see you there!

Images from the 2018 OC International Auto Show credit: OCIAS Media for main pic and Map, JLR for Al Castro in Classic Range Rover rendering, the rest taken by me, A Castro.

What do you think of the Orange County Auto Show? Let us know below!