The region’s auto dealers are gearing up for their biggest event of the year, the 2013 Greater Lehigh Valley Auto Show from March 21-24.
This is the 16th year the Greater Lehigh Valley Auto Dealers Association has put on the show that features the latest and greatest vehicles and puts the spotlight on the diverse group of auto dealerships in the region.
Tom Kwiatek, executive director of the association, said one of the reasons the event was originally organized was to set the Lehigh Valley apart as a vehicle-buying destination.
“We’re not Philly,” Kwiatek said. “But if you look at any franchise, whether it’s a McDonald’s, a Jiffy Lube or an auto dealer, there are large marketing ad councils for a region — and all of our marketing dollars were going to Philadelphia.”
To show manufacturers that the Lehigh Valley was more than just a suburb of Philadelphia — and worthy of its own separate marketing dollars — the auto show was born.
The March show, he said, was a success in garnering manufacturers’ attention. It went from a small, mostly dealer-run event in those first few years to an event that is now driven 85 percent by the manufacturers and takes up three structures, Stabler Arena, Rauch Field House and a custom tent on the Goodman Campus of Lehigh University.
The event is an enormous endeavor. At a cost of about $300,000 a year, the show aims to collect every type of vehicle that will be for sale in the coming year in the Lehigh Valley, as well as offering a sneak peek at some models that can’t yet be seen in dealerships.
For the consumer, Kwiatek said, the event is a great place for car lovers — and potential car buyers — to browse the vehicles that are out there without the pressure of a car salesperson hovering over their shoulder.
“The whole intent of the show is not sales,” he said.
In fact, Kwiatek said, most of the dealers don’t even have sales staff on site — at least not in a sales capacity.
They’re willing to wait, he said, because they know that when the show is over, there will be a boost in better-informed and ready-to-buy consumers heading to their showrooms in the weeks following the show.
“The show does ultimately lead to sales. It drives people to the dealerships in April and May,” Kwiatek said. “A lot of times they’ll come in with fliers from the show so the dealers will know.”
Of course, after 16 years the show’s organizers have to rotate the tires a little and bring in new and different exhibits to draw in a crowd.
This year the show will not disappoint in the area of “new,” said Kwiatek.
One of the highlights for the 2013 Auto Show is the celebration of the luxury automobile with a Luxury Automobile Pavilion featuring the Cadillac Experience.
Dream cars from Acura, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and more also will be gathered together.
“People are going to be wowed,” said Kwiatek. He said they also might be surprised. The entry point for luxury cars is getting more accessible, he said, with some manufactures offering entry-level luxury vehicles for as little as $34,000.
He said owners of cars, such as a higher-end Accord, might find that moving up to a luxury brand is more within their reach than they realized.
Also new this year are a Harley-Davidson Showcase and an RV Showcase.
The show is also a chance for the Lehigh Valley’s auto dealers to tout some of their own accomplishments. Incoming association president Todd Haldeman, owner of Haldeman Ford Lincoln Mercury in Kutztown, noted, for example, that Greater Lehigh Valley dealerships, taken together, contributed $65.6 million in total state and local taxes.
He also noted that dealerships employ 2,550 people directly and another 1,325 indirectly, accounting for 9.8 percent of total retail employment in the area.
As with every year, charity will be a major component of the show. Each year, auto dealers raise about $150,000 for charity and hope to top that this year.
They plan to do that by having “Community Days” on Thursday and Friday (March 21-22) for which 25 nonprofit groups are going to be selling tickets — and keeping half of the proceeds. Each nonprofit also is getting space outside of the show to showcase its services.
The highlight of the fundraising is the Great Lehigh Valley Ambulance Chase. The race, held in the Stabler area, will benefit the Cetronia Fire Co. and is being sponsored by the Lehigh County Bar Association Young Lawyers Group.
Kwiatek said the race is, indeed, a little tongue- in-cheek. “Yes, it pokes a little fun at the lawyers, but it’s for a great cause,” he said.
And the beneficiary of this year’s preview party gala at Stabler Arena on March 20, which kicks off the auto show, is the Children’s Hospital at Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Preview Party Gala Chairwoman Lynn Rothrock said the theme of the gala is America’s Highway. Gala tickets — priced at $75 apiece, $125 for couples — are available at www.glvautoshow.org/gala.