Auto Shows are Great Research Tools

Well, hello there again readers! My apologies for the long absence. I spent the week of Thanksgiving with the “fam”. Then I headed to Los Angeles for the Auto Show for another week away from the blog-o-sphere. But now, I’m back.

Almost every major metropolis hosts an auto show each year. Now, they may not all be huge productions like L.A. and Detroit are, but they’re still doing what they’re supposed to do – showing autos!

While the 2009 shows are complete, often check back at this website to see if there’s one scheduled near you in 2010. The full schedule isn’t up yet, but you can get a good feel of where they will be held by looking at the 2009 schedule.

I spent one full day at the L.A. Auto Show and a solid 1/2 day there, too. And after all of that walking ended, my feet cried, and I had some time (i.e. a 5 hour flight home) to reflect on my first major auto show experience. I thought that the press days were neat to experience first-hand, but I also pondered why the auto show would be important to the consumer – not just a car junkie like me.I decided that taking a Saturday to walk through an auto show could have many benefits for the consumer who is in the market for a new car – especially if that buyer isn’t quite ready to take the plunge. So, consider paying $10 to see what auto manufacturers are bringing to the table at a show near you.

Product, product, product!

Ok, so you get where I’m going here. Have you ever been to an auto show? If not, imagine about 2 or 3 Ikea stores stacked together. That’s usually about the size of the space used for car shows. I don’t know about you, but the first time I went to Ikea, I about had a panic attack. That place is huge! (If you’ve never been to Ikea ask a friend. And if you don’t have any friends who shop at Ikea, well, then, just use your imagination here – it’s big.)

How many cars can fit in 2 or 3 Ikeas? The answer: A LOT. Manufacturers take auto shows seriously because other than when they send their vehicles to their dealers, they don’t have an opportunity to strut their mechanical stuff. So, they polish up their latest models and put them on a stage for the world to see. They think carefully about which paint colors they should debut on their cars, what options should be included (because you’re going to sit in it), and how many vehicles they should showcase.

So, you’ve got all this product – now what do you do with it? That’s where your researching skills come in handy. View your tour of the auto show like a trip to Disney World – what’s the first thing you grab inside those magical gates? A MAP! Get one as you enter the show – this will guide you to the brands you want to research – and then later, the brands you could never afford (at least I couldn’t)!

Foreign or domestic, sub-compact or SUV, hybrid or diesel. It doesn’t matter what your preference – look at them all. And I think you’ll notice that there are some really excellent vehicles being made out there. Competition is stiff right now. Brands like KIA and Hyundai are really starting to gain market share, while staples like Toyota and Ford are holding steady. Everyone is competing virtually in every class of car out there.

So how do you research properly? Well, if you really are in the market for a new vehicle. The best “self help” tool you can use before going to the show is to write a list down of the things you find valuable in a vehicle. Some people really like cupholders (but the carmakers have picked up on that so 6 cupholders aren’t such an anomoly anymore), others love 60/40 fold-down back seats, and still more like to have 6 standard airbags. Write down what you want to use the car for – commuting to work, outdoorsy activities, family vacations, carting your kids/friends/family?

Taking these steps to prepare will also help get you in the mindset to find the right vehicle for you.And please, just because you’re going to the auto show where ALL of the cars are new models, it doesn’t mean you have to buy the 2010 or 2011 model. If you really like something but can’t afford to buy new, check to see if there are previous model years that you could buy off of lease or used from a private owner.

My point is, take advantage of the productions that your local auto associations are putting on in your hometown or nearby city. You are bound to enjoy looking at all the shiny cars, but you may also find the vehicle that’s just right for you – and you didn’t even know it existed.Happy showing and shopping!

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Melanie Batenchuk founded Be Car Chic in 2009 as a way to help consumers make smart decisions when buying and selling their cars. Her prior work at the dealership, trade association and manufacturer levels has provided her a deep understanding of the complex facets within the auto industry, making her a leading woman in her field.