In its seventh year in Fresno, the Central California Auto Show is offering something new to visitors when it opens this week at the Convention Center: free admission.
In each of the show's first six years, organizers charged $7 per person for visitors to browse hundreds of shiny new cars, and a little less for senior citizens.
Of course, if you paid full price to get in, you just weren't trying. Discount coupons and free passes were always plentiful at Fresno auto dealerships and other sites. Still, organizers hope that making it easier to walk through the doors will attract more people who are shopping for -- or even thinking about -- a new car after several years of the economic blahs.
"We wanted to make it more of a family event," said Manuel Prieto, the show chairman for the Fresno-Clovis New Car Dealers Association and general manager of Clawson Honda. "The more people who attend, the better it is for all of us because when the manufacturers see more people, they want to get more involved in the show."
Besides, he said, "what we found is that we were paying a lot of money to print tickets, but why print tickets if we're not going to use them all?"
The dealers association bills the show as an opportunity for people to see a slew of next year's makes and models all in one place, comparing prices, equipment and features without having to drive from store to store -- and without having to endure sales pitches.
"There are a lot of new models on the market this year, and we want to expose as many people to see them in an area where there's no pressure," Prieto said. "They have an opportunity to ask as many questions as they want, to get in the cars, slam the doors and really enjoy the cars and not worry about someone trying to sell you something."
What to see: The show will include several new or redesigned models that have not appeared at the Fresno event in the past, including the Dodge Dart, Fiat 500 Abarth, Ford Fusion, Ram 1500 pickup, Scion FR-S, Subaru XV Crosstrek and the Toyota Prius c. There will also be a display of high-end exotic cars provided by Haron Jaguar Land Rover, including a pair of Ferraris and a vintage Jaguar convertible.
Test drives: Ford, Chevrolet and Honda will have cars available for test drives on the streets outside the convention center, and Can-Am will offer test rides on two versions of its Spyder three-wheeled motorcycles.
For children: The Discovery Center will have an area in the show lobby with craft activities and a display of live reptiles and bugs. King Robota, an 8-foot-tall automated singer/dancer/entertainer, will perform Saturday and Sunday.
Thursday charity preview: A $50-per-person charity preview on Thursday night, sponsored by the Educational Employees Credit Union, will raise money for Children's Hospital Central California. Attendees will get a chance to munch on hors d'oeuvres, sip beer and wine and listen to live music as they get an advance look at the cars, pickups and SUVs from 6:30 to 9 p.m., a day before the doors open to the public.
"We wanted an event that would make a grand opening for the show and benefit a charity in the community," said Hedrick Chevrolet's Brett Hedrick, chairman of the charity event. "We think it will get people to the show who wouldn't normally come down there."
Because EECU is covering the costs, the full $50 ticket price is tax-deductible, he added. Tickets for the preview are available online at fresnoclovisautoshow.com.
If you go
What: Central California Auto Show
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (special charity preview 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday)
Where: Fresno Convention Center, Valdez Hall and Exhibit Halls, 848 M St., downtown Fresno
Cost: Admission is free ($50 tax-deductible for Thursday night charity preview)