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Charged Up For The Auto Show

John Uekawa in the driver's seat, Kui Donato in the backseat In back of truck, from left: Hillary Uekawa, Jan Marie Fraga, Kevin Kualapai, Suzie Asato-Cole and Sheree Dacuycuy New City Nissan customer care center staff

John Uekawa in the driver’s seat, Kui Donato in the backseat In back of truck, from left: Hillary Uekawa, Jan Marie Fraga, Kevin Kualapai, Suzie Asato-Cole and Sheree Dacuycuy New City Nissan customer care center staff


There are three sure signs that it is March here on Oahu: Your co-worker, who knows nothing of sports, will be espousing the chances of Monmouth in the NCAA; this Friday that same co-worker will develop the “Irish Flu” and be unable to perform after Thursday’s activities — but you will both be able to put those aside as you marvel at the third sign of March: the First Hawaiian International Auto Show this Friday through Sunday (March 18-20) at Hawaii Convention Center. It is the one-stop shop for all those cars you point out to your kids when you pull up next to one at a red light.

There will be the exotic vehicle collection, which are the ones it is OK to dream about because they are likely way out of your budget. Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Bentleys will be on display for you to ogle and take selfies with, provided by JN Automotive Group.

Next is the group that wracks you with guilt because you can afford these cars but lack the time, patience or skill set to make them look as good as these do. Car clubs, including VW Club of Hawaii, Aloha Mustang & Shelby Club, and Corvette Club of Hawaii, take the cars we drive and turn them into masterpieces.

Gazing at these once-pedestrian vehicles turned eye candy will have you kicking yourself, thinking of your dusty Civic out in the parking garage. The sight of their oversized blowers poking out from underneath the hoods of these now-muscled-up machines may make you think about the gut you have sticking out from under your T-shirt and wonder if that P90X video is still in your desk drawer.

Hawaii is just one of two car shows produced by ‘Motor Trend' that will see the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai DAVID DEWHURST PHOTOGRAPHY

Hawaii is just one of two car shows produced by ‘Motor Trend’ that will see the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai DAVID DEWHURST PHOTOGRAPHY

But that moment will pass as you drink in all this gleaming beauty, and any remaining guilt can be assuaged with free pizza samples from Papa John’s.

The final group we are more familiar with — the car dealers who sell us the rides we all have today. They will be showing off their newest looks and technologies, such as the significant upgrades in safety, entertainment and convenience features that have made their new models more sophisticated than ever.

From 360-degree cameras, crash-avoidance systems and inflatable seatbelts, to massive multimedia screens, integrated smartphone apps and even the ability to open the rear hatch by just waving your foot, this is the spot to get the scoop on the latest technology making commutes safer and more enjoyable.

Several hybrid-electric vehicles will be on display, including models from Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and more.

Several pre-production and 2016-model-year vehicles will be showcased, including the Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Vehicle, 2016 Toyota Prius, 2016 Chevrolet Camaro and Colorado (Motor Trend‘s 2016 Car of The Year and Truck of The Year), 2016 Hyundai Tucson and 2016 Jaguar F-Pace.

One of the highlights will be the groundbreaking Toyota Mirai, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that has been two decades in the making. Hailed as the future of clean transportation, it combines hydrogen stored in carbon-fiber reinforced fuel tanks with oxygen obtained through a front intake vent to make electricity to power the car. The only byproduct is some water out of the tailpipe. This is one of only two Motor Trend-produced shows nationwide that will feature the Mirai, giving local fans a firsthand look into the future of auto making.

It also will be the unveiling of the new Nissan Titan, fresh off its win as the Truck of Texas even before it became available last October. Armed with a 5-liter Cummins V-8 turbo-diesel engine, it is promising to be one of the most powerful trucks around. One of the purveyors of this monster and owner of the biggest Nissan dealership in the state is John Uekawa of New City Nissan, who recently was named the Hawaii Dealer of the Year.

A scene from last year's First Hawaiian International Auto Show HAWAII AUTO DEALERS ASSOCIATION PHOTO

A scene from last year’s First Hawaiian International Auto Show HAWAII AUTO DEALERS ASSOCIATION PHOTO

“I’m a truck guy. I love the Titan. I just can’t wait to drive it,” says Uekawa, who only has his display model currently at the dealership. “I only have that one outside there, I am looking forward to dressing it up and driving it around, and showing people this is the new kid on the block.”

Uekawa is more than just a dealer here. He is chairman of the Northwest region, encompassing 112 dealers, and nationally he serves as Nissan chairman of the sales subcommittee and Leaf committee, its award-winning electric vehicle.

But in true humble local boy-style, Uekawa, a graduate of Castle High School, is quick to deflect any accolades that come his way.

“You do not become dealer of the year by yourself. Ninety-nine percent of what happened and how I was awarded this is because of my people,” says Uekawa, who opened New City with three other investors in 1995.

“I give them a lot of autonomy, and that is a tough thing about the auto industry — if you look at a lot of dealers, the person who sits here, the person who runs sales, the person who runs service are very mirrorish-like. They think alike, so it is a dictatorship. I believe in surrounding myself with people smarter than me, or more quality or more experienced. So, they are advising me, which has given us a low turnover rate.”

It has been a tumultuous few months for Uekawa, who had his heart broken twice, as he lost both his mother and father-in law within four months of each other. Couple that with the highs of being named dealer of the year and honored with the Kekumano Award by Maryknoll School for outstanding service to the community.

“I have been truly, truly blessed because I have great people surrounding me, but deep down inside of my heart, this would never have happened if I didn’t have a fabulous wife (Sally),” says Uekawa.

The reason Maryknoll acknowledged him is for his work with its softball program, which he has headed for more than a decade. He took a team that had not won more than a few games a year for decades and, in his first season, led it to an undefeated mark. But he had his eye on bigger goals.

“It is not for the purpose of winning, but development,” says Uekawa. “It sounds corny, but the proof is in the pudding. I had a 10U team and I took them all the way through high school, and the proud thing I have with them is every one of them graduated from college.”

Helping girls succeed — he had two daughters on the team — is an overarching theme for the Uekawas, who put gender equity ahead of everything else.

“My involvement with Maryknoll softball was a match made in heaven. I did it because of the love I had for the sport, not the love I had for my daughters,” says Uekawa. “We did everything we could to prove to young women out there that there is a place for you.”

They have established the Hawaii Softball Foundation to help bolster the sport, through revitalizing the field at the end of Sand Island, bringing in Mainland coaches to run clinics and fighting to get these talented girls on TV as well.

“Every time we turned on the TV to see local sports, all you would see was boys sports: basketball, football, boys this and boys that,” says Uekawa, whose office is decorated with softball trophies and game balls. “We have just as good of athletes on the female side as the male, but they are just not being seen.”

The crown jewel of his work can be seen in May at the New City Nissan Goodwill Classic, which serves as the All-Star game for the state, pitting representatives from each school, both public and private, against each other while broadcasting it live on OC-16.

“We have talent, but every place has talent. The difference here is they have big heart, they will do anything and everything to win and make a program successful,” says Uekawa.

He takes this philosophy off the field and tries to instill it into the 127 employees who work for him at his King Street dealership.

“It is one of the most exciting businesses you could ever be a part of. You have to be able to handle super highs and super lows — some days you sell 20 cars in a day, sometimes you sell one,” says Uekawa, whose store is the No. 1 Nissan dealer in the state for parts, service and sales.

“Cars these days are built really well, so you are competing against good product vs. good product. It is important making sure that people buy something they want, but take care of them after.

“Retention is our No. 1 philosophy here.”


March 18-20
Hawaii Convention Center

“Get Into Your Dream Car at the Auto Show”

Friday, March 18, noon-10 p.m.
Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, March 20, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Adults (13-plus) $10
Military (with any DOD ID) $8
Seniors (62 and older) $7
Children (12 and younger) FREE