Let The Good Times Roll

The key drivers behind the annual auto show: (from left) Chris Dods, First Hawaiian Bank executive vice president, consumer banking and marketing group manager; and Brad Nicolai, president of JN Group.

The First Hawaiian International Auto Show pulls into Hawai‘i Convention Center next weekend, when hundreds of sleek-looking cars will be on display for savvy consumers ready to experience all that’s new and exciting about the annual showcase.

Ladies, start your engines. The 40th annual First Hawaiian International Auto Show is about to rev up. Wait a minute. Let’s back up here. Isn’t a car show a guy thing? Why are we addressing the ladies, you might ask.

Well, the truth is that women are fueling the auto industry — so long dominated by men. According to a Chicago Tribune report on a study done by Jumpstart Automotive Media, women today influence 85 percent of car purchases and drive more than 50 percent of autos sold in the U.S. Since 2012, women have held more driver licenses than men.

Surprised at this demographic shift? Evidently you were asleep at the wheel as the industry entered the new age of consumerism. In the late 20th century, men and women became more alike in their access to and usage of cars. Women insist on equal access to automobiles because increasing numbers of dual-income families are able to afford two or more vehicles in the driveway. The notable growth of female-headed families since the 1970s also contributes to the growing presence of female drivers.

The event’s founding fathers: Joe Nicolai and Walter Dods Jr. PHOTO COURTESY JN GROUP

Obviously, auto designers, manufacturers and dealers are well aware of these facts and have customized their services, amenities, sales approach and target marketing accordingly.

Thus, auto shows —Hawai‘i’s being among the nation’s largest and most recognized — have become go-to events for smart consumers of any gender who are driven to new cars and accessories.

The spectacular setting of Hawai‘i Convention Center adds appeal to what has become a destination for locals and visitors who eagerly anticipate the annual showcase of more than 350 of the hottest cars and trucks in one place.

This year, that happens April 13-15 (see page 31), with thousands beating down the doors to get a glimpse of the latest and greatest developments on four wheels.

For instance, islanders will get an advance look at Volvo’s new XC40 compact crossover and the first-ever Hyundai Kona small SUV to be shown here. BYD, the Chinese auto manufacturer, returns with its hot-selling plug-in electric car.

Velocity Honolulu will have Europe’s ultra-luxury exotics like Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bentley and Alfa Romeo. If you can pronounce it, you can drive it.

But before we put it in forward gear, let’s look in the rear-view mirror to track how the First Hawaiian International Auto Show evolved into the dynamic event it is today. Its name is almost its history.

It was started by a marketing guy (who later became chairman) at First Hawaiian Bank. That would be Walter Dods Jr., whose corporate and banking success is well known in our community.

Chris Dods and Brad Nicolai

As his son Chris Dods, FHB executive vice president, consumer banking and marketing group manager, tells it, “My father came up with the idea 41 years ago. At the time, First Hawaiian Bank had 14 percent of the car financing market and Bank of Hawai‘i had 45 percent.

So he was tapped with changing that share of market.

“He came up with the idea of an auto show at a time when cars were only allowed to be sold from a lot,” he says. “It was a foreign concept to bring cars off lot. It met with a lot of resistance at first, and it was a struggle to get dealers to sign up.

“He took a big chance and placed a full-page ad announcing the First Hawaiian Bank Auto Show with only two dealers committed,” Chris says. “Once the ad ran, other dealers came on board. By the second year, he got all of the dealers.”

Within five years, First Hawaiian Bank led in the market in car loans and financing.

The partnership of First Hawaiian Bank and Hawai‘i Automobile Dealers Association (HADA) to build the industry’s image and business through a consumer show is now history. The inaugural show drew 67,000 attendees, and today’s head count is many times that number and increasing each year.

A partnership with Motor Trend, the nation’s largest car show producer, brought manufacturers to the show and thereby provided a full complement of “autocrats” to put Hawai‘i on the map.

The event added “International” to its title in 2000, when Walter Dods collaborated with then-HADA president, Joe Nicolai, chairman of JN Group, to move the show from Blaisdell Center to the more spacious Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Moving it closer to Waikīkī allowed the show to reach tourists, especially from Asia and Oceania. Thus, it became an exciting exposition of the latest cars, crossovers, trucks, vans and SUVs to the delight of island residents, military personnel and car enthusiasts.

Joe’s son, Brad Nicolai, president of JN Group, reflects, “My father was always an enthusiast of the auto show and its great opportunity for the people of Hawai‘i to browse the different and unique vehicles that are presented. It also affords our trade organization an opportunity to showcase educational efforts, environmental programs, energy efficiency and other issues of public interest.

“It’s a chance to get up close and personal with contemporary car designs that are works of art,” he suggests. “My dad says if you could hang them on the wall, you would!”

Indeed, seeing the shape and styling of modern mobility is a star attraction at the show. More than 30 domestic and international manufacturers are represented to bring global diversity to the event.

HADA executive director Dave Rolf adds, “Eye candy, including rare collections of antique and classics, muscle cars and tricked-out tuners, will be stopping traffic, courtesy of local clubs and organizations.”

It is prophetic that Chris Dods and Brad Nicolai, sons of Auto Show prime movers, are now carrying on the tradition of their dads. The Gen-X business leaders (and Punahou classmates) are ambassadors for a new generation of auto show participants.

Just as the auto industry is going through rapid change, so will the reach and relevance of Hawai‘i’s premier car show.

As Rolf puts it, “The 40th anniversary of the auto show is a chance to honor its extraordinary past, but really more an exciting look at its future. If one understands new cars, one understands Hawai‘i.

“Our cars relate directly to where we live and work, how we lead busy lifestyles, and how much energy is used in transportation. With the coming transition to today’s fuel-efficient gasoline cars, gas-electric hybrids, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell electric cars, and eventually to self-driving cars, more and more of the dollars spent in ground transportation will stay right here in Hawai‘i,” Rolf adds.

As many can attest, what the First Hawaiian International Auto Show really revs up is Hawai‘i’s economic engine.


• More than 30 domestic and foreign import manufacturers will showcase the latest cars, trucks, crossovers, vans, hybrids and sport/utility vehicles.

• Test drives offered by Nissan in five vehicles, including three plug-in hybrids.

• Multi-million-dollar collection of high-end exotic vehicles, including models from Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Bentley, courtesy of Velocity Honolulu.

• Car club displays of rare antiques and classics, courtesy of:

• VW Club of Hawai‘i
• 808 Supra Club
• Aloha Mustang & Shelby Club of Hawai‘i
• Corvette Club of Hawai‘i
• Aloha Region AACA
• Sports Car Club of America
• Cobra Club of Hawai‘i
• Old School Imports Hawai‘i

• Texaco Kids Test Drive for children ages 3-7 in battery-powered cars on a track.

• Photo booth for a free souvenir picture that can be printed or emailed.


Sunday, April 15
10 a.m. 7 p.m.

Friday, April 13
noon 10 p.m.

Saturday, April 14
10 a.m. 10 p.m.

WHERE Hawai‘i Convention Center, 1801 Kalākaua Ave.

ADMISSION Adults (13+), $10; Military (with ID), $8; Seniors (62+), $7; Children (12 and under), Free

• E-tickets at, $1 off regular admission.

• Special VIP Pass valid for one free adult admission before 6 p.m. on Friday, available at participating First Hawaiian banks. Pass also good for up to two discounted $8 tickets.

• Texaco coupon for $2 off one adult admission at participating locations.

• Military two-fer day on Saturday, April 14. Buy one $8 military admission and get one admission for second military member (with valid IDs).

• Free one-year subscription to Motor Trend just for attending.