History & Mission
The Washington Auto Show: A History in Perspective
Washington, D.C., has long been the site of the country’s greatest ambitions for progress. The Washington Auto Show not only symbolizes the brightest and boldest dreams of the auto industry but marks the show’s transformation over the years. The Washington Auto Show® has not only become the largest public show in Washington, D.C., it’s also the premier address for showcasing the latest innovations in sustainable technologies and drawing the most influential leaders in the industry.
This year, hundreds of thousands of visitors, including many environmental and automotive visionaries, will explore the more than 700 new makes and models from over 42 manufacturers at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The auto show is Washington, D.C.‘s largest public show. It’s a big bonanza for area residents to enjoy the fully stocked, two-story convention center with an automotive showcase many describe as “new-car heaven.”
Given its staging in the heart of Washington political season, the show has increasingly garnered the national and international spotlight and drawn on the capital’s high-profile visitors. In turn, manufacturers have responded with larger, more interactive exhibits, now possible in the expanded convention center. That’s all good news for the true VIPs of the show – consumers. More new models, more concepts and prototypes, more high-tech breakthroughs and more entertainment, celebrity guests and contests await this year’s visitors.
In 1921, a group of 20 Washington-area car dealers and distributors planned the first show to sell the public on the virtue of the horseless carriage. From that humble beginning, The Washington Auto Show has been on the fast track for growth and popularity. Housed in a variety of area venues, the show was staged for 18 years in the National Guard D.C. Armory. The show has gone on hiatus twice – once for war and once due to poor economic conditions.
After a break in the 1970s, the Washington Convention Center and The Washington Auto Show opened together in early 1983. By this date, the auto show had grown to require every available foot of display space, covering nearly eight acres – almost four times the physical size of the Armory shows, with three times as many models.
In 1988, The Washington Auto Show began using the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day as its annual time frame, garnering a tremendous base of loyal fans and establishing its reputation as a family destination. The event was later moved to late January to coincide with Congress’ return from recess, enabling the show to capitalize on the business of Washington.
The show’s early planners, who sought every imaginative twist to draw attention to that newfangled mode of transportation, would be amazed to witness today’s incarnation.
The show features a full slate of entertainment, contests, interactive displays, exhibits on futuristic technology and family activities that can actually offer visitors a break from all those cars! And at the same time, The Washington Auto Show has firmly earned its title as one of the industry’s most prominent and pivotal events.
The mission of the Washington Auto Show is to operate as the “Public Policy Show,” unique on the global industry circuit because of its proximity to the U.S. Congress, international diplomatic corps and federal agencies. Global manufacturers will focus on this show, as its producers will facilitate an annual dialogue, at the highest levels, between industry leaders and public policymakers on issues affecting the automotive industry.
To stimulate interest, promote relevance and create goodwill, the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association (WANADA) will produce a world-class showcase and leverage the strengths of its retail automobile business leaders in the Washington, D.C., region. Beneficiaries will include new vehicle consumers, show attendees, affiliated community and educational causes, participating manufacturers and the many thousands of WANADA dealer member employees.