Global Auto Salon in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Too Good to Be True?
Just a few months before the Global Auto Salon was about to kick off, some of the best automotive builders and influencers were invited to what a sounded like the ultimate car show. Now, you may be wondering how such an event of this magnitude could be launched and why.
Saudi Arabia is well-known for being an oil-rich country and the government forecasted a future drop in demand for petroleum as the world currently seeks alternatives to fossil fuels. In order to generate a new means of income for the future, the royal family decided to welcome other industries by holding a series of special events called the Riyadh Season. Starting in September 2019 and ending late January 2020, numerous industries including automotive were invited to join in and discover all that Saudi Arabia has to offer.
Held on November 21-26, 2019 in Riyadh, the Global Auto Salon was dedicated to help promote automotive companies venture into this new market based in the Middle East. With a no-loss incentive program, many of the big industry names were given the opportunity to be a part of this historic event. Aftermarket manufactures were offered free travel, free booth space, free shipping to and from for products and $5k in cash for signing up. Additionally, 400 builders were also given a similar opportunity with $10k offered up front and free shipments for vehicles to be displayed at the show in order to put them up for sale on-site.
With all these offers, many thought it was all too good to be true. We’ve all received those emails from a foreign prince asking to wire money to us, which is obviously a scam. During SEMA, which was just weeks before the show, we asked many of our friends if they were invited and what they knew about the event as there was a limited amount of info. Most said they accepted the offer and already sent vehicles or products, while others were skeptical of the deal and declined. Making things unnerving even more, no one had received their travel arrangements yet. We soon discovered, this is typical of the Saudi culture and most people ended up getting flight info only days before their departure.
Going along for the ride, we decided to join in on this adventure of a lifetime by traveling from Southern California to the opposite side of the world. While many others were afraid to visit the Middle East because of acts of violence in certain countries, we did some research and concluded that Saudi Arabia was relatively calm, which put us at ease. Due to a missed flight and additional connections we arrived after 24-hours of travel. At first, we were taken back by the local’s traditional dress, but soon discovered that they were all very gracious and a complete pleasure to converse with in English. Upon stepping foot on the grounds of the Global Auto Show, we were quickly overwhelmed by the variety of vehicles in attendance and the numerous events going on throughout the show. Now that it is all over, we put together a list of reasons why we loved this experience so much and how it has become our new favorite automotive event.
10. Monster Jam
We’ve been to many automotive events where there are “monster truck” shows to entertain crowds and make for a family-friendly environment. However, this was the first time we were able to see an official Monster Jam competition as a segment of a car show. For approximately twenty-five US dollars, you could see eight different teams duke it out by performing several tricks. Of course, there was the Grave Digger truck going all-out, but the Riyadh truck really went for it.
9. Police Academy Show
Not knowing what to expect here, we headed to an area of the event that had a large seating section and “Police Academy” signs out front. We assumed it would be some sort of live-action show with cars but really did not know what was to come. As the lights turned bright on the stage for the show to start, we were instantly treated to a show of drifting BMW police cars. The story line had a new police recruit learning advanced pursuit skills and later chased “the bad guys” to get “the investor’s” money back. It was a bit comical, but the stunts were completely jaw-dropping. The extra fee of approximately ten US dollars was money well spent.
8. Hot Wheels Record-Breaking Loop
The last time we can remember a real life-sized Hot Wheels loop was for the 2012 X-Games in Los Angeles. In fact, the one back then was a dueling loop that Tanner Foust and Greg Tracy successfully defied death in front of a live audience. For the show in Riyadh, Hot Wheels constructed this 64-foot tall loop for stuntman, Terry Grant to navigate through. While driving in a Jaguar F-Pace, he successfully made it to earn a new Guinness-certified world record.
7. Hoonigan Burnyard
Making a sport out of “scumbagging” drivers to slide cars around in tight spaces, the crew of Hoonigan never disappoints. For some reason very few spectators were present when we went to watch this display. Unsure if the people of Saudi Arabia had never previously watched Hoonigan’s popular YouTube show, it took a good minute for them to show up and spectate. Once the first cars started to rip hard in the Burnyard, people flocked to see all the carnage as it unfolded. Shredding tires and ripping bumpers off by smacking them against the wall, the drivers really went full-send.
6. Ferrari Exhibition
In typical Ferrari fashion, the Italian manufacture went all out to make a lasting impression. On the east end of the track, Ferrari had a large VIP area and paddock section for race spec cars and F1 open-wheel vehicles. During the last few days, Ferrari led a parade of cars and even let cars loose on the track. Topping it all off, F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo F1 driver) went full speed in 2009 F60 cars. Though they only did a few laps, watching these vehicles and hearing their engines roar, made for a unique experience you can’t see in many other places.
5. Human Cannonball
Though this one is not an automotive related part, it was sure a site to see. Usually, this is an act for a three-ring circus, but we were in for a real treat as David “the Bullet” Smith was out to break the record for the highest human cannonball. As amazing as it was to witness, this was a real feat with no net between the cannon and the landing pad. Luckily, he made the leap, which was pretty amazing to witness.
4. Team Nitto Drift/Off-Road Hangtime Show
Making best use of the track, Vaughn Gittin Jr, Muath Al-Essa, Loren Healy and Nick Nelson put on a wild show of high-speed drifts and launches off a ramp. Utilizing some fresh Nitto Trail Grappler and Nitto NT555 G2 rubber, all were shredding on the asphalt. The climax of the show was when the two Mustangs slid right by the ramp and the Off-road vehicles jumped over them. This not only took good timing but showed the skill of these talented drivers.
3. Seven Concours
For those with deeper pockets, there was a special area with high-end luxury and exotic cars. Top producers like Pagani had booths to display some of the most expensive rides on the market. In a special building there were some of the rarest collectable vehicles including an Ayrton Senna McLaren F1 car. In the courtyard was a huge gathering of rare supercars that were a part of the Silverstone Auction held that Friday night. The collection was absolutely stunning as we counted a combined total of sixteen Bugatti Veyrons and Chirons. Each of these goes for a few million and it was like checking out a fortune of money parked out in the Saudi desert. It truly was a sight to see and we’re sure it was one of the rarest occasions in the world.
2. Worldwide Auctioneers Experience
One of the most interesting things to see was the auction of rare cars and high-dollar customs. Held in its own tent, several top industry names like Richard Rawlings of Gas Monkey Garage, Dave Kindig of Kindig-it Design and legendary builder Chip Foose had some of the most influential custom vehicles up for sale. There were high bids going up every few seconds and it was crazy to watch the wealthy snag up some of these incredible rides. We even crossed paths with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia there. Sorry, there are no photos of him there as we were not allowed to take any snaps of him. Wanting to keep international relations on the up and up, we abided by his wishes.
1. Auto Salon
Builders that shipped vehicles to Saudi Arabia were able to be a part of a special section of the show. The Auto Salon segment had some of the best muscle cars, hot rods and collector cars on display. Not only were these cars glimmering under lights in one big tent, they were also on sale for people to make offers on. Flooded through this hall was various booths for automotive aftermarket companies to conduct business with the locals. It was like a mini SEMA Show with top names in attendance along with the stunning custom cars. Though there were a few horror stories about vehicles getting damaged during shipment, insurance was able to recover losses here. Besides a few hiccups, this historic event really shocked us, and it became an immediate hit for us. It also proved to the weary that this was just as real as originally advertised.