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An auto show worker cleans a 2014 Silverado pickup truck at Cobo Center in advance of media preview days of the North American International Auto show in Detroit last year. The Canadian International Auto Show opens in Toronto on February 14, 2014. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)
An auto show worker cleans a 2014 Silverado pickup truck at Cobo Center in advance of media preview days of the North American International Auto show in Detroit last year. The Canadian International Auto Show opens in Toronto on February 14, 2014. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)

Canadian International Auto Show

How to create a car show for the centre of the universe Add to ...

It goes without saying that Toronto is the centre of the universe (wink, wink) and that Canadians from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island have adopted this as fact (nudge, nudge). With this in mind, and with the 2014 edition of the Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS) set to open its doors, we thought it a good idea to offer some ideas for making the show – you guessed it – the centre of the automotive universe.

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Let’s look at ways to move the CIAS from an event that appeals to car aficionados who happen to live in the GTA to one that attracts a broader spectrum of people from further afield. These suggestions will not take into account the increased cost and/or more complex logistics because a) that’s no fun and b) this is a wish list. The purpose here is not to denigrate the CIAS as it stands or to heap scorn on the people responsible for organizing what must be a logistical moonshot in the dead of winter year after year. Seriously, these people do a stellar job.

1. Rebrand the product

The event is called the Canadian International AutoShow and, no doubt, that’s a proverbial thorn in the proverbial side of Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Quebec City. But let’s take this one step further and make Toronto the show for introducing vehicles uniquely suited to Canada and Canadians.

Our country may represent a relatively small segment of the global automotive marketplace, but there’s genuine cachet to the Canadian brand and this cachet extends to the cars we choose to enhance or enrich our lives. As a nation, we love wagons. We love diesels. We love hatchbacks. We love all-wheel drive. We love trucks. We love compact cars. And we love value.

Therefore, all vehicles that are uniquely suited to the wants and needs of the Canadian driver should have their worldwide debuts at the Canadian International AutoShow. This year, the show is set to feature 30 Canadian debuts, but no global debuts. This doesn’t speak well for a car show with “international” in the title.

2. Change the date

In the past, it made sense to have Canadian auto shows in the winter because that was when the latest cars were newly released and when dealer showroom traffic was at its slowest. Nowadays, cars are introduced throughout the calendar year and individual dealers are not always heavily involved in helping out at the auto shows.

The majority of new cars are introduced in the fourth quarter of each year, so moving the CIAS to late October or early November allows the show to – possibly – secure more Canadian and global debuts. Not only that, look at the winter we’ve had so far in Toronto. One more snowstorm or cold snap has the potential to send show attendance plummeting.

In 2006, the Los Angeles Auto Show moved from its January slot on the show circuit to its current position (in late November or early December) so that it would be further removed from the North American International Auto Show. The change worked: With every successive year, pundits keep questioning whether Los Angeles or Detroit is the most important show in America.

3. pen a mission statement

This suggestion may be cornier than the average biofuel, but it’s important to establish why the majority of people go to the show and how their experience could be improved. Take the Geneva Motor Show, for example. Switzerland has a population of eight million people, so the show isn’t aimed at Swiss people looking to kick some tires.

Instead, it’s an event located centrally in Europe (remember, Toronto is the centre of the whole universe, which includes Switzerland) that is known for being where deals happen. People travel to Geneva from all over the world, gander at the latest objects of automotive affection, corral the closest manufacturer representative and lay their money down. Simple.

I don’t know how many people attend the CIAS for the same reasons, but it’s important that organizers gain a keener, broader, bordering-on-creepy understanding of their audience. If the vast majority of people attend the show to find their next car, it’s time to incorporate elements that will push that transaction closer to completion.

4. go Interactive

Here’s an idea: Establish different pay levels for the show, just like tickets to a Toronto Maple Leafs game. A bronze ticket gives you entrance to the show. A silver ticket gives you that, plus appointments with technical experts and/or sales associates for three different cars. A gold ticket gives you all that, plus the chance to test-drive the cars on a closed course in and around the Rogers Centre.

One of the keys here is to transform the CIAS from a series of static displays to a fully interactive and immersive experience.

At the Tokyo Motor Show last year, there was an area where people could try all manner of personal mobility devices, including electric scooters, bicycles and micro-cars. For years now, the Los Angeles Auto Show has focused on allowing visitors to sample all sorts of alternative-fuel vehicles; last year, the all-electric BMW i3 was one of the main draws.

So, how about this: Transform the entire area around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Rogers Centre into one big automotive experience playground. If the CIAS keeps its winter date (boo!), turn one of the surface parking lots into a winter driver training centre. In another parking lot, let people learn all about autonomous vehicles – from the passenger seat, naturally.

For visitors who would normally use those parking lots for parking, set up parking/meeting points further away and shuttle everyone to the car show in brand new vehicles, ones that they’ve booked in advance through the CIAS website. Finally, here’s the capper – enlist a collection of famous Canadians to be the shuttle drivers, including IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, pop star Justin Bieber, rapper Drake and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

You can’t tell me that wouldn’t drive increased attendance and international media attention.

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