Canada’s biggest consumer auto show is returning after a two-year absence, but many of the big carmakers are staying away as they shift marketing budgets in response to changing consumer behaviour and economic uncertainty.
Ford F-N, BMW BMWYY, Honda HNDAF and other manufacturers will not be displaying their vehicles at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto, the country’s largest showcase for new models, collector cars and racing machines.
The show, cancelled the past two years because of the pandemic, is scheduled to run Feb. 17-26 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Organizers of auto shows in Vancouver and Calgary cancelled the events this year, citing supply-chain problems and a lack of participation by manufacturers. Montreal’s auto show was held in late January but also had several carmakers absent.
Honda Canada spokesman John Bordignon said the automaker will skip all Canadian auto shows this year, a move he said is not related to the shortage of new cars and parts that all manufacturers faced when the pandemic severely disrupted supply chains. “We continue to develop convenient ways to reach consumers shopping for our vehicles that are best suited to them and make the most business sense from a marketing and financial standpoint. Honda has evolved our marketing approach, including an increased focus on digital-first campaigns and initiatives. Our priority must be to adapt to evolving customer expectations,” Mr. Bordignon said.
Other Toronto no-shows include Mercedes-Benz MBGYY, Volvo VLVCY and Volkswagen VWAGY.
Companies that will be displaying models include Toyota, General Motors, Nissan, Kia and Stellantis, the maker of Jeep, Ram and Chrysler brands.
Stellantis spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin said the show is Canada’s largest and best-attended. “It is one of many strategic avenues for Stellantis Canada to engage with consumers and for them to experience our latest products in person, which can be a step in the sales funnel,” she said.
An auto show representative was not available for an interview.
Alan Middleton, a marketing consultant and retired York University professor, said there are several reasons companies are retreating from consumer shows, including the fact that both shoppers and marketers are cutting back as inflation remains high. Consumers are also hanging on to cars longer amid a microchip shortage that began during the pandemic, Mr. Middleton said by phone. The average age of a car or pickup truck on U.S. roads rose to 12.2 years in 2022, an increase of two months over 2021, according to S&P Global Mobility. The age has risen for five straight years.
Also dampening consumers’ eagerness for new cars is the fear of jumping into the fast-changing electric and hybrid vehicle market too soon. Some of these concerns involve the availability of charging stations, battery life and the safety and regulation of autonomous-driving features. “There’s a lot of concern in people’s heads about, ‘Do I wait for the next iteration of the technology?’” Mr. Middleton said, adding that working from home is also reducing the need for mobility.
“The other issue is, having seen the slowdown and a number of tight budgets and pressure from shareholders, a lot of marketing departments are now being asked to demonstrate the return on these activities. And while you’ll probably be able to demonstrate return on some [big U.S.] shows … there are a lot of fringe ones,” he said.
VW Canada “will not be participating in any of the Canadian auto shows this year,” said Thomas Teztlaff, a company spokesman. “Instead, we are focusing our attention of direct-to-consumer initiatives and dedicated EV shows.”
Rosemarie Pao, a spokeswoman for Ford Canada, said the company is reaching customers in new ways as it joins the industry shift to electric and hybrid vehicles. “These challenges mean making some tough choices, and one of those decisions is to discontinue corporate support of auto shows in 2023 for both the Ford and Lincoln brands,” Ms. Pao said.
Canadian sales of new cars and light pickup trucks fell 9.1 per cent in 2022, driven largely by a shortage of models on dealer lots, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. Canadians bought 1.49 million new light vehicles last year, down from 1.64 million in 2021.
In a report, here’s how DesRosiers summed up the impact of pandemic and supply-chain problems: 2020 – not enough customers; 2021 – not enough vehicles; 2022 – even fewer vehicles; 2023 – more vehicles but a looming recession.