For the first time in more than 30 years, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is moving from blustery January to sunny June. And that makes the Canadian International AutoShow, held this year from Feb. 14 to 23 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the first major traditional auto show of the year, worldwide.
Does this open the door to Toronto getting more major automaker debuts and becoming larger on the world stage? Maybe. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to. And that’s just fine with Jason Campbell, the chief executive officer of the Toronto show.
“Of course, we all want to get as many global reveals as possible – that’s a historical sign of prestige for a show,” he says. “And we have a couple of global debuts at this year’s show, and a couple of North American reveals [for which information has been embargoed until the show’s opening].
“But our show has always been a strong consumer show, a show for those who are in the market to buy a vehicle. It’s why we have over 40 different brands coming to the show to demonstrate what they’ve got in the marketplace.”
Dennis DesRosiers, president of Richmond Hill, Ont.-based DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, says that consumer-oriented events, such as the more regional Montreal International Auto Show, which ran from Jan. 17 to 26, and the coming Toronto show, cater more to the public. Their strength is in introducing people to the latest cars in the marketplace, rather than glitzy worldwide reveals, he says, and theyʼre finding a different kind of success in an era when automakers are exiting from larger and more expensive shows in Paris and Geneva.
“I don’t believe auto shows targeting consumers are declining at all,” DesRosiers says. “Indeed, most have record attendance, especially in Canada. What is declining is their focus on the auto journalist community.”
Yes, auto shows have historically been where automakers unveil their latest wares with considerable pomp and ceremony – not to mention secrecy in advance. But in the internet era, where news can be released worldwide with the push of a button, and with many automakers choosing private functions to introduce their wares, the major auto shows these days aren’t what they used to be. Manufacturer attendance at the big shows has dropped. Frankfurt, in fact, was forced out of the running for the big International Motor Show in 2021 after 70 years amid plummeting automaker co-operation. Berlin, Hamburg and Munich are in the running to hopefully revive this show, which rotates every second year with Paris.
“There was once a day when the first source of information for new offerings were the shows,” DesRosiers says. “With social media, their focus on AJAC [Automobile Journalists Association of Canada] members in Canada and auto journalists in other countries is now not as important. I’m not sure that I learned anything new the last half dozen years [at a show] that I didn’t already have info on over the internet.”
Jason Campbell agrees. “Take a look at a brand like Porsche,” he points out. “Their home auto show is Frankfurt, but they did their global reveal of the Taycan in Canada and China and Berlin, a week before the Frankfurt show, because they know they can own the media space in advance of the show, instead of sharing it with other brands that are launching there.”
On top of that, the CES, which happens in early January in Las Vegas, has been stealing automotive thunder in the past few years, with automakers bringing their tech-heavy cars and technologies to that venue more and more.
“With cars becoming more technologically advanced, it makes more sense to present to the media these advancements at CES, rather than Detroit,” Campbell says. “So that’s really lead to the exodus of so many manufacturers from Detroit, which forced them to change dates.
“We still see a bump in our ticket sales in mid-January with all the media talk about the technologies and new vehicle launches [from CES]. So from that side of things, Detroit’s move doesn’t really affect us.”
Could Detroit’s loss be Toronto’s gain at the turnstiles? Perhaps. Toronto has already grown considerably in the past decade: In 2010, it had 258,652 visitors, but that increased to 357,745 last year. And with no Detroit show in January, more car fans in the region could be left hungry for their fix – or simply interested in scouting out their next new car.
“It’s not a bad thing that Detroit is moving. It’s not a bonanza for us, but it doesn’t hurt us at all,” Campbell says. “We are now the first major publicly available show that people in this region can go to. Whereas some folks in Southern Ontario would have gone to Detroit, maybe they’ll now come to Toronto.
“[There are about] seven million people within a two-hour drive from the city. That’s a lot of consumers. So that’s what our show is focused on and why we still have a very strong presence from our manufacturer base.”
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