Now that the Canadian International Auto Show has folded its tent for another year, I'd like to offer some suggestions as one who engaged the shiny festival of metal from both sides: as a coddled member of the media, and as a member of the paying public. Two important issues emerged.
First, CIAS, you need a better venue. No two ways about it. There is more sprawl in this show than there is in any suburb. The North building and the South building are connected by tunnels and funnels that bring to mind those complicated hamster cages my kids always wanted. Exhibits on multiple levels mean many get overlooked.
Traipsing between buildings on media day can be an isolating feeling. It's exhausting, but that's what work is. When the public fills the halls, it brings to mind only a cattle auction. People aren't paying to work. Crowds pushing down a chute to get on an escalator, then another escalator, then through some switchbacks that bring to mind a Land Rover ad, and on to yet more escalators.
Joel Cohen, last year's president of the CIAS, admits that the event, the largest consumer show in Canada, is a victim of its own success.
"The popularity of the show is disproportional to the facility we're using," he said. The event is facing problems that mirror those Toronto as a city itself is facing: infrastructure unable to keep pace with growth.
The CIAS isn't just 10 days of exhibits. The event is a nucleus for trade events and meetings that require the hotels, restaurants and transit this site provides. There are other venues; the show used to be held at Exhibition Place, and Cohen notes that site, and the defunct Ontario Place, both could show promise depending on decisions that will be made about their future uses.
With the show continuing to grow, organizers are now seeking effective ways to manage traffic. This includes encouraging attendees to come during non-peak hours and to make use of the quieter South entrance. Cohen points out there is a shuttle service, but admits the connection between the two buildings is tough during busy times, especially for anyone with mobility issues or hauling strollers or small children.
Cohen puts a number on the importance of the auto show to the area industry: "Eighty-thousand new-car sales in the following 12 months are influenced by what people see at the show.
"Most people who attend are interested in buying," he says. Which means manufacturers are elbowing for the best space, and brings us to the second issue.
Media Day at an auto show should be a preview. It's a chance for the media to give the public advance notification of interesting technologies, what to look for, and the best way to take in the show. It's not about the media, or at least it shouldn't be. It's nice to have a free cappuccino, but it can be a long day and coffee is more fuel than palm fronds.
We're drawn to a lot of the same things you are: the high-tech concept cars, marvels of engineering and stunning peeks into what the future holds for the brands that spend millions producing a single car. Without these concepts and the halo cars – think Viper or Stingray – much of the show would resemble automotive showrooms you could visit for free. For $22, you should be able to see whatever we coffee-swilling journos have been raving about.
However, an odd thing happened between Media Day and the public days of this year's show. A couple of those concept cars disappeared into the ether. How do I know? I was back there the following Monday, and couldn't find them anywhere.
Car season is hectic, and it is the one-of-a-kindness of these vehicles that puts them in heavy demand around the world. I get it. But if we tell you they're going to be there, they should be there. If they are merely being displayed for media, that should be clear. Frankly, most of the media have been on the car circuit since early January and has already seen them. This isn't about us. This is about you.
If this show is for the public, the public deserve more consideration. If this show is for the public, then concept cars shouldn't be spirited away to the next global car show before the doors are flung wide on opening day. The Nissan Resonance was gone after the first weekend, and the Cadillac ELR coupe was gone before media day was even over.
There's a little bait and switch going on, and that's not cool.