Hindsight is 20/20 vision, but the odds were stacked against organizers as they attempted to stage the first-ever digital-only Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS).
The bold undertaking was conceived in response to pandemic-induced health and safety rules that upended the auto show circuit across the globe. It was sold as a way for automakers to reach an even bigger audience at a much lower cost than the in-person event held annually in February at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
David McClean, CIAS marketing director, estimated the 10-day online run would draw 500,000 to one million unique visitors, compared with 334,000 people who attended last year’s show.
Automakers, he added, would save millions by not having to design, build, transport, set up and staff physical booths.
Potential sales could flow almost immediately from online visitors to dealerships, he said.
“When you get somebody excited with your brand experience [at a traditional show], there might be a lag timeof10daysora few weeks before people decide they want to go see this car,” McClean said. “From a virtual platform, someone can leave from the comfort of their living room or home office and go out and look at that vehicle.”
But too few automakers were buying into the hype. Indeed, industry skepticism was evident as far back as early fall when Automotive News Canada reporter John Irwin interviewed Hyundai Canada CEO Don Romano for his take on the virtual show.
Romano’s response: It will be impossible to re-create the emotional experience of walking through the show floor with family or the ability to compare vehicles in person.
“It’s not an art exhibit where you can go and it’s very much a visual experience,” he said. “With cars, it’s a physical experience.” In mid-November, tepid exhibitor interest forced CIAS organizers to scrap the online effort — a move greeted with disappointment by some car companies and dealers, who now face a year without the razzle-dazzle of Canada’s biggest consumer trade show.
And it prompted some industry observers to wonder whether the cancellation is yet another harbinger of the inevitable end of car shows.
CIAS General Manager Jason Campbell offered a positive outlook: “The enthusiasm to return to live events is one that bodes well for us.”
Perhaps. But a year without CIAS as well as its regional counterparts means more automakers could learn to live without the traditional auto show.