Dealers and automakers will have to find other ways of generating buzz for new models in the wake of auto show cancellations across Canada, both in-person and digital.
“I don’t know what the effect will be for retailers ... but it’s definitely not going to be a positive one,” said John Hairabedian, CEO of the Quebec-based HGregoire auto group.
“There has to be format [and] distribution innovation from the auto shows in collaboration with the [automakers], and we haven’t really seen that.”
After the pandemic forced the cancellation of live auto shows across Canada in September, organizers in markets collaborated on a shared online platform. In mid-November, those digital plans were scrapped due to a lack of automaker participation.
Both the Toronto and Montreal auto shows are exploring alternatives under their respective banners.
Luis Pereira, executive director of the Montreal International Auto Show, said that a one-hour broadcast TV show titled Zone Auto is scheduled to be shown on Quebec-based network TVA on Feb. 20. The show will be followed by seven web broadcasts to be released from Feb. 20 to 26. The TVA show will feature “discussions on the latest innovations, AJAC [Canadian Car of the Year category winners], concepts and prototypes, electric vehicles, road tests, quizzes, and more to discover,” said Pereira.
Details of the Toronto auto show’s plans were unavailable as of press time.
Last year, 30 mainstream brands exhibited at the Canadian International AutoShow, which drew 334,000 people, while the Montreal event attracted 183,149 and 31 mainstream brands.
Dealers outside Canada’s largest markets will be less affected by digital cancellations than they are by losing in-person shows, said Steve Chipman, CEO of Birchwood Automotive Group, which operates 21 dealerships in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“We’re more disappointed that the physical auto show [will not] take place in Toronto,” said Chipman. “We use it as an opportunity to meet with manufacturers and make connections from across the country. ... Everything we’re doing is about online digital presence as manufacturers and as dealers now, so we're there. I don't know why a special event like [a digital show] was necessary.”
Automakers, including BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, have abandoned the auto show circuit and have staged digital events to launch new vehicles. Meanwhile, CIAS organizers said they are working with auto companies and other partners still interested “in providing a dynamic online experience” to reveal their products.
PANDEMIC’S CANCEL CULTURE
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with auto shows across the globe. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit, for example, has been postponed twice, and the 2021 show is being replaced with an outdoor event for car enthusiasts Sept. 21-26.
In some cases, automakers waited until the eleventh hour to decide whether to join CIAS’s online platform.
Subaru Canada decided against it because the company could not meet the tight time frames and new technology requirements, said spokeswoman Julie Lychak.
“Cancelling digital auto shows for 2021 will give many brands, including Subaru Canada, additional time to prepare and adapt for a more robust digital vehicle experience that customers are looking for.”
Similarly, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada is exploring options “to engage digitally with auto enthusiasts in an immersive, interactive, entertaining and safe way” in the wake of cancellations, said spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin. The automaker has not finalized its plans.
Adam Paterson, marketing director for Nissan Canada, called the decision to cancel CIAS’s virtual auto show “unfortunate.”
“Nissan Canada was at the table for the discussions with ... organizers, [and] we were open to a virtual auto show if an option that presented itself was able to deliver the best experience possible for Canadians to interact with our brand,” Paterson said.
In December, the automaker launched Nissan Studio, a digital platform that allows consumers to interact live with sales associates to learn more about its vehicles. The platform will be used to showcase new products, beginning with the 2021 Nissan Rogue crossover and Sentra sedan.
The southern Ontariobased dealer group Pfaff Automotive Partners, which operates 24 stores, said CIAS has been a successful marketing platform, particularly for its ultraluxury brands, spokesman Laurence Yap said. The group has not determined how it will alter its communication strategy in the show’s absence, Yap said.
“For Pfaff, and the McLaren brand in particular, [CIAS] has been a cornerstone in building the brand and introducing it to a broad base of automotive enthusiasts,” he said.
‘MINI AUTO SHOW’
Shahin Alizadeh, CEO of Downtown Auto Group in Toronto, said his 10 dealerships typically benefit significantly from CIAS, in part because the stores are near the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which hosts the annual event.
But he is now turning his attention to completing the group’s Autoplex urban multidealership development.
“What we’re hoping is that with the rest [of] our stores at the Autoplex being completed by late winter, we can create our own mini auto show downtown,” Alizadeh said.
Hopes remain high that automakers will be eager to return to live events in 2022 once pandemic restrictions ease, said CIAS General Manager Jason Campbell.
“The enthusiasm to return to live events is one that bodes well for us,” Campbell said. “For years, we’ve been told by manufacturers [to] get much more into the virtual space. What this is showing us clearly is the hunger to get people to sit in the vehicle, touch, feel and experience that.”
HGregoire’s Hairabedian agreed. “The auto shows did a great job at creating excitement every year for the new models.”