CIAS 2014: Big auto show means big business

Consumer shows are, to state the obvious, big business, and few are bigger than the ones used to showcase the automotive industry.

The Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS), which is held annually in the North and South buildings of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto, is the largest in Canada. It is also the most challenging in terms of the logistics that go into providing a seamless show experience for the 300,000 patrons that will visit over the 10-day run. The 41st edition runs from Feb. 14 to 23 and showcases 40 Canadian vehicle premieres.

The show is also as big as it is popular. With more than 60,000 square metres of floor space, 125 exhibitors and more than 1,000 vehicles on display, it is the place for consumers to cross-shop potential purchases, kick some tires, admire the one-offs or racecars and lust after the classics. It is an all-encompassing experience for anyone with more than a passing interest in anything automotive.

The Canadian unveiling of the 2015 Ford Mustang at the Montreal Internatinal Auto Show at Palais de Congrées in Montreal, Thursday January 16, 2014.

The Canadian unveiling of the 2015 Ford Mustang at the Montreal Internatinal Auto Show at Palais de Congrées in Montreal, Thursday January 16, 2014.
Phil Carpenter, Montreal Gazette

For the manufacturers, the planning started in September 2013, when the show’s organizers release the floor plans. From here on the process builds to an incredibly well organized ballet known as the move-in. Developing a coordinated plan that takes into account all of the needs of the manufacturers, sponsored features and retailers is one of the greatest challenges. It’s a matter of planning, planning and, then, yet more planning. Every eventuality has to be explored and a plan put in place. It also involves flexibility — even when everything has been planned meticulously, last-minute issues always crop up, and without warning. The smallest change in one particular plan forces a change in another and so the ripple effect goes. As the old adage says, prior preparation prevents poor performance.

This year’s move-in started on Feb. 3, when the ceilings and lights were moved in and installed. Then the crates and pallets containing the flooring, turntables and every other item needed were moved in, unpacked and the empty packaging returned to storage so it could be readied for the move out. Only now can the display be erected and, finally, the cars moved into position. It is a monumental exercise in precision.

For Kathleen Smith, Mazda Canada’s shows and corporate events manager, there is tremendous value in the CIAS. First, it allows Mazda to showcase the brand in the best possible light. Smith is candid in saying it’s all about getting Mazda’s product portfolio in front of the greatest number of potential buyers, as this leverages the cost of participation.

It is also challenging for someone in Smith’s position, regardless of manufacturer, as the CIAS is the one show where an increased number of head office executives visit the displays. “We are all aware of the extra scrutiny this creates,” she says laughing.

Mazda Skyactiv Diesel Prototype racecar at the Canadian International Auto Show.

Mazda Skyactiv Diesel Prototype racecar at the Canadian International Auto Show.
Graeme Fletcher, Driving

Designing the display floor is a tactical maneuver that places the vehicles and the most effective graphic elements in the best places. Everything from the location of the banners to the manner in which the cars are lit is an integral part of the plan. Think of it as picking the perfect shoes to go with a tailor-made suit — the right elements add panache and, more importantly, impact to the display. Heck, every manufacturer is trying to outdo every other in this regard.

It also involves keeping up with the latest technologies and having the right people on hand to answer consumer questions. In Mazda’s case, as is the case with many other manufacturers, the booth is staffed by customer service representatives who field the questions and direct a potential customer to the right person — that could be a sales representative from a dealership or a technical expert from head office. This strategy not only opens the door to new customers, it helps to solidify the relationship the manufacturer has with its current customers.

In the end, Smith says the goal is to create buzz around the display and maximize the marketing opportunities before, during, and after the show. Attracting more traffic is always good for business. To that end, when a consumer enters their personal data at the Mazda booth and completes a survey they are entered for a chance to win a 2014 Mazda3. There are also instant, on-the-spot prizes.

At the end of every show an exit interview is conducted. This allows the organizers and manufacturers alike to determine what worked and what needs improving. Interestingly, the biggest attractions are the conceptual and/or prototype cars and technologies that point to the future of the industry.

The CIAS is not only big business for the manufacturers; it is big business for the area. As David McClean, Director of Marketing Services for the Canadian International Auto Show, points out, the show has a tremendous impact on the economy.

“Taking into consideration the cost to produce the Show, the gate revenues and expenditures within the event, the show generates approximately $22.5 million over its 10-day run. If you then include the 80,000+ cars, SUVs and light trucks typically sold in 60 to 90 days after the Show, the economic impact is significant and far reaching.”

Big business indeed.

Auto Show Fast Facts

Metro Toronto Convention Centre
North Building — 255 Front Street West
South Building — 222 Bremner Blvd.

February 14 to 23

Show Times
12:00 pm – 10:00 pm (Feb. 14)
10:30 am – 10:00 pm (Feb. 15 to 22)
10:30 am – 6:00 pm (Feb. 23)

Adult Tickets: $23
Children Tickets (ages 7 to 12): $7
Two-Day Pass: $34
Family Pass (includes 2 adults and 2 children ages 7 to 12): $45
Senior Rate: $11 for 60-plus Fridays (Feb. 14 and 21)

There is a 10% discount for ordering tickets online at
From Feb. 18 to 21 entry is $18 with the $5 coupon found in the National Post (in papers on Feb. 18 to 21).

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