Canadian International Auto Show sets attendance records

April 20, 2011

Pro-car mayor opens the show to the public

There is a new attitude toward the car in Toronto since the election of Rob Ford as mayor last November – at least in the political ranks. “The war on the car is over,” he declared upon his election. And he reiterated that statement when he officially opened the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) to the public on February 17.

Ford, who is the first Toronto mayor ever to open the show, told an audience of people lined up for tickets and waiting for the show to open, that he was personally mailing rebates that day to Toronto car owners who had paid a $60 surtax on their vehicle licence renewals, imposed by the previous regime. Then he shook hands with everyone in the line as they entered.

The mayor’s appreciation for cars and their importance seemed to be shared by the public who thronged to this year’s show in record numbers during its first weekend. By the time the show ended on February 27, total attendance topped 300,000 – up 17.4 percent over last year – making it the third-best year in the show’s history and the best-attended since 2008.

Attendance at the annual media preview, held the day before the public opening, set a new record, exceeding 1,000 for the first time ever – in spite of tightened qualification criteria. Local media coverage reflected that enthusiasm. And after the first weekend, public attendance was also running at a record level – up almost 40 percent over last year.

There are several reasons for that success, says CIAS general manager, Tom Tonks. Some favourable weather, a provincial holiday on the first Monday, and plenty of promotion certainly played a part. But just as important is the public mood. There seems to be an acceptance that the recession is over and people are now ready to start at least thinking about buying vehicles again.

That point was reinforced by Ron Loveys, past-president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) and president of the 2011 CIAS, in his opening remarks. “The past 24 months have been perhaps the most turbulent we’ve ever encountered,” he said. “We have been buffeted by economic forces, unmatched since the 1930s. As individuals and families, and as companies, we have watched nervously as stock markets plunged and then, gradually, appeared to recover. But our
business is firmly on the path to recovery,”
he declared.

Ford of Canada president and CEO, David Mondragon, who officially opened the show to the media, agreed. Manufacturing and sales are on an upward trend, he said, but there remain many challenges.

“Just when you thought you had seen it all, our industry is forced to rethink everything it knew,” he said. “If you thought we had gone as far as we could in fuel economy, tear up that thought and start again. If you thought we had gone as far as we could in innovative design, get ready to push the boundaries even further. If you thought on-board technology had reached its limits, think again. We are about to enter a new age of discovery.”

“Discover, Connect and Experience” was the tag-line for the show and it delivered to show-goers on all counts. More than just a display of concept vehicles and new cars and trucks, of which there were many, it featured something for everyone – beginning at the show’s entry level with two displays that set enthusiasts’ hearts racing.

First was ‘Concorso Exotica’ – a display of noteworthy exotic cars that ranged from 60s Ferraris to the latest Porsches and Lamborghinis. Then came the ‘Cruise Nationals’ display of the best examples from Ontario’s many summertime ‘cruise’ events, including an immaculate 1930 Cadillac V-12 roadster. There was also a huge exhibit of iconic Camaros and Firebirds – all as prelude to the main event, the manufacturers’ displays of shiny new vehicles, many of which were making their Canadian debuts.

It was hard not to be excited by the auto show, which is precisely the point. Excitement equals sales!

About Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips is the editorial director of Universus Media Group Inc. and the editor of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Todd can be reached at

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