Why the CIAS was cancelled and what comes next

The 2022 Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS) was cancelled for the second consecutive year due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, along with new Ontario provincial rules limiting capacity for large indoor gatherings.

The upcoming event was scheduled for February 18-27, 2022 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Ontario, and typically attracts more than 330,000 attendees each year. CIAS General Manager Jason Campbell told Canadian auto dealer that, independent of the provincial plans, there had already been internal discussion to cancel the show because it was simply too risky.

He said the provincial government announcement on December 15 that the capacity limit for indoor events that could hold more than 1,000 people was being reduced to 50 per cent—a decision that emphasized the CIAS’s decision to put the show on hold. The government had not set a timetable for when the capacity limits would be expanded.

“With so many possibilities it was just too many to contemplate and too risky to think about going forward under the current circumstances,” said Campbell.

He added that the CIAS was looking to send out an announcement on December 17 pertaining to the launch of ticket prices and the manufacturers that had committed to the show. But as of December 14, it was becoming apparent that the pace and scale of how things were developing meant that the contemplation of doing the event was not possible.

“We had decided as a board we were not going to go ahead with the show,” said Campbell. “The 50 per cent capacity limit just reinforces the correctness of our decision. The scale of our event was (that) it just wouldn’t be right to bring together this many people in one place given all of the efforts going on, not just now, but over the last year and a half to try and bring an end to the situation and get back to normalcy.”

He adds that “It didn’t sit right with any of our board members and it didn’t sit well with any of our manufacturers. There was unanimous agreement that the right thing to do was to put a pause on this year and look forward.”

The cancellation of the show, annually run by the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA), was announced on December 16not long after the Montreal International Auto Show (MIAS) announced the cancellation of its show due to Omicron.

“We were going into this show on a very short planning window,” said Campbell. “Effectively we weren’t even able to imagine a show until mid-September of this year, because there were still 1,000 capacity limits in place in the convention centre. We had a very compressed window as it was. With the health considerations that everyone has to be mindful of, we had no choice but to step back and take a look at 2023.”

The CIAS is the largest consumer show in Canada, and annually the biggest of all the auto shows in the country. Last year’s cancelled event occurred during the initial stages of the COVID lockdown in Ontario.

The 2020 event took place just before the first lockdown and attracted 335,00 attendees. The previous year attracted 357,745 attendees, missing the all-time record by about 1,000. Prior to the COVID outbreak, the CIAS had been running regularly since 1974.

“The fact we aren’t able to do it this year because of this new wave, it’s not precluding us doing it in 2023,” said Campbell. “If anything it will just make 2023 even bigger and more successful than what it could have been. Next year will actually be our 50th year and it’s a reason to celebrate.”

Campbell said his team had done everything possible to ensure proper safety standards by limiting ticket sales for certain days, providing more space for people to walk around, and ensuring everyone in the building had been properly vaccinated and wore protective masks.

“But we’ve got thousands of people between the manufacturers, our security team, and the convention centre staff and our various different suppliers at any one time at the show, (and) if one or a couple of them come down with the virus, we need to not only isolate them, but all of their colleagues,” he said.

Campbell said the manufacturers that had committed to the show were told of the decision ahead of the media release. The CIAS had lost about one-third of its roster from the 2020 event prior to the announcement. Some decided to take a pass because of the cost and the uncertainty of the crowd size, but planned to return in 2023 in hopes the pandemic had ended or made it safe for people to attend without restrictions for safety.

Don Romano, President & CEO Hyundai Canada

Hyundai Canada President Don Romano said the cancellation of the Montreal and Toronto shows is significant. The Montreal show in January is a lead-in to the Toronto show. Many of the same manufacturers attend both.

“The challenge is as a company we’ve launched so many cars over the last 24 months and we haven’t had the forums to promote the new vehicles to the press,” said Romano. “The press events are extremely important for all manufacturers.”

He said the second part of this is for customers to be able to come into a “cool” environment and interact with the cars.

“We’re missing out on those two things, but I think it’s the right decision, because when you look at the numbers now and what’s going on, the (auto shows) are making smart decisions and relatively fast because this thing just started escalating in the last couple of weeks,” said Romano.

“I’m pretty proud of the coordinators of the auto shows—that they didn’t wait. They didn’t hesitate. That was pretty good of them. It allows us to plan properly,” he adds. “We’ll have to figure out other ways to engage with customers as we’ve done in the last 24 months.”

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