CIAS President “blown away” to see consumers flock back to revamped AutoShow

February 22, 2023

The 2023 Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS) is off to more than a solid start, by three days into the 10-day show, it set a record attendance for the 50-year-old event and that has made the experience special for President Michael Eatson.

With the 2021 and 2022 editions cancelled due to COVID-19, and many manufacturers pulling out of the 2023 show because they didn’t have any new products to showcase or opted to market themselves in different ways, there was no way of knowing how the factors would affect attendance.

Eatson said he leaned on TADA Executive Director Todd Bourgon, AutoShow General Manager Jason Campbell and AutoShow Director of Marketing David McClean and their respective teams to make the event something that would once again draw consumers. So far the Mobility Reimagined theme is working, with consumers drawn toward several new features, including a 70,000 square foot (6,500 square metres) indoor track to test drive electric cars.

“Todd and Jason and David really brought it together so we could stay a viable entity, making us still relevant,” said the 59-year-old Eatson, who is the Dealer Principal at Peterborough Volkswagen Ltd. “They have done an amazing job. I think (the attendance) has just blown everybody away. We’re very, very happy.

“Obviously my tenure with the TADA in the last three years has been pretty interesting (because of COVID). Not a lot was going on (with the AutoShow), but we re-invented ourselves. We had to revamp, like any business did. Those adjustments have worked really well.” 

He said he walked around the show in 2020, hoping to get a feel for it for when he would become President.

“You’re part of those decisions that are made, and when you get to this point you’re just part of a few more decisions,” said Eatson. “My mandate, whether or not I was dealing with the TADA or AutoShow, was ‘these guys know a lot more than I do’. They run it and do a great job. For the limited amount of people that we have doing these jobs, there was a commitment to put together a really great show.

“COVID was dictating what we could or couldn’t do and if we could put a show on. But you have to remember, you make commitments with the (Metro Toronto Convention Centre) long in advance. It’s not something you do two weeks in advance. That was challenging, but we finally said we’re doing it this year. Let’s do it and let’s do it right.”

He said it has been interesting being behind the scenes to see how the show has come together.

“We knew we had to have a show with experiential events for customers,” said Eatson. “The customers just don’t want to look at a car anymore. It’s got to be something unique. It has definitely evolved from a show when there was a lot more selling going on. The dealers were involved, there were salespeople on the floor, and it has grown into a massive brand presentation and this year we’ve seen the evolution to more experiences on the floor. That’s just been amazing.”

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