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CNE to CIAS, car shows spark a lifetime love

Concept cars, show cars, glitz and glamour make for fine family entertainment.

Published November 12, 2012

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Canadian International AutoShow.

But car shows have been going on in Toronto for a lot longer than 40 years — the first recorded event was held in 1897.

No, I was not at that one.

But I do remember as a kid going to the Automotive Building at the CNE — or “Avtomotive” building as it was labelled in the “U-disadvantaged” Latin fashion of the time — and being entranced by all the shiny sheet metal.

No question: if my lifelong fascination with the automobile didn’t start at an auto show, it certainly fed the habit.

And that is still among the main rationales for an auto show — to light that spark, fan that flame.

For the automobile is among the most emotional objects we purchase, one that we buy as much with our hearts as with our heads.

Which is where the “show” part of it comes in: concept cars, show cars, glitz and glamour, all of which helps make an auto show fine family entertainment.

Sophisticated auto shows like the CIAS broaden this appeal, introducing special attractions featuring vintage vehicles, customs, hot rods and motorsport displays.

Do auto shows have the same impact they once had?

Even at major international shows like those held in Frankfurt, Tokyo or Detroit, where car companies often debut their new models, much of the information is already out in the public domain before the reveals, thanks to the Internet.

That doesn’t stop the press (that’d be me) and millions of visitors from attending, just to see for ourselves.

Some critics feel that young people today aren’t as interested in cars as they once were. Those critics presumably haven’t been to the CIAS recently — the light still shines in younger eyes.

If a kid can get up close to — maybe even sit in — a Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar or Bentley — they will very likely be hooked for life.

True, young people aren’t buying many cars these days.

That’s not because they don’t care; it’s that the current economic situation conspires against them.

But if they are buying — or if Mom or Dad are buying — the car show still represents the best way to begin the purchase process. Where else can a prospective customer at least test-sit, if not test-drive, all of the automotive candidates that might be of interest, in one warm, dry location?

You can’t — well, aren’t supposed to — actually buy a car at the auto show. But you can do a lot of the legwork.

Find out if you, your family or maybe your dog, fit in the vehicle. Check the style, inside and out: the fit and finish, the features, the fuel consumption, the price.

Determine if it belongs on your short list, whether it is worth a test drive.

And this is where auto shows are most important to the car manufacturers. They spend millions on advertising of all sorts, all to one purpose — get feet into showrooms.

And that’s a big part of why they also spend millions on auto shows.

Despite the influence of the Internet and the advantages it provides in researching a vehicle purchase, most prospective buyers still want to try it out for themselves, in person.

The auto show truly offers something for anyone with even a passing interest in vehicular transportation.

And this really should be everyone.

Even if you hate cars, if you don’t own a car, if you never ride in one (it’s possible, if unlikely), you cannot deny that the automobile is also the most significant product in our society.

There’s an old saying that one job in six is somehow related to the automobile. Not sure how they measure something like that, but think way beyond the people who design, engineer, assemble and sell them, or the components of which they are comprised.

There are the construction workers who build the infrastructure upon which our vehicles operate, technicians who service them, insurance companies and licensing officials.

And what percentage of our police departments, judicial system and medical system is devoted to the operation of vehicles?

Urban planning, public safety, the environment — I cannot deny that the impact of the automobile isn’t sometimes negative.

But no one can deny that it isn’t important.

Still, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re a fan.

And chances are I’ll see you at the Canadian International AutoShow.

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