When I was a kid, new car auto shows were a special treat that I would get to experience once every few years or so. I grew up about an hour and a half away from Montreal, which has hosted the Montreal International Auto Show since 1969. I can remember how long the road trips from my hometown into the big city seemed at the time, and how amazing it was to see all of these gleaming new cars and trucks arranged in the displays that littered the main exhibition floor of the Olympic Stadium. The most exciting part for me was being allowed to sit in each of these amazing machines, flipping switches, reaching up to put my hands on the wheel and straining to be able to see over the dashboard.
As a teenager, I would caravan into Montreal with a group of friends to check out the Montreal show on a more regular basis. I can clearly remember the year that the ceiling of the Olympic Stadium (or Big O) rained down huge chunks of concrete, crushing most of the Subaru exhibit days before it was scheduled to open. The ensuing cancellation of the festivities completely ruined our group’s plan to show up on opening day wearing Subaru hard hats.
The show is still going strong, having moved to the undoubtedly safer grounds of the Palais des Congres, and I have been able to visit almost every year since moving to Montreal in the early 2000’s. However, despite the enjoyment I got out of the exhibition, I had always harbored a dream to take in the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which to me represented one of the ultimate gearhead experiences. In 2008, a close friend and I made the 10 hour drive west and spent a day taking in all of the sights and sounds of what was most likely the last major edition of the vaunted NAIAS before the global recession took the winds out of the sails of the entire automotive industry.
2009 saw manufacturer participation in auto shows worldwide turn spotty at best. Of the heavy hitters on the old circuit, only Frankfurt appeared to emerge unscathed, with Tokyo, Chicago and L.A. each seeing a drop in attendance from car companies unable to justify the cost of carting their new vehicles across an ocean or two to be gawked at by the public. Smaller shows such as the one in Montreal were largely unaffected, as their exhibitions were not on the same grand scale and were therefore more easily sustainable through local efforts. Unfortunately, the Detroit 2010 show looks to be following in the same downsized footsteps as the 2009 edition.
Despite having my own local show to turn to, it pains me that Detroit’s previous gleaming jewel in the automotive show pantheon may now have fallen by the wayside, like so many other aspects of the city’s infrastructure and economy. How much longer can the Los Angeles show – the heir apparent to Detroit’s original glory – continue to pick up the slack before that spectacle too is scaled back and car companies restrict themselves to one or two events a year in order to show off new models in the most efficient and inexpensive way possible?
Will I eventually have to buy a plane ticket to Frankfurt in order to stay current with the cream of the automotive crop? As much as I have enjoyed visiting Germany in the past, regular trans-Atlantic flights for the sake of ogling the latest and greatest sheet metal seems like a bit much. It’s possible that I will one day be telling my grandchildren about the fabled industry expositions of the past in the same reverent tones that old timers currently use to describe the GM Motorama traveling exhibitions of the 50’ and 60’s.
Do any of you have any memories of automotive spectacles that you would like to share?