Key brands back out of some Canadian auto shows

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CALGARY — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Mini are withdrawing corporate support for at least four auto shows in Canada next year. 

The German brands will provide no factory backing at venues in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Quebec City, according to automakers and show representatives. 

The pullouts mean auto shows in some of Canada’s signature cities are now battling the same forces that have pinched shows from Tokyo to Detroit to Geneva. As automakers scrutinize spending amid cooling sales and demands for investment in future technologies, auto shows are losing out. 

Mercedes-Benz on a global basis has been “actively adjusting the numbers, scale and size of its auto show and trade-fair concepts in order to better align with other upcoming marketing priorities,” said JoAnne Caza, outgoing communications director for Mercedes-Benz Canada

Mercedes-Benz Canada has been mandated to undertake the same kind of review,” she added. And as a result, Mercedes won’t be part of the Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Quebec City events next year. 

The automaker will exhibit in Canada’s two biggest shows, Toronto and Montreal, where it operates corporate retail outlets. 

BMW did not respond to requests for comment, although Vancouver show spokesman Blair Qualey said the move was the result of an order from the automaker’s corporate headquarters in Munich. 

DEALERS WON’T GO SOLO 

Perry Itzcovitch, a Calgary Mercedes-Benz dealer and line group chairman of the Calgary International Auto and Truck Show, said Mercedes dealers there will not participate in the 2019 event. For years, dealers have provided vehicles for the show booth supplied by Mercedes-Benz Canada, Itzcovitch said. 

“Show elements like interactive display elements and the booth itself are difficult and very expensive to get,” he said. “To go into the show and not have a first-class display would be harmful to our image.” 

Just having the back wall of the Mercedes display would cost nearly $150,000 per show, “plus setup costs like power and labour,” Itzcovitch said. 

The corporate decision, he said, could cost the dealers a couple of hundred sales. 

“Loyal customers will always find you,” Itzcovitch said. “What we will lose is potential conquest sales.” 

Jim McManes, who owns Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Calgary and Edmonton, put it bluntly: “We’re out. We’re not interested in increasing our costs in any way.” 

Splitting the bill between the three Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Calgary would be “very expensive,” McManes said. “In Edmonton, there are only two stores.” 

He agreed with Itzcovitch that the corporate decision is one more way the company is trying to download costs onto dealers. 

Jim Gillespie, executive manager of the Calgary Motor Dealers Association and manager of the Calgary Auto Show, said he’s scrambling to fill 19,000 square feet (1,800 square metres) of suddenly empty space. The Calgary show, which runs April 17-21, is a month later than the 2018 show, giving him some breathing space. 

“It’s disappointing,” Gillespie said. “Even being on Easter, everything was looking good. Attendance has been trending upward over the past several years, but the people buying tickets won’t be happy to discover Mercedes and BMW are gone.” 

Porsche will have a presence in the 2019 show, but has told Gillespie it will not be in the 2020 show, “so I have a year to prepare,” he said. 

CHARITIES ALSO HURT 

“Ultimately, this trend to drop out of auto shows could affect the CMDA Charitable Foundation’s donations to charities,” Gillespie said. “People don’t generally realize the connection between car show success and charitable donations.” 

Qualey, CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia, said that “unfortunately, we are aware of BMW’s decision to withdraw from a number of auto shows around the globe, including the 2019 Vancouver International Auto Show. 

“Regarding Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, we are continuing to work with both brands’ dealer groups in B.C. to explore opportunities to involve them in the show. 

“We’ve seen attendance record after attendance record broken over the last several years.” 

Qualey pointed out that the Vancouver show is the best-attended trade and consumer show in western Canada and said show officials are still working on options with their dealer networks to have the three brands at the 100th anniversary show in 2020. 

Eleasha Naso, manager of the Edmonton Motor Show and executive director of the Edmonton Motor Dealer Association, said MercedesBenz is the only brand totally out of the picture for 2019. BMW and its Mini unit won’t have corporate support; dealers will foot the bill using corporate co-op advertising dollars

Edmonton attendance has been trending higher over the past several years, Naso said, with only a couple of hiccups. 

Naso and Gillespie said this isn’t the first time that automakers have dropped out of shows — in previous occasions, they returned a year or two later. This time, they said, it was hard to remain optimistic. 

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