By Marc Lachapelle
It was a regular Friday morning in Montreal, yet people of all ages were already lined up for the opening of the 42nd major auto exhibition to be held in this city. The country’s first auto show of the year runs for ten days, this time around from January 15 to 24.
At 10 am sharp, the first wave was off, hoisted by escalators towards its first stop on the tour. Level 7 is better known as ‘7th Heaven. There they would find a collection of high-ticket sports and luxury cars but this year also the BlueCar, a sleek city compact conceived and built by the famed Italian design house Pininfarina. Its electric power comes from lithium-metal-polymer batteries developed by Batscap, part of the French group Bolloré, the second player in this joint venture. In October 2009, Bolloré had announced its $120 million investment in a battery production facility in nearby Boucherville, Québec.
The BlueCar was the single North-American premiere during the media day in this year’s Montreal International Auto Show, on Thursday. The 7th Heaven section was the MIAS visitors’ favourite, according to a survey conducted during last year’s show, which had a total attendance of 186,320, down from the heights of more than 200,000 of previous years (the record is 271,000 for the 1992 edition).
On Level 7, visitors saw cars from Aston Martin, Bentley, Cadillac, Ferrari, Maserati, Maybach and Porsche. The 621-hp 2010 Bentley Continental Supersports and 500-hp 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo were only two of the 23 models getting their first Canadian showing in Montreal. The Scion brand as a whole, new to the Canadian market and launching next September with 45 dealers, was counted as a 24th Canuck premiere. Toyota’s youth-focused brand had three cars there, all duly customized.
A good auto show needs more than production cars, however good. This year’s show in Montreal has its concept cars; the slick Ford Reflex, rakish Honda P-NUT, gorgeous Infiniti Essence, fun Kia Soul’ster and chic Lincoln Concept C.
It also has its special attractions and they’re good. A collection of grand cars from the 30s – Packards, Duesebergs and a Cadillac Lasalle – another one of microcars, some about the size of a kid’s pedal car, and a third exhibition of cars built in Québec, including Henry Seth Taylor steam-powered buggy, the first car ever built in Canada, back in 1867.
Environmental concerns and issues have their own space again this year in a section featured for the 6th year, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada. Noticed among the vehicles and technologies shown; the TE Option 1, a fully-electric coupe with nice bodywork by Montreal designer Paul Deutschman and the all-electric Zero motorcycle.
At its stand, Mitsubishi also announced a partnership with the state-owned Hydro-Québec. Through a pilot project, it will provide 50 of its all-electric iMiev minicars, to be used in the city of Boucherville, on Montreal’s South Shore.
Contrary to the upcoming CIAS in Toronto that jettisons the Rogers Center as its third facility this year, the MIAS occupies the same space as last year. If anything, it is more complete with a fully-featured exhibit from Chrysler where there was only bare carpet the last time. No model premieres this year, but plenty of eager hosts around.
General Motors has ample space at the 2010 MIAS, and a single car in its Canadian premiere: the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. A multiple-facility GM dealer met at the show confided: “we thought people might have brushed us aside with all that happened, but it’s anything but.” Models such as the new Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Cadillac SRX and Buick LaCrosse attracted great interest.
In a different hall, Ford is simply on a roll, surfing on sales that were up by 6.8 percent in a Canadian that receded by 10.7 percent for the past year. Nestled under a giant stylized car were several copies of the 2011 Fiesta, previewed in Montreal last year.
Attendance was up by a few hundred visitors after the first public day at the 2010 Montreal International Auto Show. The mood was rather upbeat. News reports spoke of ‘prudent optimism’. Have a good one.