It’s been quite a career for Michael Eatson is the automotive world.

Four years ago he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the dealership, Peterborough Volkswagen, his father Peter founded and which he joined full-time in 1987 and subsequently became Dealer Principal.

And it’s been quite a whirlwind for him as the President of the 2023 Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS), which had quite a run this year in its 50th anniversary.

It’s been a show to remember and something to savour for Eatson, in particular all the years he’s spent on the current board of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, which sponsors the show. After serving on the executive board and moving his way up to become President last year, he subsequently became Past-President and then President of the AutoShow for one year.

“It’s the cherry on top,” he said. “You get to enjoy everything through the car show and the team to sort of sign off, I guess. This has been absolutely awesome. What a great team. It’s a great experience meeting so many interesting people. It’s created a lot of new friendships. It’s a ton of fun. You still sit on the TADA board as the Past-President of the AutoShow and as an advisor you’re there to provide some consistency and continuity with things going forward so the next guys coming in they have someone to resource if there are any concerns or questions. I’m still involved. I’m not going anywhere yet.

“I think just being involved for the dealers, you’re giving back to an industry that’s been very good in our case. It’s well worth the exercise, at least it has been for me. We’ve been involved as a family in the business for 53 years and it’s an industry that has treated our family very well. I employ many people and it’s all part and parcel of giving back.

“We do great consumer things. We do great business things. It’s all part of the big picture. Probably the most important thing is the people I’ve met along the way that I would never have the opportunity to probably meet in the industry.”

His sons, Eric and Graeme, have followed him into the family business.

After COVID shut down the AutoShow in 2021 and 2022, it has spectacularly returned. A combination of some new interactive features have resulted in massive crowds flocking to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to see the return of Canada’s largest consumer show. There have been long lineups to experience the Camp Jeep, in which consumers have had a chance to sit in the legendary all-terrain vehicle while a driver takes them through an undulating 1,900-square-metre course, and the 6,500-square-meter electric vehicle test track.

“That’s where the uptake is for sure,” Eatson said.

LEGO returned to the show for the second time – and the first since 2019 – and presented Eatson with a 50thanniversary plaque. It was fashioned out of the pieces that have made LEGO such an iconic product and shaped like a steering wheel.

“It was a nice touch as a well-respected partner with us,” Eatson said.

He took the plaque and put in the room where the AutoShow staff work, knowing it was a total team effort and experience.

To see the show come together as it did versus conceptualizing it left Eatson with an amazing feeling. He credited TADA Executive Director Todd Bourgon, AutoShow General Manager Jason Campbell and AutoShow Director of Marketing Dave McClean and their respective teams for all they did to make this year’s show a success.

“They really brought it together how we could stay a viable entity,” he said. “We sat there (since the last show in 2020) thinking, ‘Can we do it, can we do it?’ We were waiting for updates (from the Province). COVID was dictating what we could or couldn’t do and whether we could put a show on. That was challenging over the last couple years. We had no idea what to expect coming after COVID. We finally said we’re going to do a show. We were all in. We just said, ‘Let’s do it.’

“These guys run it and they do a great job. It’s phenomenal how it all came together. It’s interesting to be behind the scenes to really get a sense of what it takes to put a show together. Our experiential stuff has been great. I think it’s just blown everyone away on our team. We’re 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. That was a task. 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, but actually being in it, particularly because it was an anniversary year and came together among many challenges, made it so much different from what he imagined back then.

“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.”

Eatson first attended the show with his father, Peter, so many years ago he couldn’t even remember the exact year. He speculated it may have been in the 70s or 80s. Seeing what the show has evolved to gives him gratitude both as AutoShow President and as one of the 1,100-plus TADA dealer members.

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

And it has been!

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