MIAS organizers, auto company executives, and guests gather at the last physical staging of the country’s largest auto show in 2019 before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees this year will probably notice not a few changes to the spectacle. — PHOTO BY KAP MACEDA AGUILA

THESE MAY BE called tentative first steps again — or, at the very least, proof of life — but the country’s largest, longest-running yearly motoring spectacle is ready to make a comeback in the metal.

Despite being waylaid last year because of the pandemic, the Manila International Auto Show (MIAS) did manage an online staging in 2020 (from Dec. 16 to 20), calling itself “MIAS Wired.” MIAS co-organizer Alvin Uy shared with “Velocity” that they tracked at least 100,000 page views, and described that effort as “a good initial attempt.”

He explained, “We did consider another virtual event last year, but a few things made us decide not to hold another one. First, the virtual showroom where we could perform a 3D scan needed a physical venue, and the most viable one would be the car brand’s dealer showroom. But we did that already. If we used it again, it would be redundant.”

Mr. Uy underscored that to construct another venue for the purpose would have been “very cost prohibitive as well.” The decision was thus made to just shelve the show last year and look at staging a physical event this year.

He does relish the fact that MIAS was the first auto show to provide a virtual exhibition experience. “We wanted our visitors to be able to navigate the brand’s showcase in the safety of their homes. The interactive features also included clickable links that provided information and video content about the various car models at the convenience and leisure of the user. This service was extended even beyond the duration of the MIAS weekend,” Mr. Uy explained.

As with webinars, perhaps the sheen or novelty of the online experience has begun to wear off. Couple this with the markedly improved COVID-19 caseload, and you could see why Alvin and company are looking at, well, the real deal. “We are glad we can already hold live on-ground events again,” he stated. “The interest from car brands and the OEM market seems healthy. In fact, some auto brands asked to upsize their booth exhibit floor space.”

Concurred Worldbex Managing Director Jill Ang, “With the improving current situation and lower number of new cases plus the increasing number of vaccinated individuals thanks to the government’s aggressive campaign, we are confident that we can already stage the MIAS once again after a two-year hiatus. We discussed this initially with our exhibit partners and many of them agree that we can hold on-ground events once again, under the guidelines of the new normal.”

When MIAS was last held physically in 2019, it had mirrored the upward trajectory of the auto industry. By Worldbex Services International’s reckoning, over 142,000 had trooped to the World Trade Center in Pasay City to see new cars, after-market products, and other goings on. Over 150 companies and 300 car displays and exhibits made it a magnet for a growing number of enthusiasts and even casual observers.

“MIAS has always been the platform for the latest trends in the industry,” boasted Mr. Uy. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that as the local auto sector goes, so does MIAS.

But as Ms. Ang said, the “new normal” means that some things at MIAS won’t be as regular show attendees remember. World Trade Center Metro Manila (WTCMM) management is putting in place a number of safeguards in keeping with government safety and health protocols amid a still-raging pandemic.

Aside from exerting stricter control on the number of people in the venue, each guest’s temperature will be taken, and no-contact registration (and contact tracing) will be enforced. As in other responsible venues, sanitation and social distancing will be the norm.

“Based on parameters released by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the WTCMM Exhibition Halls ascribe to the minimum standards of providing Acceptable Indoor Air Quality,” reported WTCMM in its “Be Safe” advisory.

“Even as we will implement our own safeguards, we will also definitely comply with what the LGU will require of us,” assured Mr. Uy.

As for the other staple events that MIAS regulars look forward to, Mr. Uy reported that guests can definitely expect a similar menu of happenings. He confirmed with “Velocity” that globally renowned precision driver and Guinness World Records holder Russ Swift will be back to showcase his skills.

“Aside from the car brand displays, hundreds of OEM and after-market accessories will have display booths showcasing the latest hardware and services, commercial vehicles and heavy equipment, a miniature diecast car collection and swap meet, custom and classic car displays, and visitors also get to test-drive their favorite car brands all in one venue,” he said.

It sounds like our favorite summer spectacle is back, all right. Now let’s go and circle that day on the calendar. — Kap Maceda Aguila