Chicago Auto Show a buffet for car buyers
February 8, 2012
FEBRUARY 8, 2012 AT 1:00 AM
Chicago Auto Show a buffet for car buyers
Major event features few debuts but will captivate consumers
The Chicago Auto Show just might have the right focus.
It's the ultimate deep dish shopping for consumers, with more than 1 million feet of exhibit space that allows them to see more models and more types of cars at the same time than any other show. McCormick Place, furthermore, is a playground of automotive happiness, with four indoor test tracks and five outdoor drive programs that allow consumers to test drive cars by seven automakers.
Among American auto shows, Chicago offers the largest showroom. Measured by overall facility space (McCormick boasts more than 2.7 million feet of exhibit hall space plus 700,000 square feet of meeting rooms), all of the other major U.S. auto shows â Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York City â could fit inside the space here at the same time.
And as the 2012 show kicks off with its media preview today, organizers of the most-attended auto show in the country are excited by the prospects for the future.
"I see a resurgence of the industry," said Dave Sloan, general manager of the Chicago Auto Show.
"You just have a sense that the flood gates are going to open. I just can't wait to open the doors to this show."
There are high hopes for this year's show, though Chicago officials wouldn't offer attendance projections. Last year's numbers were up 10 percent from the year before.
Despite its size and crowds, the Chicago show takes a back seat to the industry-focused Motor City show.
The North American International Auto Show in Detroit hosted more than 40 vehicle debuts last month; Chicago will offer less than half that, suggesting the Windy City is less important to carmakers, who are opting to debut vehicles at other shows.
"It seems that the automakers have decided that it's a great regional sales show," said Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst at IHS Automotive. "They don't have the international media, but Chicago is a big market, and it is a significant import market."
Which may be one of the reasons VW will show off its all new, diesel-powered Beetle TDI in Chicago, and Toyota will launch its new Land Cruiser. Both will be relatively small volume vehicles in the U.S. market.
Still, there a few important debuts in Chicago, including the 2013 GMC Acadia, the mega-powerful 2013 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 convertible, a futuristic version of the popular Kia Soul and a handful of Mopar-edition vehicles.
Ed Kim, an automotive analyst for AutoPacific Inc. said that the 2013 GMC Acadia could be one of the most important vehicles shown in Chicago. Details about the redesigned Acadia were scheduled to be released this morning.
"I also think the Track'ster could give us a look at the future Kia Soul," Kim said.
While the Track'ster is a concept vehicle, many like Kim believe it will show the direction Kia wants to move with its popular small, urban van.
"The Soul has become a halo vehicle of sorts for Kia and it's extremely important to the brand," Kim said.
Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, hopes to generate some excitement when it unwraps the 2013 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 convertible, a 650-horsepowered tanning machine.
Among other automakers, Nissan Motors Co. will showcase an all-new 370Z, a low-volume sports car that is also important to its brand, while Acura will roll out the production versions of the ILX and redesigned RDX.
Perhaps a more practical vehicle will be the Hyundai Elantra Coupe, which could boost sales for the popular compact.
But really, the Chicago show seems to be more focused on trim levels than new vehicles. Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC's aftermarket brand, will debut limited-edition vehicles that enthusiasts can build a piece at a time.
The Fiat 500 Stinger, the Dodge Dart GTS 210 and the Mopar 300 will come loaded with aftermarket parts and more than a few performance enhancements. Jeep will debut the Jeep Compass True North edition, as that brand continues to try and toughen up the small crossover.
But that's the thing about Chicago: It may not have all of the big debuts, but it offers vehicle displays with all of the options. A consumer-focused car show may not make the biggest media buzz, but it just might sell a lot of cars.
And nowadays, that's not a bad thing at all.