We visit the Chicago Auto Show for the third year consecutively. Third time’s the charm?
A highly integral part of being a car enthusiast is attending shows, meets and drives with like-minded friends who share your passion for wheeled machines. One of these events is the Auto Show.
The Auto Show has existed in various forms for the better part of the last century. Now, almost every big city has its own show, usually held annually. Certain cities, like Dubai, Geneva, Detroit and Los Angeles have become known for being the best when it comes to hosting the latest and greatest models from global auto manufacturers.
Chicago, a great city in its own right, hosts an Auto Show every year. The fact that it is usually held during the month of February gives Midwestern car enthusiasts a welcome break from the rather monotonous winters that the region is known for. For the past two years, I’ve attended the Chicago Auto Show and decided that I’d do the same this time too. The Auto Show runs for a week, and I decided to go to on Thursday. I reasoned that I’d be able to beat the crowds since it was a weekday and we were this far into the week, which I got totally wrong.
The show is usually held at McCormick Place, Chicago’s convention centre. Familiar with the layout, I entered the show only to find the place bustling with eager visitors. So much for beating the crowds then.
After getting my ticket scanned, the first thing that I saw was a large Ford sign suspended from the ceiling. Lowering my gaze, I noticed a few people milling around a car that had been roped off. On getting closer, I understood why. It was the new Ford GT, looking rather fetching in black with orange stripes. Working my way to the back, I gazed lovingly at the circular LED taillights. This was my third time seeing the GT at the same place, but those taillights never lose their charm.
Tearing myself away from the GT, I began to wander aimlessly, navigating the crowds and looking for interesting metal. At first, all I could see was the entire Ford ‘F’ pickup truck lineup. People do love their trucks around here, so it made perfect sense to devote so much of their stand to the utilitarian vehicles. Dodge had followed suit, building a rather formidable structure for the new Ram, which was perched on top of it. Chevy had a similar setup. With such close proximity to Detroit, it was hardly a surprise that the Big Three had pulled out all the stops in order to draw attention away from their European counterparts.
Inching forward, I came across the Dodge performance cars. SRT had a very strong showing, with a Viper ACR taking centre stage, surrounded by Chargers and Challengers with every color and spec combination that you can think of. 392s, Hellcats, Daytonas, the new T/A Challenger, they were all there. Red, yellow, orange, lime green and matte grey were the more exotic colors on show.
Continuing on, I came across the luxury section of the Fiat Chrysler group, which was taken up by largely by Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Both had brought out their best, with Maserati displaying numerous Quattroportes, Ghiblis and even a few examples of their new Levante SUV. Alfa Romeo was represented by a gorgeous silver-grey 4C and numerous Giulias in a variety of specifications. I did, however, miss the classic racecars that Alfa Romeo used to bring to the show.
Porsche, which came next, had a real treat. Smack in the middle of their stand sat a mock-up of their new 911 RSR racecar. Known for its unusual mid-engine configuration, the car has already proved its worth on track at the recent 24 Hours of Daytona. Apart from that and a Carrera S Cabriolet, most of their space was taken up by Panameras and the SUV model range.
The next stop was BMW, where I was slightly disappointed to note the absence of any ‘M’ cars. Almost all their show models were hybrids, underscored by a stunning red i8. With such a large performance lineup, I was sure that BMW would have brought at least one of their sportscars to the show, but evidently the organisers thought otherwise. On the other hand, Mercedes Benz had no qualms showing off their fast cars, with a stage-mounted AMG GTC 50 Edition in matte black stopping all those who walked past it. A Maybach convertible was placed in the corner, while there was a separate activity area for the G-Wagen.
Audi had similar fare, with a number of their ‘S’ models in the same shade of red attracting people to their massive space. Tucked at the back was a lovely blue R8 convertible, which seemed to bask in the admiration of the crowd around it.
Volvo had their space next to Audi’s and I was about to pass it when I stopped for a second glance, something I’m glad I did. There used to be a time when you could tease someone about the fact that they drove a Volvo. Not having the most imaginative design, the car was regarded as being a ‘safe choice’ (also read as boring). Not anymore.
I was pleasantly surprised by what they’ve come up with. Wagons that would turn heads all the way to the grocery and back. Sleek designs, LED headlights and polished alloys were everywhere. Furthermore, they even had a dedicated area for potential customers to touch upholstery choices and see color combinations, which even their luxury competitors did not have! Suddenly, a Volvo has begun to look really attractive in my eyes.
Other honourable mentions included Lingenfelter (which had a classic widebody Corvette), ADV.1 wheels (which had a number of supercars) and the VW area (which had a lovely LEGO rendition of an early camper van).
While snapping away at these stands, I had been navigating the crowds, which was extremely diverse. Fathers introducing their children to cars, often with bated breath, hoping to pass on their passion to the next generation. Pensioners remembering the days they used to wrench on the earliest version of the model in front of them. Kids, sitting in cars, making ‘Vroom Vroom’ noises, dreaming of the day they get their driver’s license. In other words, just like any other auto show.
What was notable about this particular instalment of the Chicago Auto Show was how aggressively manufacturers were pushing hybrids. BMW, Porsche, Audi and Mercedes Benz all had a healthy number of hybrids on their stands, signalling a shift away from all out performance and a focus on efficiency and mileage, at least for the market in this region.
Additionally, the number of gimmicks that manufacturers were using to lure people to their stands has grown. While Jeep, Toyota and Mercedes Benz tried to show off their all-terrain stability prowess by making them climb vertical ramps, other manufacturers employed models to call out their performance figures to the crowd, hoping to attract attendees with 0-60 times and horsepower figures. I’m still not sure whether the gimmicks were successful or not, but I do know that I got tired of constantly being in the middle of a shouting match between two rival manufacturers.
Niggles aside, it was nice to see the latest from the big car manufacturers, cars which I’ll inevitably end up seeing on the roads in the next few months. In addition to being a departure from the tedium of winter, it also showed that car culture is alive and well, even though some say otherwise.