The delicate status of auto shows is on full display lately. Now in full swing, the Chicago Auto Show is one of the now-smaller events looking — and finding — ways to remain relevant to new buyers as well as new media.
Organizers of the annual Chicago Auto Show were blindsided last month when Stellantis announced it was pulling out of the show at the very last moment, erasing what could well have been the public introduction of its new electric Ram 1500 pickup truck.
Up until that point, the annual Chicago Auto Show had been holding on to some of its old-time swagger even as automakers slimmed down their budgets at big international shows in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York Paris or Geneva, Switzerland. Even Frankfurt, once the granddaddy of industry extravaganzas, with its emphasis on the German fabled auto industry, had been uprooted and moved to Munich recently.
The floor space has been reduced substantially, but the result is the participating manufacturers have edited their collections, and better organized their displays, making it easier for attendees to find the newer or newest vehicles such as the Honda Prologue, the Volkswagen ID Buzz, the Kia K5, the Chevrolet Blazer EV or the Ranger Raptor or the Chicago-built Ford Explorer.
“This is an important show for us,” said Ford spokesperson Mike Levine. Volkswagen also built a unique display for the 75th anniversary, which was tied to new Super Bowl Ads. Toyota, meanwhile, showed off its new Land Cruiser and Nissan displayed its new Aryia EV.
However, as Jennifer Morand, Chicago Auto Trade Association president, noted during her opening remarks at breakfast opening press days, the show’s Chicago Auto Show remains true to its heritage as the nation’s largest consumer-oriented show.
Consumer, after all are at the heart of the car business, and the Chicago Auto Show offers them a chance to see and touch lots of vehicles and make their own comparisons before making a choice or a decision at a time when the industry’s products are being transformed, she noted.
Even with the last-minute decision by Stellantis to cancel Jeep’s popular off-road test track, the show has several displays offering indoor and outdoor rides.
“The beauty of the auto show is that you can experience all there is to offer from the auto industry under one roof,” Morand said.
The U.S. Department of Commerce now estimates the average selling price of new vehicle sold in the United States now tops $48,000, which means consumers have ample reasons to study their choices before making a final decision.
Morand also emphasized the Chicago Auto Show is once again built around test tracks, including two built into manufacturer displays — Ford Motor Co.’s “Built Wild” venue and the Hyundai Electric Track.
Most of the action in Chicago seemed concentrated along informal “pit row,” lining the multi-brand EV track along the back wall, called Chicago Drives Electric, offering rides in EVs built by a number of different manufacturers, including BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Lucid, Nissan, Tesla and Volkswagen.
EVs attract attention
Cadillac did not set up a display on the floor, but it was offering rides in Cadillac Lyriq and the EV version of the Escalade.
The Tesla stores around Chicago combined to bring the much-ballyhooed Cybertruck to a spot near show’s test track. The also offered test rides in the Model 3.
The pre-show press days was the first opportunity many videographers, photographers and writers had a chance to view the Cybertruck up close. The interior looks rather cheap and plenty of skeptics tapping the stainless-steel sides of the Cybertruck expressed doubts about their ability to stop a bullet.
Rob Whitley, senior manager of product marketing at Lucid, the EV startup brand that upstaged the luxury Tesla Model S with the Lucid Air, says placing a car in the Chicago Show was important for helping build brand awareness.
“We still want to get the name out there,” noted Whitey during a conversation at the edge of the EV track. “The return on investment being in the show is immense. People can see the name and see we’re selling them and delivering them,” Whitley added.
Morand also noted the show has momentum of strong economy behind it.
“With a steady year-over-year attendance growth of 50% building back out of the pandemic, we are perfectly positioned to continue to offer a premier attendee experience. The show generates consumer interest and excitement for new vehicles, kicking off the spring market for the local new-car dealers we support.”