McCormick Place Convention Center opened its doors this weekend to kick off the highly anticipated Chicago Auto Show, marking the 109th installment of North America’s largest and longest running automobile show.
Visitors roam freely in the convention center’s large spaced rooms to take a first look at the over 1,000 new vehicles the show had to offer.
Whether you’re admiring the car from the outside, popping the hood for a glance at its engine, or feeling the smooth leather in the interior, the auto show held back no constraints in regards to giving every guest a sense of exploration.
“I seriously did not expect to be able to just open the doors of basically every car – a Ford, a Porsche, Mercedes-Benz – and just freely walk in and sit with your buddies. We’re blasting the stereo in this Jeep just chilling and like we’re on a road trip,” Dominick Roesner, a first time visitor to the Chicago Auto Show. “No way I’d say I’m a big car guy but this is just a good place to go with friends and walk around and step in cars that are worth more than your life.”
With five exclusive indoor test tracks – compared to three in the previous year – visitors were able to experience the actual drive of an array of vehicles and landscapes. Easily the two most intimidating of all the tracks was Ram’s 30,000 square-foot pickup-truck course that featured a 30-degree angle hill for visitors to drive up and descend from, and Camp Jeep’s 35-degree hill located in the back of the South Hall.
Other memorable courses include Toyota’s test track that let you choose between a Cubs and Sox themed RAV4 and Toyota Highlanders or Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl that takes the riders on an incline to a height of 27 feet before showcasing G 550 V-8 SUV and Gelandewagen’s brake system as the car stops in the middle descent on the way down.
“It’s kind of like something out of (Six Flags) Great America, with these towering hills – it’s like a rollercoaster, you know,” Christina Calatagan said, after testing the Camp Jeep’s indoor test track. “I’m going up on this huge hill and I’m trying to tell my husband that we’ll never need this, and he knows that. We’re in our mid 50’s; when are we going to be in a scenario where we have to drive up a hill like this?”
A common focus of the auto show in the past years has been how the quick evolving technology advancements will not only affect vehicles on the road but how to make such vehicles more fuel efficient. And while this year surely touched upon all those subjects, the two words to describe the 109th Chicago Auto Show would be “pure spectacle.”
When visitors weren’t standing patiently in the everlasting line to test a car out on the indoor track, they were busy sitting surrounded by screen in the Ford F-150 Raptor virtual reality simulator that was designed to shake and spin with every terrain and object hit by the car.
While the simulator served as more of a video game experience than a real-life drive, it was clear that visitors were less interested in the car itself and more so the brilliant optics and technology behind the virtual reality experience.
“I swear if they made this a video game, I’d buy it right away,” Louise Tortorelli said. “But I’m pretty sure I can’t afford this video game or this car, either way it was a helluva experience — you have to try it.”
Another technological aspect that were outside of the automobile norm was Ford’s Hank the Robot, an almost five-foot bright blue and silver animatronic that brought in crowds of children and adults around the Ford stage to promote free giveaways.
Away from the public eye is someone in a suit with countless sensors and kinetic devices that allow Hank to mirror the person’s movement. Also attached to the person is a mic that allowed Hank the Robot to talk and have conversations with the audience.
“Hank was really funny, I want to know how they did that. He was pointing at this guy’s hat and making fun of it and talking to him, like asking his name,” 10-year-old Harrison Packnett said. “I don’t know why there’s a robot here, but I got to go inside some really cool cars. I’ll buy them when I’m able to drive.”
From Chicago Blackhawks to Cubs, the Auto Show displayed an array of different city sports themed cars, that while not free to enter, grew a large amount of crowds that admired the exterior of each.
Outside of Chicago sports teams, “Star Wars” made its mark at the show with the display of a Nissan Rogue crossover with a “Star Wars” X-wing fighter superimposed on it.
Whether you’re fan of Chicago sports, “Star Wars,” robots and more, there’s one obvious aspect that brought together all visitors: the love for automobiles.
“My whole family are car enthusiasts, grandpa used to show us how to take a car apart and put it back together,” Tortorelli said. “It’s safe to say everyone here either has appreciation for automobiles or is going to leave here with one. This is my fourth time coming here from Palatine, and there’s no doubt I’ll be back next year for more.”