Auto show drifts into McCormick Place


The Maserati showcase featuring the 2018 Maserati Granturismo. (Photo courtesy of Josh Leff)

The Chicago Auto Show took over McCormick Place this past weekend, with major auto manufacturers showcasing their newest concept vehicles in the 110th edition of the show. The show, which took up over one million square feet, had something to pique the interest of any auto enthusiast with a wide variety of concept cars, utility vehicles, race cars and collectibles.

A handful of manufacturers took advantage of the oldest and largest metropolitan auto show in North America by debuting new models or new concepts entirely. Although official numbers aren’t released by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, outside research group Foresight put the number of attendees in the hundreds of thousands. Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Lexus, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen all premiered new production cars for late 2018 or early 2019.

One attendee, Jack Morgenson, looked forward to seeing what Toyota had in store for their TRD line of trucks.

“This year’s Toyota TRD section is going to be wild. All of them have reworked shocks and lifts. A snorkel was even added to the Tacoma for better air intake,” Morgenson said.

Jack Hollis, general manager of Toyota North America, premiered Toyota’s three updated vehicles highlighting their off-road abilities.

“Chicago is where we like to debut some of our coolest stuff – stuff that likes to get dirty and looks phenomenal with mud caked all over it,” Hollis said.

Volkswagen took the opportunity to premier their new Arteon, which has already been released in Europe. The mid-size sedan caught eyes with a metallic spicy mustard-colored paint job and a more luxury-minded design than the other major Volkswagen four-door, the Passat. Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen’s North American region, described the company’s desire to push further into American markets while meeting the needs of American drivers.

One vehicle that has done particularly well in the U.S. is the Atlas.

“The Atlas is aimed right at the heart of the SUV market with the size, comfort and features that Americans expect,” Woebcken said.

Nissan also used the show as a stage to introduce two new concept cars focused on maneuvering winter conditions, which has unsurprisingly become a popular concept at the Chicago show. The Nissan 370Zki, an all-terrain roadster that can be fitted with snowmobile treads to tear through icy conditions, and the Nissan Armada Snow Patrol, a sport utility vehicle lifted and modified to handle the worst winter conditions, both drew large crowds. Though not for sale, at least at the moment, these unique vehicles still impressed.

Throughout all the different exhibits at the show one theme stood out: manufacturers trying to draw crowds by relying heavily on customer interactivity.

One typical staple of the Chicago Auto Show is the many test tracks set up throughout and around McCormick Place. Although there were less indoor tracks than in previous years, there were still plenty of chances to test out showcased cars; it was no less of a spectacle to watch a Jeep Wrangler crest over a 30-foot hill while still indoors.

In addition to Jeep’s indoor test driving track, Toyota and Kia also had tracks set up. While the Jeep track had bridges, dirt and bumpy roads, the Kia and Toyota tracks focused on highlighting their vehicles’ on-the-road performance, including straightaways to test the brakes. Outdoor test drives were also provided by Ford, Cadillac, Kia, Mazda, Volkswagen and Subaru.

Virtual reality driving simulators made an impact this year, with nearly every major manufacturer featuring at least one on the show floor. Ford’s simulator, which seated three people at a time, even vaulted five feet off the ground and jostled visitors around according to their movement. These simulators caught the eye of many attendees with long lines forming at most of them.

Kia took full advantage of their NBA sponsorship, setting up multiple Pop-A-Shot arcade games in front of their car fleet in order to draw patrons. Kia also had the three hamster mascots from their commercials being guided around the show floor for visitors to take pictures with. Nissan, meanwhile, boasted its Star Wars sponsorship by showcasing a few models outfitted to look like spaceships from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”.

Besides the cars the Auto Show also had events throughout each day, including former professional Chicago athletes, a pet adoption event and various news broadcasts. Food and drink stands were littered throughout McCormick Place’s North and South halls so attendees could grab a Goose Island beer while they meandered through the fields of cars.

The Chicago Auto Show is open to the public from 10 p.m.Feb. 10-18th. There will also be discounted ticket prices throughout the week for Women’s Day, the Chicago Auto Show Food Drive, Hispanic Heritage Day and Family Day. With all the attractions, the show has something that both diehard car aficionados and casual fans can enjoy.