New trucks, concepts drive car shoppers to 2016 Chicago Auto Show opening – Chicago Tribune

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2016

By early afternoon of the opening of the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, tired crowds saddled with Ford and Hyundai tote bags thronged up the escalators and out parking lot doors. Thousands more filled their spots.

It appeared to be a shopping-driven turnout that reflected the record-breaking sales year the industry had in 2015.

Hard numbers aren’t released to the public by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which has produced the show since 1935, but the First Look For Charity preview event Friday night was an auspicious start. The $250-ticket black-tie event raised $2,610,280 for Chicago charities, the most since 2008.

The 108th installment of the nation’s largest and longest-running auto show kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with auto show chairman Colin Wickstrom, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The real stars of the show were spread out among the nearly 1,000 new vehicles on the 1 million square feet of space in the North and South halls of McCormick Place, where stunning concepts such as the Acura Precision and Genesis Vision G drew selfies, but pickups and crossovers drew serious consideration.

“What kind of guy doesn’t want a truck?” said Laura Vanderploeg, whose husband, Dustin, was considering the new Toyota Tacoma midsize truck to replace their aging 2003 Honda Pilot. 

Their 8-month-old and 2-year-old kids seemed to agree, or at least not mind.

“It can be a family car,” Dustin said of the pickup, then added he had no intention to use it for work.

Yet another reason why trucks are the best-selling vehicle in America.

It won’t be long until the Vanderploegs are in William Hudson’s seat. The Chicagoan has been bringing his daughter every year since she was 3. Now she’s driving.

“She’d always hop in the trunk, now she’s getting behind the wheel,” Hudson said.

His teenage daughter is leaning toward a truck-sized vehicle as well.

“I like the Navigator (full-size SUV),” Jocelyn said. “I can haul my friends.”

But William Hudson was in the market for himself, like most showgoers.

CATA data that found 68 percent of 2015 showgoers were in the market for a vehicle within a year of the show.

Chicago hosted 21 world debuts, which are some auto journalists’ measure of a show’s significance. In addition to a bunch of new trim levels, the all-new 2017 Kia Niro subcompact crossover hybrid debuted along with a slew of trucks, such as the Ram Power Wagon, Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the Nissan Armada full-size SUV.

New trucks weren’t the only attraction.

“I’m here to see Anthony Rizzo,” said Tom Platt, of Fishers, Ind., who was in a long line waiting to see the Cubs slugger. It wasn’t just a good Cubs team that drew him here for the first time since 1977, however. “I volunteered to bring my (80-year-old) mom, who’s in the market for a new car.”

Others were here to gauge how they fit into the new connected car paradigm, including four college students from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“There have been so many leaps and bounds in technology,” said Eric Drewitz, who is studying electrical engineering. “This is great to see it in one place.”

Like most car enthusiasts, Drewitz and his friends longed for some of the simplistic — and less tech-laden — features of old cars.

“One thing I wish is that new cars were more like the old days where you could work on the engine and not need specialized tools,” said Daniel Fricke, who owns a 1987 Chevrolet R10 pickup.

The good old days of the show were missed, as well.

“It’s not like it used to be back in the ’90s,” said Michendo Morgan, who lamented the lack of aftermarket vendors and the $27 he spent on two slices of pizza and a soda.

Other showgoers thought there were more limits on what cars you can get in and out of than in years past.

“A lot of the cars are locked up so you can’t get inside,” said Alex Suptela, of the northwest suburbs, who, along with his brother, father and two nephews made up three generations of Suptelas that have been coming to the Chicago Auto Show for decades. “They used to do it with everything.”

There are several new vehicles such as the Ford GT and the Kia Niro that are either cordoned off in displays or out of reach on platforms. These are the exception to the rule, however.

“We request automakers to keep their vehicles unlocked,” said Mark Bilek, communications director of the show. “There is so much more space for automakers to show off so much more product than in other shows.”

The vast majority of cars are unlocked and open, except for preproduction vehicles like the Niro, or rare concept vehicles such as the hydrogen fuel cell Mirai with gull-wing doors that many people mistook for a DeLorean in Toyota’s Back to the Future display, or the Genesis Vision G concept that turned heads as well as turntables.

One Vision G admirer was Rich Defrancisco, of Chinatown, who admitted to always being in the market for new cars, even concept ones.

“I don’t see the crazy concept cars like I used to, the real crazy stuff,” the veteran auto show attendee said. “Now they’re one year away — they used to be 10 years away.”

Most models on the auto show floor will be on dealer lots by summer, if not sooner.

The show runs through Feb. 21.


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