Sunday, February 15, 2015

Where Did These Come From, and Why Should I Care: My take on the 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Alexander Carabitses

(Image credited to The Chicago Tribune)

Before I go all out on a tangent, let me just say this: I like the Chicago Auto Show.  According to its own website, the Chicago Auto Show is the "Nations largest, and longest running auto show"; on top of that, it is a great show for the consumer.  However, the fact that auto makers still debut new vehicles at the show, along with the fact that the media looks at Chicago as if its a big deal, are pretty pathetic at this point.  This show was once an important show, but it was also the smallest of the 4 major domestic auto shows.  I've read that Chicago was even looking to take the Detroit Auto Show's title as the North American International Auto Show, while the Great Recession was going on, because GM and Chrysler were broke and their futures' seemed doubtful.  Like all of the other auto shows, Chicago was hit hard, very hard.  It was hit so hard that unlike the other auto shows, it never really recovered, once the recession ended.

Chicago has now become trim package central, where auto makers will unveil new trim levels and special editions that end up getting media coverage, because there is so little there as it is, and the media has to cover something.  The list of special editions goes as follows:

  • 1 of 1 Dodge Viper
  • Hyundai Veloster Turbo "Rally Edition"
  • Toyota Camry Special Edition
  • Toyota Corolla Special Edition
  • Chevrolet Colorado GearOn Edition
  • Chevrolet Silverado Midnight Edition
  • Mazda MX-5 Miata Accessories Package "concept"
  • Tanner Foust's ENEOS RWB Volkswagen Beetle(This was originally shown at the Sema Show, but it was brought to Chicago, just so that Volkswagen could say that they had something new and exciting on their stand.)

I must say, I'm surprised that there were only this few special editions shown this year.  So why so many special edition's?  Well the first reason is that this is a consumer centric show, and consumers love special editions. Another big issue is bad timing, and the Chicago Auto Show definitely suffers from this.  It is right after Detroit, which is hounded by the media, and followed by Geneva, which is a major European Auto Show, that takes place in March; it is also hounded by the media.  Of course, New York is in late March, or early April, and it too is also an important show for the industry, and the media.  So once you look at it this way, you can easily see the problem that auto makers have, when it comes time for them to decide what products to unveil in Chicago; quite frankly, they'd rather unveil new products in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles, while saving all of the minor debuts for Chicago.  What sucks is that even if they changed the date to October, before LA, or May after NY, the show would still suffer.  What also could happen is Chicago over taking LA or NY's auto show, which would be even worse.

So I guess we've reached the part, where I give you, the reader, my take on the debuts of this year's show, so without further adieu, here they are:

2016 Acura RDX: This is a refresh of Acura's best or second best selling model.  It looks OK at best.
2016 Kia Rio Refresh:  This is a very light refresh, and to be honest, no one will be able to tell that its been updated.
2016 RAM Laramie Limited:  This is the most expensive RAM truck that you can buy, in the 1500 range.  Because of this, RAM decided to make it somewhat unique by going away with its signature Cross-Hair grill, which is interesting.  Overall, I like the look.
2016 Toyota Avalon: Another unnoticeable refresh.  Luckily this car didn't need it, as it is the best selling car in its class, and the best looking one as well (besides the Impala), so why mess with a good thing?
2016 Hyundai Veloster: Yet another light refresh (Geez, I'm noticing a trend here).
2016 Hyundai Elantra GT: This refresh consists of a new grille, and that's about it so Ill move on.
Kia Trail'ster Concept:  Kia showed off this adventurous looking Soul Concept, which basically shows that Kia is looking into the idea of making an All-Wheel-Drive Soul in the near future.
Nissan 370Z Nismo Roadster Concept:  This is a Nismo version of the 370Z, which they already make as a coupe.  However, Nissan doesn't plan to make this unless the demand is there.
Nissan GTR LM: This is Nissan's entry into the 24 Hours at Le Mans.  There is so much cool information on this car, and I have a link right here, if you want to read about this awesome race car.
Mitsubishi GC PHEV Concept:  This was shown at Tokyo in 2013, but Mitsubishi brought it to Chicago, just so they had something to talk about.  Its attractive from some angles, but ugly on others. 
2016 Chevy Equinox: Chevy changed the headlights, taillights, grille, and tweaked the interior a bit. Overall this is a nice refresh thats long overdue, and should help the Equinox continue it's strong sales momentum. 
2016 Honda Pilot:  The biggest news of the show came from Honda, which launched an all-new Pilot. It ditches the boxy shape, and actually looks pretty nice.  I'm sure it will be a strong seller as well.
2016 Chevrolet Silverado Custom: This is suppose to be some value oriented trim package, that Chevy will sell a crap-load of.
2016 Ford Police Interceptor Utility: You know an auto show is bad, when an automaker reveals a refreshed police car.  In this case, it was based on the recent refresh of the Ford Explorer.  If Ford reveals something new in New York, I'll assume that Ford unveiled this vehicle in Chicago, just so that they could say they unveiled something at every major auto show.  At least they had a police K9 pull the wraps off the car.  And before anyone asks, yes, I do like the vehicle.

And there are the major unveils.

In the end I don't know what to make of Chicago.  There is a lot more news than last year, which is a good thing, because last year saw a little more that a dozen vehicles unveiled in total.  I think that overall the show seems different than all other major auto shows, and all you have to do is look at the staging for press conferences, as well as some of the press conferences themselves, where lower level executives do the talking, in some cases.  What's more interesting were some of the minor announcments, like Ford's announcement that the GT would be built in Ontario, Canada.  There was also the announcement that the Bolt Concept would go into production at the end of next year, and Volkswagen announced the pricing of the Golf Sport Wagon.  Kia, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Nissan all hinted that exciting unveils were on the way at the New York Auto Show, so I guess we should all stay tuned for that.

As for all of the special edition models, all I can say is "where did these come from, and why should I care?" If you go back to my article on the Boston Car Show a few weeks ago, I mentioned that if Boston were pumped up into a big deal show, it would be no bigger than Chicago, and I still stand by that, because when you have an auto show whose highlight's consist of special edition vinyl wrapped cars, whats the big deal?  This show is meant for the consumer, whether the consumer is a family person, or a fleet operator.  That's why trucks and special editions are big at this show.

As I said in the beginning, I think the Chicago Auto Show is a great auto show, but the media and the auto makers should let it go.  Stop showcasing new vehicles that aren't important, and let this show live as a consumer show.  Just because an auto show takes place in a major city, it doesn't mean that it has to be a major auto show.  Have a good week.

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