The interior of the new 2021 Chrysler Pacifica minivan at the FCA display. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer of Hyundai Motor America, discusses the company's latest models and technologies. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
Last month, SoxFest 2020 welcomed adoring crowds to the roomy McCormick Place exhibition center on Chicago's near Southside to promote all-things White Sox and celebrate the upcoming baseball season. Now, another team storms the Southside neighborhood while celebrating a 10-day homestand.
Today's lineup exchanges a Michael Kopech 98 mph fastball with speedsters that can blow the sprockets off radar-tracking speed guns.
While SoxFest marked its 28th year of preseason dreaming, the Chicago Auto Show delivers a slightly longer track record. This year marks the 112th edition of the largest auto show in North America, held more times than any other on the continent. McCormick Place retains its home-field advantage with a huge climate-controlled, 1 million-square-foot playing field and plenty of free parking for more than 1,000 vehicles nestled inside.
Its enormous footprint through two exhibition halls (North and South sides) delivers a family-friendly atmosphere, appealing to multigenerations of car buyers, baseball folk and enthusiasts. Huge interactive displays describe emerging technologies and future direction while designated sections pay homage to past players bearing four wheels.
All-electric, gas-electric hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles dot just about every manufacturer exhibit, while the Wintrust Supercar Gallery (a returning fan favorite) delivers ultra high-performance sports cars with exteriors boasting breaking curves. Yesterday was opening day with an uninterrupted schedule through Monday, Presidents Day (also Daily Herald Family Day), Feb. 17.
Once again, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA) returns to general manage this spectacle. They've been doing so since 1935 with a spotless record. With the White Sox returning Rick Renteria to manage the X's and O's in 2020, the Chicago Show calls upon tall, lanky CATA veteran Dave Sloan to pencil in the scorecard.
"We're teaming together the manufacturers who develop and assemble these cutting-edge technologies with area franchised dealers who detail and service these investments," Sloan said. "The big winners once again -- well-informed consumers."
Sloan artfully drafts top prospects to gently guide exhibitors and visitors with bench coach Tony Guido, recently promoted to 2020 auto show chairman, taking a short leave from his gig at Arlington Heights Ford.
"Whether or not you're in the market for a new vehicle, the show provides a great opportunity to experience the latest technology and safety features found in today's cars," Guido said.
This year, Chicago leads off the traditional Major League auto show season because the Detroit Auto Show trades its longtime January opening day for a designated stretch later in June. The February schedule suits hearty Windy City die-hards just fine, drawing near sellout crowds through the turnstiles despite a persistent chance of snow showers. Simultaneously, the show serves as a launchpad benefiting 400 area franchised dealers and their bustling spring season.
The Detroit Auto Show's move to summer also provides this Chi-town classic more opportunities to promote a wider spectrum of newly developed vehicular talent. For example:
• Chrysler introduces a refreshed 2021 Pacifica Minivan sporting a new Pinnacle trim, one of four now available with Midwest-friendly all-wheel drive. It's the first time since 2004 a Chrysler/FCA minivan benefitted from all-wheel drive. Other updates include a 10.1-inch touch screen, now standard across all trims; bolder front grille styling; and standard LED lighting.
• Jeep's mid-size Gladiator and its game-changing pickup bed introduces a desert-rated Mojave Edition for 2020 with a workmanlike, 44-degree approach angle, new hood scoop and a low-range capable of traveling up to 50 miles per hour. Both Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler receive luxury-laden Altitude editions boasting full-leather interiors.
• Acura's super handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD) celebrates a milestone as the luxury automaker surpasses 1 million units sold since its debut 16 years ago. It's the first such all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring.
• Jaguar's 2021 redesigned, two-seat F-Type sports car makes its North American debut pumping out 575 horsepower.
• Genesis, the upscale division of Hyundai, brings along its all-new, much-anticipated 2021 GV80, the luxury automaker's first sport utility vehicle. It's the SUV's first show stop after its U.S. unveiling last month in Miami. The sizable infotainment screen checks in at 14.5 inches.
• Hyundai itself celebrates its 30th year at the Chicago show by unveiling the mid-size, self-charging 2020 Sonata gas-electric hybrid sedan (no plug-in necessary) for the first time in North America. It delivers an estimated 52 miles per gallon of combined city/highway travel (a 24% increase from 2019). A segment-first solar panel roof helps charge a 12-volt and hybrid batteries.
• South Korea's other major automaker, Kia, announced pricing for its all-new 2021 Seltos, a subcompact crossover. A base LX with standard all-wheel drive checks in at $23,110 including the $1,120 destination fee. Kia also debuted the redesigned 2020 Cadenza, a four-door sedan now boasting a taller, wider grille.
• Volkswagen updates its three-row, mid-size 2021 Atlas crossover with available all-wheel drive, re-imagined VW logo and LED headlights and taillights.
• Honda debuts the sporty 2020 Honda Civic Type R to the U.S. audience. This performance flagship represents the most powerful Civic ever and gets complemented by a Booster Blue hue.
• Buick debuts the 2020 compact Encore GX five-door crossover, slotting between the conventional Encore and mid-size Envision crossover.
• Toyota introduces a 2021 mid-size Highlander crossover with a XSE trim with a sportier grille, 20-inch tires and twin-tipped exhaust. Toyota also expands its dark, slightly mysterious Nightshift palate. Tundra and Tacoma pickups along with the Sequoia SUV circa 2021 will offer the Nightshift sub trim based on well-equipped Limited trims draped with a black leather interior and a blackened exterior.
Subaru brings along more than all-wheel-drive vehicles within its National Park themed display. A beefed-up Subaru Loves Pets initiative expands dog adoptions to all show days, not just weekends, to match up homeless canines from area shelters with forever homes. Pencil in time later this summer so newfound furry friends can experience Dog Days at nearby Guaranteed Rate Field.
Ford showcases its newsworthy all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover SUV, which combines a historic namesake and all-electric motivation. Looking for a less high-tech adventure? Try out the returning Ford Ranger Scramble Net, dual elevated tublike structures that stretch across and above Ranger pickups. Walk, crawl or roll from one end to the next.
Several interactive displays also offer the chance for weary walkers to sit down and relieve barking dogs (sore feet, not Subaru's shelter puppies) in lounge-like areas that also offer recharging plug ports to aid exhausted portable electronics.
Four indoor test tracks provide in-vehicle experiences. The go-anywhere Jeep's been hosting an indoor ride adventure in Chi-town longer than anybody (16 years). Nestled inside the South Hall's the can't-miss Camp Jeep display includes a seasoned pilot taking family and friends though upward climbs and multiterrain grounds.
Just down the aisle from Camp Jeep, RAM Truck Territory includes payload demonstrations and hill decent down Ram Mountain. Toyota brings its Drive Experience back after a one-year hiatus with 2020 Camry TRD, Highlanders and RAV4s while Volkswagen unveils its first participatory ride-and-drive track in Chicago with its North Hall display depicting airy desert surroundings.
As with any theme-park-like experience, get an early start to maximize fun and avoid long midday serpentine lines of rookie-type late risers.
Got an itch to test drive a floor model outside the friendly confines of McCormick Place? Ford, Honda and Subaru all provide opportunities to for licensed drivers to get behind the wheel outside and alongside a seasoned vehicle expert acting as your personal concierge. Just stop by respective displays and speak with an on-site representative to reserve a drive time. Select participants may qualify for special parting gifts just for taking a spin.
Honda's Miles Per Hour indoor run features a 2.4-mile loop through climate-controlled McCormick Place. Runners enjoy a full hour of dedicated time prior to the Sunday, Feb. 16, show opening to enjoy unique cityscape views provided by the classic Lakeside Center and indoor bridge suspended over Lake Shore Drive. Visit www.milesperhourrun.com for details.
Win prizes by participating in the #CAS2020 Social Media Challenge. Just share your videos and still shots through multiple platforms at #CAS2020 and you're automatically entered to win prizes.
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Returning for a third season, a 21-foot-tall, Jumbotron-like BUZZHUB screen to show real-time trending feeds from the show. The screen is located off the North Hall Grand Concourse.
"It's our hometown, car-themed Field of Dreams," said show chairman Sloan. "If you build it, they will come."
No word yet if actors Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta or Chicago-born Amy Madigan from the 1989 Oscar-nominated baseball classic plan a courtesy appearance at this year's show -- or to Dyersville, Iowa on Aug. 23 when the White Sox battle the pesky New York Yankees in a 2020 "Field of Dreams" reboot. It's no fantasy; this game counts in the standings.
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