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updated: 2/6/2012 5:55 AM

Chicago Auto Show roars into town

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  • Wow, look at this sexy car -- wait, the new Ford Fusion?!? Yes, this year's Auto Show is about simple, efficient cars.

      Wow, look at this sexy car -- wait, the new Ford Fusion?!? Yes, this year's Auto Show is about simple, efficient cars.
    Courtesy of the Chicago Auto Show

  • The revamped Dodge Dart

      The revamped Dodge Dart

  • The Chicago Auto Show revs up starting Friday. This year's event will focus as much on efficiency and utility as it will the spectacular concept car show attendees are used to seeing.

       The Chicago Auto Show revs up starting Friday. This year's event will focus as much on efficiency and utility as it will the spectacular concept car show attendees are used to seeing.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Chicago Auto Show preview


Don't feel inadequate, I told the Honda Civic hatchback as it sputtered along in the wake of a Land Rover.

It's the year of the car.

Don't believe me? Check out the Chicago Auto Show this week. Not only is the car back, but so are American auto manufacturers after years of wandering in the desert, experts say.

It's been a tough few years at the auto show. Despite all the hype and hoopla, it was a challenge to celebrate the industry in the midst of 2009's financial failures or 2010's embarrassing recalls.

But U.S. car companies are on the rebound. And this year's event, which opens Friday at McCormick Place, promises to be anything but deflating.

One welcome focus in these frugal times is fuel-efficient cars, said Don Hillebrand, director of Argonne National Lab's Center for Transportation Research.

"With the concept cars, you'll see a whole new type of vehicle focused on utility, low price and efficiency," said Hillebrand, a mechanical engineer and former Chrysler executive.

These days, delivering 40 mpg "is your ticket in the door," he noted.

Among the concept cars you'll want to catch are: Chevrolet's Code, a four-seat coupe, and the sleek Tru, a front-wheel drive sport coupe; the V-6 Honda Accord coupe; and Toyota's NS4 "next-generation" hybrid.

Concept cars are "often goofy-looking with lots of plastic that are not buildable," Hillebrand said. But many of the 2012 versions "are solid cars that are going to be built."

No auto show is complete without a few new trucks, so expect some razzle dazzle over the latest versions of the Ford F-150 series and Dodge Ram.

But rugged and gas-guzzling will take a step back to some old, fuel-efficient favorites, such as the Ford Fiesta, Dodge Dart and Honda Civic, which are getting makeovers.

What else is cool this year? Look out for the diesel version of the Chevrolet Cruze, GMC's revamped Acadia and Hyundai's Elantra, which won Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month.

Oh, and prepare to be dazzled by headlights, Hillebrand said, explaining a number of manufacturers are harking back to a 1930s-era, Art Deco style.

"There's some gorgeous, jewel-like, deep, beautiful stuff," he said.

So is the auto show -- and the industry -- back from the dumps?

"It's definitely picking up," said Terry D'Arcy, a former auto show chairman. "You can feel the momentum going forward, but it's one step at a time."

"We hit bottom in 2009 with only 9 million to 10 million (in U.S. auto sales)," said D'Arcy, who owns a GMC, Buick, Hyundai and Volkswagen dealership in Joliet and is an Illinois tollway board member. "Everyone's shooting for 13 million-plus this year."

Heading to the Chicago Auto Show? What do you think was the best in show? Let me know at


The auto show opens to the public Friday and runs through Feb. 19 at McCormick Place, Lake Shore Drive at 23rd Street. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Feb. 18 with an 8 p.m. closing Feb. 19. Tickets are $11 for adults, $7 for seniors and $7 for children ages 7 to 12. Children 6 and under are free with a paying adult. Feb. 15 is Women's Day, meaning $7 tickets for all females, and Feb. 15 through Feb. 17 are the auto show's food drive -- anyone with three cans of food pays only $7. For more info, visit

Your voice

Commuter Brian Ward of Libertyville thinks the Metra fare increase instituted Wednesday is "unwarranted."

"It strikes me that Metra isn't able to balance their budget given the outrageous fees they charge already," he wrote. "For example, a round-trip ticket between Chicago/Libertyville is over $10. That price seems to be high considering the morning and afternoon trains are full, generating significant revenue. It appears that in only the two to three main runs both morning and night on the northbound train (which is the one I ride) would be more than sufficient to cover costs and generate a significant profit. The issue at hand appears to be the fact that Metra isn't able to control their costs, which is NOT something that they need to pass off to customers, rather, they need to learn how to manage their finances and become more efficient."

You should know

A few more Metra notes:

• The agency is gearing up for the G-8 and NATO summit, which lands in Chicago this May along with a gazillion protesters. "Our security team has been meeting with the appropriate people to ensure we coordinate properly," CEO Alex Clifford said last week. "Metra's goal is to protect Metra's property. We have a very small police force so we'll protect Metra's property and Metra's customers. And, we'll integrate very carefully with the security teams associated (with the summit)."

• Take heart, wireless nation. Metra techies currently are evaluating bids for offering Wi-Fi on the system. "We're trying to bring it to the system without an actual Metra cost associated with it," Clifford said.

• Although several officials confirmed that longtime Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet is on administrative leave, there are mixed signals coming from headquarters. "She's out for a few days," Robert Carlton, the agency's newly minted communications chief, said in an email. Attempts to contact Pardonnet were unsuccessful.

One more thing

Pace board directors voted Wednesday to eliminate midday service on Bus Route 550 Big Timber -- North Randall. The route didn't have sufficient riders to pay for non-rush-hour trips, Pace planners said. This means four northbound and four southbound trips will be cut between 9:45 a.m. and 3:13 p.m. "The funds we save will be reinvested within the area to cover operating costs for Route 554 Elgin-Woodfield," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. For more information, check out

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