What's new at the Chicago Auto Show this year?
I'm struck by the resurgence of big, bold, high horsepower, luxury and performance. One thing seems sure, it is more like a party and less like a wake.
Vroom, vroomThe Chicago Auto Show roars into town Saturday through Feb. 18. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Feb. 18, when closing time is 8 p.m. At McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for seniors and children ages 7 to 12. Kids age 6 and younger free. chicagoautoshow.com.
What a brilliant analysis. I wish I'd said that myself. But I have to credit former Chrysler engineer turned Argonne scientist Don Hillebrand.
"With the past of bankruptcies and bail outs and nationalizations -- it has been a few years where I think the auto companies were being very careful how they portrayed the new products," said Hillebrand, Argonne's Center for Transportation Research director.
"In the past few years we saw the influx of pure electric vehicles and super-clean, super-efficiency. Then we saw a couple years of what I would call 'common sense' type vehicles with good fuel economy and good overall value. This year it seems to be that that is all the past. Everyone seems to be showing big and powerful."
Yes, those shellshocked auto shows of bailouts and recalls are so 2008 and 2009. And electric cars? Yawn.
This year, one of the stars of the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, which runs Saturday through Feb. 18 at McCormick Place, is expected to be a Corvette. Not just any Corvette, of course.
It's the 2014 Corvette Stingray (hyperbole warning) "with a 450 horsepower engine ... able to accelerate from 0-60 in less than four seconds," a breathless GM description states.
"It's a seventh-generation Corvette," auto show General Manager Dave Sloan said. "People will buy a ticket just to get a first glimpse of that car in person. I bet there's someone coming who's seen every generation of Corvettes at the auto show."
Of course there's other fish in the sports car sea eager to scuff the Stingray's flippers.
Among them are the new Acura NSX, the Infinity Q50 and the Mercedes E-63 AMG. "That is about 2000 horsepower in just four cars ... as much power as a P-47 Thunderbolt," said Hillebrand, referring to the World War II fighter plane.
For a change of pace and price, Honda will roll out an "urban SUV" concept crossover, touted as smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient than the CR-V. It should make its way into showrooms by 2014.
Other intriguing concepts include Kia's crossover, the Cross GT and Toyota's Furia, the next-generation Corolla. A sexy Corolla?
"It's pretty," Sloan promised.
And if you're in the market for a truck, it's your year. Toyota will flaunt its latest Tundra to compare with new pickups from GMC, Chevrolet and Chrysler, which won North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit Show for the Ram 1500. Plus, Ford's showing off a concept called the Atlas. "All the players are in the same place at the same time," Sloan said.
What about green cars this year?
"The automakers are working to do their best to increase fuel economy without sacrificing performance," Sloan said. "While you still have the nice horsepower numbers, the EPA fuel economy numbers are going up too, that's really the story. And, obviously computer-engineered controls are allowing them to do things they've never achieved before."
Some alternate cars to watch for include the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, making its global debut, the Cadillac ELR, or electric hybrid car, and Volkswagen Crossblue concept.
Hillebrand described the Cadillac ELR as a "high-line, high-feature Volt (which costs $40,000) clone that has every bell and whistle that rich people would like, plus it is a plug-in hybrid taking advantage of GM's big lead in the plug-in technology."
The Crossblue is unique in that it's a plug-in hybrid that carries six passengers. "Not your usual econo/enviro product," Hillebrand said, adding both cars will be pricey.
In fact, "if you are interested in some of the headline cars at the show, you have to have a big pile of money."
What else? In addition to nearly 1,000 different models, you can experience hands-on driving with indoor and outdoor test tracks, check out antique cars, plus play with multiple interactive displays.
So that's the micro and the macro of the auto show. Is the auto industry in America back to a pre-recession, pre-recall high? Is the Corvette better than Chrysler's SCR Viper, also on display? What car do you want to see?
You should know
Thursday, I talked to several Metra 10-ride pass customers who were surprised about an 11 percent fare hike enacted Friday. Could that be because Metra was somewhat coy about the increase? Station posters and website notices Thursday informed riders that 10-ride passes bought between Nov. 17 and Jan. 31 would expire Feb. 28 and also listed fares effective Friday, the day the new rates kicked in. But nothing screamed "fare increase," as compared to the CTA's website that featured a prominent notice about "fare changes," and a link to a chart with old and new rates.
I asked Metra if this was an oversight and spokesman Michael Gills explained, "the link on the homepage was supposed to take you to a page that introduced the new fare chart by noting the 10-ride policy change. We've fixed that and made it clearer on the homepage.
"We also used many other means to communicate the change in 10-ride price," Gillis said. "We made announcements on the trains and on the platforms. We put an insert into the envelopes of everyone who got a ticket by ordering online or through a fare media provider, and those inserts also were distributed at downtown stations. The information also was part of our campaign to stress the continued convenience of the 10-ride ticket."
When I checked Friday, Metra's website did provide more information about the 10-ride changes, as promised.
And, to circle back to the auto show, you can take Metra to McCormick Place. Go to metrarail.com/metra/en/home/service_updates/chicago_auto_show2013.html to see how.
Tree-huggers and gear heads can come together this May at a forum on alternate fuels and vehicles, sponsored by the Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition and the recycling education group SCARCE. The GREEN DRIVE$ event includes displays of fuel-efficient vehicles and seminars on going green. It runs May 9 at the SCARCE offices, 799 Roosevelt Road, Building 2, Glen Ellyn. More details will be forthcoming at www.chicagocleancities.org.