For this week, let's forget about polar vortexes, road salt and train delays.
Let's talk about horsepower, torque and flux capacitors. Let's talk about Corvettes, Mustangs and Lamborghinis.
Auto show factoidsDid you know it's the 106th Chicago Auto Show? The event premiered back in 1901 and is the biggest of its kind in North America. Nearly 1,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles will be displayed in more than 1 million square feet of McCormick Place turf. The show runs from Saturday through Feb. 17, but for $250 you can attend the First Look for Charity gala Friday.
The Chicago Auto Show kicks into gear Saturday through Feb. 17 at McCormick Place. This year, the buzz will center not just on the cars and trucks -- but the materials that go into them, Argonne National Laboratory's Don Hillebrand predicts.
Ford caused shock waves at Detroit's North American Auto Show last month by introducing an aluminum version of its iconic Ford F-150 truck that comes to Chicago this week.
Ford is using "military-grade" aluminum alloys on the F-150 that knock off 700 pounds, making for a more fuel-efficient truck. But the break from traditional steel is a risky move, industry insiders say.
The gamble also means the F-150 is a must-see, said Hillebrand, a former Chrysler engineer and director of Argonne's Center for Transportation Research.
"Everyone in the business said, 'Really?' Taking a truck that's so important and so profitable and so abused and going with aluminum? A lot of people are scratching their heads," Hillebrand said. "It seems almost crazy ... but Ford engineers aren't stupid."
Visitors can also marvel over the electric BMW i3, another think-outside-the-box vehicle with a carbon fiber reinforced plastic frame.
"It's so exciting ... no one's been willing to take the risk (before)," Hillebrand said. Carbon fiber research is "fantastically expensive but once you make a car out of it, the frame will last forever. It's much stronger than steel, but very light-weight."
This year marks a shift from previous shows when manufacturers were rolling out electric dream cars such as the Chevy Volt. "All the concept cars (in 2014) are race cars or big sedans ... they're beautiful," Hillebrand said.
He's eager to check out the futuristic Toyota F-21 concept. "It's the first car on the road like the car in 'Speed Racer.'"
What else? There's the Kia GT4 Stinger concept (yes, Kia's debuting a sports car), a new Corvette Z06 that boasts a 625 horsepower V-8 engine and the 2015 Ford Mustang. "There's a lot of horsepower under that hood," Hillebrand said. Gear heads will also want to pose with the latest Chevrolet Stingray, the North American Auto Show's car of the year.
The resurgence of muscle cars, however, doesn't mean eco-friendly folks will be disappointed. In fact, green cars have gone "mainstream," said both Hillebrand and alternate fuels expert John Walton of Wheaton.
"Gone are the days that those who wished to have very fuel-efficient vehicles had to drive cheap, small cars. Now we can drive all sorts of vehicles and be 'green,'" Walton said.
Electric cars on display include the Cadillac ELR, the Chevrolet Spark and Volt, the Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, Nissan Leaf and the Smart Fortwo electric.
"Who killed the electric car?" Walton asked referring to the 2006 movie. "No one -- the electric car is alive and multiplying."
Thirty different hybrids also are on display. "There's something for everyone on this list: luxury, large SUVs and so many configurations from Toyota with the Prius," Walton said.
"Then we have diesel cars that get impressive mileages and high torque in many different flavors from several manufacturers."
What's Walton most excited about? The Fisker Karma, named best green vehicle by auto show officials. "That is a very impressive electric car," he said.
Sticker shock warning: The Karma is also a Zen-blowing $102,000. So, say you want to kick the tires on a car under $20,000? Don't worry.
Reasonably-priced models like the Dodge Dart (starting price $15,995), Toyota Corolla ($16,800) and Mazda3 ($18,945) will all be on display. And with the auto show hype and music, you can easily pretend it's the new Mercedes C-Class.
So, what's your can't-miss car (or truck) at the Chicago Auto Show this year and why? Drop me an email at email@example.com and you could win two free tickets to the action. Follow me Thursday during the madness of auto show media day on Twitter @dhintransit.com.
The Chicago Auto Show runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, through Sunday, Feb. 16, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Ticket prices are $12 for adults; seniors and kids age 7 to 12 are $6. Children 6 and under are free. Feb. 11 is Women's Day, meaning just $6 for females; visitors who bring three cans of food for charity will also get a $6 discount on Feb. 12, 13 and 14. For more details on discount days, go to www.chicagoautoshow.com.
Keith Moens of Arlington Heights, a longtime Union Pacific commuter, thought my recent column about rail crossing fatalities and injuries "was a welcome spotlight on the biggest safety hazard around. The statistics you cited in that article are staggeringly depressing," Moens wrote. "Sadly these statistics have risen steadily, even after a Metra express train struck a school bus in Fox River Grove, October 1995, killing seven high school students.
"Unfortunately your article's focus quickly slipped away from the parties responsible for such unsafe conditions, Metra and Union Pacific to pedestrian nonchalance and the effect on an engineer of an accident. Not to underplay the importance of either, but Metra and UP must take a broader responsibility for safety, beyond the public relations program of Look, Listen and Live or Operation Lifesaver.
"Metra and Union Pacific must make substantive safety investments around their crossings to prevent the human slaughter. No other business would ever be allowed to operate for as long with the abysmal safety record you documented in your article, no matter who was to blame for the accident."
Always thought you could compete in the best cinematography category? The National Safety Council is offering wannabe filmmakers a chance to compete in its Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign. The Itasca agency is accepting videos that show the adverse effects of using hands-free phones and devices while driving as part of its campaign to educate people about cognitive distractions. You could win up to $2,000. Participants must be at least 18 and entries will be accepted until March 14. For more information, go to www.nsc.org/pages/home.aspx.
One more thing
Speaking of UP, the railroad will award its Union Pacific Safety Spike award to the Palatine Police Department Monday for their work in promoting crossing safety. The award includes a grant to help continue railroad safety activities in Palatine.