Fuel-efficient cars and even trucks souped up with the latest in high-tech safety systems predominated Thursday during the Chicago Auto Show media preview at McCormick Place.
Among the offerings are a remake of Ford's beloved F-150 pickup truck, which has shed 700 pounds with an aluminum alloy makeover, and a revamped 2015 Subaru Legacy with a blind-spot detector, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist features.
Auto Show 411Ÿ The Chicago Auto Show runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, Feb. 16, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.
ŸTicket prices are $12 for adults; seniors and kids age 7 to 12 are $6. Children 6 and under are free.
ŸFeb. 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.
The evolution of the F-150 has dropped jaws in the industry, but it's a "calculated, good risk," said Colin Wickstrom, owner of Wickstrom Ford Lincoln in Barrington and a Chicago Auto Trade Association board member.
"Consumers are so conscious of fuel economy nowadays," he said.
No media preview is complete without loud music and hype, which Subaru of America President Tom Doll provided in describing the Legacy sedan as "a car with curb appeal. ... It's a cat on the prowl."
Pent-up demand caused by the recession means suburbanites driving around in models from the early 2000s are at the tipping point, said auto dealer Ray Scarpelli, owner of Ray Chevrolet in Fox Lake.
"All major indicators would tell you that we should have a very good year. ... Employment is rising, fuel prices are steady," Scarpelli said. "There are many new offerings with many vehicles that have higher gas mileage than previous models."
Bob Carter, Toyota USA's senior vice president of automotive operations, forecast the industry would see "healthy" growth in 2014. "The industry will see its fifth consecutive year of growth, which is something we haven't seen since the 1930s."
The show opens to the public Saturday and runs through Feb. 17. Must-sees this year include new versions of the Corvette and Mustang, Kia's Niro concept car with butterfly doors, and Toyota's new line of off-road vehicles, the TRD Pro Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner.
Countering the muscle cars and off-road vehicles were new innovations in alternative fuel and green cars.
Kia unveiled its 2015 Soul EV, an all-electric car with a yet-to-be-named price. "It's a global car engineered for eco-conscious buyers who are into technology," said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning.
Chevrolet promoted a new Silverado HD and Impala with compressed natural gas (CNG) capability.
Meanwhile, Toyota is working on introducing a fuel cell car in 2015 that will run on hydrogen gas mixed with oxygen that generates electric to power the motor.
"It will fundamentally change how we think about transportation," Carter told reporters at a kickoff breakfast.
But he also noted the United States needs an infrastructure that supports alternate fuel vehicles.
Ford executive Joe Hinrichs focused on international trade at a lunchtime talk, sounding off about "currency manipulation" in Japan. If this issue is not addressed, Ford will oppose a U.S. trade agreement with 11 other countries including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Peru and Malaysia. "It's a major trade barrier," said Hinrichs, executive vice president of the Americas for Ford.
Among the Maseratis and Lamborghinis were numerous affordable models ranging from the Mitsubishi Lancer starting at $17,195, the Ford Focus at $16,810 and Mazda A3 at $26,495.
"It's exciting to see there are small economy cars built like luxury vehicles now," Wickstrom said. "It's neat to see you can buy an amazingly equipped vehicle with great technology in the low $20,000s. ... There are a lot more things that are standard."
So will consumers with hybrids like the Toyota Prius buy it again or opt for a cheaper model with great mileage?
"There's a compelling argument for both (sides)," Scarpelli said. "For certain situations, the average driver will do just as well or better with a car that gets 40 mpg than pay extra money for a hybrid system."
The average age of American vehicles is 11.4 years. Industry insiders predict sales of vehicles nationwide should top 16.5 million compared to about 15.6 million in 2013.
"We've seen escalating growth since 2009, which was the trough for sure," Wickstrom said. "If they thought they wanted it before, now they need it."
The Chicago Auto Show runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, Feb. 16, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. For more details, go to http://www.chicagoautoshow.com/.
Show: Automakers predict pent-up demand will be released