Self-driving cars that double as chauffeurs were the talk of the Chicago Auto Show preview Thursday, but behind the razzle-dazzle, automakers are wondering what a new-model White House means for the industry.
The nation's largest auto show is back Saturday through Feb. 20 at McCormick Place, with plenty of innovations on display.
"Imagine saying, 'Hey, open the trunk!'" Chrysler Fiat Corp. design chief Ralph Gilles said, envisioning a future car that follows commands and drives itself.
But until that's a reality, consumers are benefiting from safety technology such as pedestrian detection and lane departure warnings offered increasingly as standard features in all vehicles, not just luxury models.
The ultimate goal is "a system that keeps people from killing themselves," Gilles said.
His comments were echoed by General Motors Co. President Dan Ammann, who noted that in 2015 "more than 90 percent of accidents were caused by human error -- errors that autonomous driving has the potential to eliminate."
The auto show is usually apolitical, but there's plenty of anticipation among dealers and auto executives about what President Donald Trump will do regarding fuel efficiency.
The Obama administration introduced sweeping reforms calling for a 54.5-miles-per-gallon standard in cars and SUVs by model year 2025.
Those changes could be reversed by Trump.
Conventional wisdom holds that automakers would celebrate such actions, but they've also spent a fortune to meet the mandate.
"We look to continue to support those industry standards," Group Vice President for Toyota USA Bill Fay said. "We've met them for a long time now and plan to continue to be a leader in fuel-efficient vehicles."
Chevrolet executive Steve Majoros said the company is "going to stay committed to working within whatever regulatory environment may be. Does a loosened standard help a certain part of our portfolio? That's true for GM and Chevrolet ... but the only thing for sure is that things are not constant."
Hits Thursday included Toyota's new Tundra; Ford's sleek, restyled Mustang; Dodge's revamped Durango SUV; and the "sexy" Camry.
"(The Camry is) a must-see, the styling is beautiful and it's really an affordable car," said show Chairman Mike McGrath, who owns dealerships in Palatine and Chicago.
As for green cars, Chicago Area Clean Cities Chairman John Walton balked when asked to name only one.
"They've just got so many," said Walton, of West Chicago. "The Bolt is the new love child, but I still like the Volt," he added, referring to Chevrolet's electric cars.
For kids, the show offers a "Lego Batman" exhibit, Hank the Robot, and a "Rogue One" interactive display. For kids at heart, there are five indoor test tracks and race car simulators that reduced grown men to giggling teens.
Amid hype about autonomous vehicles, Don Hillebrand, chief of Argonne National Lab's Transportation Research Center, provided a reality check.
There are five stages of so-called driverless cars and the industry is hovering around Level 2.
Level 2 comprises "cars that take over braking and steering when people do dumb things," Hillebrand explained.
Level 3 involves cars that do the driving themselves but allow people to take over in crises. Skip over to Level 5, and it's a brave new world of cars picking up their drivers and ferrying kids to school.