Chicago Auto Show vrooms back into town

Connectivity, automation and electrification were central themes at the Chicago Auto Show’s media day as manufacturers honed their pitch to the next generation of car buyers.

The annual event returns to McCormick Place Saturday through Feb. 19.

Highlights at Thursday’s press preview included Ford revealing its 2025 Explorer, which is made in Chicago. For car buyers, “connectivity is a must” in 2024, Ford executive Andrew Staley said.

“Ford needed to adapt and fit the needs of these new customers, including the largest group — millennials. These younger, family-focused customers are going out and doing more with their vehicles … things like camping, towing and fishing,” Staley said.

That means combining heated seats, a trailer-tow package and an infotainment system.

“If you’re a Google person, it has Google,” Ford engineer Kelley Clark said. “If you’re an Amazon person, it has Alexa. If you’re an Apple person, it has Siri.”

  Three Chevrolet Corvettes are displayed during the Chicago Auto Show preview at McCormick Place on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/

Meanwhile Kia debuted a refreshed Carnival lineup. Marketing executive Russell Wager noted Carnival is “attracting new buyers … with three out of four being new to the brand. These are the youngest buyers in the segment including (a significant) percentage of Gen Z.”

Manufacturers also touted advanced automated driving system features. In Ford’s case, that’s a hands-free highway driving system now available on Explorers.

The system works on divided highways with vehicles handling the steering, braking and speed, Staley explained.

  The University of Illinois showed its solar-powered electric vehicle during the Chicago Auto Show preview at McCormick Place on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/

It also has a lane change assistant. “You hit the turn signal, it’s going to actually change the lane for you whenever it’s safe to do so. If there’s a slower car in front of you, it will safely get into the left lane and pass the vehicle,” Staley explained.

Stellantis, which makes Chrysler, Jeep and Ram, took the year off after the United Auto Workers strike and organizers shifted to an expanded space in McCormick’s south hall.

Crowd-pleasers at the show included the 2024 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the GMC Hummer EV EarthCruiser concept, Chevrolet’s Silverado EV, Cadillac’s electric Escalade IQ and Volkswagen’s ID. Buzz.

  Volkswagen displayed its new bus, which is a variation on a classic, during the Chicago Auto Show preview at McCormick Place on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/

The ID. Buzz is the “electric version of the hippie van. The car looks unique and cool,” said Thomas Wallner, Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation and Power Systems Division director.

With electric trucks, sedans and the VW van, “I think we have all the segments covered and that to me is interesting,” he said.

Premiering at the show were Tesla and Lucid, a California-based EV maker, which has an Oak Brook showroom.

Tesla’s stainless-steel, elephantine Cybertruck drew attention as did Lucid’s sleek Air sports sedan, which has a range of up to 500 miles.

“It’s a really compelling car to drive — and it’s electric,” Lucid spokesman David Buchko said.

  A yellow Ford Mustang convertible is prominently displayed at the front entrance to the Chicago Auto Show during the preview at McCormick Place on Thursday. Joe Lewnard/

ComEd chose the press preview Thursday to announce an $87 million rebate program to subsidize the costs of battery-operated vehicles and help pay for EV infrastructure such as charging stations in the Chicago region.

“It’s for residents, businesses, government entities, schools … customers of every type,” ComEd Vice president of customer solutions Erica Borggren said. “This is all about driving a clean energy future.”

The program starts Feb. 15 and includes incentives for schools to buy electric buses and for charging facilities at apartment and condo buildings.

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