Chicago Auto Show roars into town with electrics, dream cars and more
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Contradictions abound at the Chicago Auto Show this year, with dissent on how soon autonomous and electric vehicles will take over the marketplace and a new focus on older consumers, not millennials.
"I'm not sure we're going to see any fully autonomous cars on our roads in substantial numbers anytime soon," Subaru of America President Thomas Doll said Thursday morning during media day.
But at noon, Volkswagen Group of America CEO Hinrich Woebcken predicted the "the race is on" regarding vehicles that drive themselves.
What's a sure bet at the auto show is that there will be plenty of tires to kick on both electric and conventional cars, as well as nine indoor and outdoor test tracks and crowd-pleasers including "Star Wars"-themed vehicles. The show runs Saturday through Feb. 19 at McCormick Place.
"It's an automotive theme park," said auto show Chairman John Hennessy, owner of River View Ford in Oswego.
Standouts from Thursday included Volkswagen's new Arteon mid-size car; Toyota's 2019 TRD Pro editions of the Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner; and a tweaked 2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.
"The Jeep exhibit is phenomenal," Hennessy said. "You can get in a new Jeep Wrangler and someone will take you up over a (simulated) mountain. Or go to the Toyota Test Track and they'll show you the latest and greatest in technology -- if something comes in front of the car, the car stops automatically."
Previous show previews have focused heavily on millennial buyers with hipster bands and grooving hamsters. Thursday Ford went for the 50-and-older market, drafting comedian Jim Belushi, who played "Sweet Home Chicago" on the harmonica and touted the 2019 Transit Connect van.
"It's affordable, flexible and smart for today's active baby boomer," said Wheaton native Belushi, adding it could fit a calf from his ranch.
Ford executive Mark LaNeve noted that buyers 50 and over buy 6.2 million vehicles in the U.S. annually, more than the 1.3 million purchased by the 18-to-34 age group.
Electric and hybrid cars comprise about 2 percent of the market, Hennessy said, and Subaru's Doll commented that the electric car doesn't yet deliver what consumers want now.
"Once you solve the charging problem and range, it could tip. Until that happens and get costs down to a reasonable level ... the internal combustion engine's going to be around," he said.
But Chevrolet executive Fred Ligouri of Palatine pointed to a Bolt on display and said the Chicago area market is embracing the electric crossover and developing the necessary infrastructure.
"If you go to any of the Illinois tollway oases, they have fast-charging stations that will recharge in 30 minutes," Ligouri said.
The Bolt has a range of 238 miles on a single charge and costs less than $30,000 with a federal tax credit, which satisfies range and price issues, Ligouri said.
"The Bolt is the beginning shot in a salvo of electrified vehicles," he said. "Stay tuned for more great things."