Fuel-efficient, sporty, sophisticated: Auto show offers lots of options
Whether you're a car-shy millennial, an urban lumberjack or a family of sophisticated slobs, the Chicago Auto Show has a vehicle for you.
That flexibility is warranted in a volatile market where nothing's taken for granted, including fuel prices, experts said at a Thursday preview. The show opens Saturday at McCormick Place and runs through Feb. 22.
A gallon of regular gas is averaging around $2.30, but consumers aren't totally convinced they can trust that price point, said Emal Noor, general sales manager for Biggers Mitsubishi in Elgin.
"Fuel efficiency is a double-edged sword," Noor said. "When gas prices are high, people trade in their gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars. When it goes down, it frees up extra (money)."
Auto Show Chairman John Webb of Packey Webb Ford in Downers Grove summed up this year's theme as "green, high-powered, high-performance, fuel-efficient."
Kia tried to hit those points with its new Trailster concept car painted in "polar pearl snowdrift."
"It's a highly useful tool in the urban toolbox," Kia executive Michael Sprague said. "It's for people who refuse to be fenced in by city limits."
Studies indicate millennials are driving less and using transit more than other generations.
Kia aimed at the twenty-something market and so did Toyota, introducing new versions of the Avalon, Camry and Corolla, which executives described as sporty, affordable and "red hot."
Millennials are buying cars, Fox Lake Toyota Scion general manager Joe Bosco said, but "they're buying cars in a different way. They're doing a good portion of their shopping online."
Noor agreed. "The demographic in 28- to 35-year-olds is as strong as it's ever been," he said.
Honda debuted a remodeled Pilot SUV with a "new sleek profile that's youthful and modern yet sophisticated." At the same time, the manufacturer emphasized minivan-like qualities such as roominess, cupholders and infotainment features.
The Pilot offers "every imaginable port and plug for maximum family tranquillity" that will allow four iPads to be charged simultaneously, engineer Marc Ernst said.
If you're in the market for an unaffordable car, a select group of supercars such as the Porsche 918 Spyder, Lamborghini Huracan and $2 million-plus Bugatti Veyron 16.4 are also on display. Another crowd-pleaser is Chevrolet's redo of the beloved GT.
Webb's phones are "ringing off the hook" with calls about the GT.
He considers low gas prices to be a "blip in the radar." Still, people "should be able to buy a little more car -- if they're not spending so much in their budgets on gas they could afford a moon roof or leather instead of settling for cloth," Webb said.
Cheap gas doesn't mean a shift to gas guzzlers, alternate fuels expert John Walton of Wheaton said. "Manufacturers are committed to small vehicles and fuel efficiency."
"As soon as gas drops, the No. 1 selling vehicles are pickups and SUVs. As soon as prices go up, they're the first people to complain about the price of gas," said Walton, vice chairman of Chicago Area Clean Cities.
Walton listed the diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf as one of his top picks along with the Chevrolet Volt and BMW 1 Series 3-door. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects pent-up customer demand, from drivers holding onto cars, will boost sales to about 17 million this year compared to 16.4 million in 2014.
The forecast for 44 percent of buyers to opt for cars and 56 percent light trucks/SUVs is predicated on cheap gas and economic growth.
The Chicago Auto Show is considered the largest consumer show in the U.S.
For Thomas Hughes, general manager of Schaumburg Mitsubishi, it's all about connecting with customers. "I'm sending all my sales staff here," he said.
Other dealers consider the show to be a turning point for sales. "It's the break point of winter," Bosco said.
Schedule: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 21, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 22.
Admission: $12, $6 for seniors 62 and older, $6 for children ages 7 to 12 and free for children 6 and under. For discount days, see www.chicagoautoshow.com/about-the-show/.