Sold-out EV show said to mark a 'turning point' for the industry

The Chicago Automobile Trade Association — the same organization that hosts Chicago's annual auto show — is holding its first all-electric show for dealers and consumers this weekend, signaling what stakeholders are calling a “turning point” in Illinois' EV industry.

Running Friday exclusively for dealerships before opening for the public Saturday and Sunday, the “Chicago Drives Electric” show is geared toward educating dealers and prospective buyers alike to prepare for the growth of EVs.

Experts from websites and utility companies such as ComEd will be on hand to help address questions on topics like range anxiety, charger availability, and tax credits and incentives.

“This is a turning point for everybody. We've been talking about EVs for years,” association President Jennifer Morand said. “They're here now.”

The event also is a chance for consumers to take a variety of EVs out for a spin: The show features all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles from Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Volkswagen and Volvo.

“The idea is to really start to educate people on what is out there. You can't go into your new car dealer now and see and drive these vehicles because inventory levels are so low,” Morand said. “The fact that we're able to round up all of these automakers in one event is actually very rare.”

Despite low expectations from organizers, the show was booked out overnight, filling the 2,000-person limit and quickly amassing a waitlist of nearly 600 people.

“We know that the interest is there now,” Morand said. “We had no idea what to expect, but we were overwhelmed by the response of consumer interest to come out and experience the latest EVs and learn about the technology that's available.”

While it's on the rare side for someone to own an EV right now, the product is rapidly approaching the mainstream market. Following the early adopters is a new wave of average consumers, and they are suddenly being faced with opportunities for EV ownership of mass-market vehicles, Morand said.

“Today's EV buyer is different from yesterday's EV buyer. They're just more mainstream because there's more incentives available through the government and through Illinois in particular,” she said.

Along with the rest of the nation, Illinois has been nudging its residents to trade in their gas-powered cars and go electric by rolling out initiatives such as rebate programs and charging infrastructure projects. The efforts are part of the state's lofty climate goals of getting a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 and reaching 100% clean energy by 2050.

Earlier this week, the state announced that the Federal Highway Administration approved Illinois' $148 million plan to install charging stations along major corridors, namely the interstate highways, throughout the state.

The federal funding — which is part of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program — will be awarded over a five-year period with the goal of building out a reliable, statewide network of chargers.

The first wave of funds for fiscal year 2022 amounts to $21,998,178, a figure Gov. J.B. Pritzker, along with U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, announced Thursday.

“Building more charging stations in our state means Illinoisans who own electric vehicles — and those in the market for one — will have an easier time taking that family road trip or visiting a loved one, and they'll be able to do so while helping protect our environment,” Duckworth said in a statement.

The Chicago Automobile Trade Association plans to bring Chicago Drives Electric to its annual auto show in February, hosted at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago. Previous iterations of the event offered limited electric vehicles for test drives, but the association is looking to triple the size of its indoor EV track this year.

Tickets will go on sale in November at

• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work, click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

  Volvo representative Russell Datz, left, gets an XC 60 ready for a test drive during the Chicago Automobile Trade Association's Chicago Drives Electric event Thursday for National EV Week in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
  Mark Savage, right, of Milwaukee gets ready to test-drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee with Jeep's Brandon Girmus during Thursday's Chicago Drives Electric event hosted by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
  Jennifer Newman, left, editor-in-chief, was one of the panelists at the Chicago Automobile Trade Association's Chicago Drives Electric event Thursday in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
  KC Boyce with Escalent Research speaks during Thursday's Chicago Automobile Trade Association's Chicago Drives Electric event in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
  Chicago Automobile Trade Association hosted a Chicago Drives Electric event Thursday for National EV Week in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
  Elgin resident Ed Piotrowski returns Thursday from test-driving a plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler at the Chicago Drives Electric event for National EV Week in Oakbrook Terrace. Paul Valade/
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