Debuts, hot hybrids and electric trucks: What to look for at this year's Chicago Auto Show

Two halls, seven indoor test tracks, more than 175 production and debut vehicles. Plus, a chance to run like a kid around McCormick Place.

After two years in low gear, the swagger is back at the Chicago Auto Show, which opens Saturday through Feb. 20.

“The outlook is very positive” with major players such as Honda returning after a COVID-19 hiatus, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association's Jennifer Morand said. For car buyers, “prices are getting better as inventory begins to replenish.”

Chicago exclusives this week include Subaru's U.S. reveal of the redesigned Crosstrek, a compact SUV, and Toyota's rollout of its new, three-row Grand Highlander.

And, “from the eye-candy standpoint, Corvette will have its E-Ray,” a hybrid take on the iconic sports car, said Morand, CATA co-president.

Also sucking up oxygen will be Chrysler's Airflow, an electric crossover concept with a proposed range of up to 400 miles.

What's the hot trend this year? Argonne National Lab's Thomas Wallner predicts a lot of buzz around electric vehicles per usual, but the twist in 2023 is a focus on trucks. Chevrolet's “Silverado EV is one that is highly anticipated,” said Wallner, interim deputy director of Argonne's Transportation and Power Systems Division.

Once a rarity, EVs are gaining traction with Tesla and Ford in a price war, the U.S. government's expanding charging stations, and a federal rebate of up to $7,500.

In 2022, purely electric vehicles, not hybrids, constituted just over 5% of total new units sold in the U.S., Wallner pointed out. “There's still a ways to go, but that's significant. Every 20th car (sold) is electric,” he said.

For those still dipping their toes into the battery-powered car market, the show's Powering Chicago EV Learning Center has experts who will field questions from installing charging stations to who qualifies for a rebate. And don't forget about hybrids, said Wallner, who wants to check out Toyota's new Prius.

Consumers will hear chatter about “autonomous” vehicles at the show, but getting behind the wheel of a car like KITT on “Knight Rider” is still far off.

In the interim, Wallner sees the auto industry focusing on refining driver-assistance systems such as GM's Super Cruise and Ford's BlueCruise, which offer “hands-free” driving on compatible highways in select cars. “Maybe we'll see more competition in the functionality of those driver-assistance systems versus the concept of a full robot car,” he said.

Another reality check: Thanks to supply chain dysfunction, inflation and high interest rates, cars remain pricey and availability is relatively limited.

All the more reason to see multiple autos in one place, show organizers said. There are seven indoor test tracks and four outside featuring Ford, Subaru, Kia and Volkswagen vehicles.

CATA analysts expect that pent-up demand and a break in the supply dam could result in a 5.5% spike in 2023 light vehicle sales compared to 2022. “The good news is that the market is coming back, so manufacturers are in a much better spot this year compared to last year.” Morand said. “Some brands are starting to reintroduce incentives.”

The February 2020 auto show occurred just weeks before COVID-19 became a health crisis in the U.S. In 2021, CATA improvised with a popular outdoor event, and in 2022, a smaller show was staged using only one of McCormick Place's massive halls.

This year, the event is two halls strong, and wait — there's more, Morand said.

The Toyota Miles Per Hour Run returns from 8 to 9 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 12.

The course takes participants past cars in McCormick Place and onto the scenic Grand Course Bridge, and features Lake Michigan views from the comfort of the indoors. To register, go to the Chicago Area Runners Association.

Gear heads and beerheads also can partake in the Chicago Friday Night Flights event and sample multiple Chicago-area microbreweries on Feb. 17.

“The show is in motion for sure,” Morand said. “It's not just looking at static vehicles on carpet anymore.”

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Ford's Mustang Dark Horse, with its 5.0-liter V8 projecting 500 horsepower, is worth a look at the Chicago Auto Show, running Saturday through Feb. 20 at McCormick Place. Courtesy of Ford
Chrysler's all-electric Airflow Graphite concept car is coming to the Chicago Auto Show. Courtesy of Stellantis
The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public Saturday at McCormick Place. Daily Herald File Photo
The Chicago Auto Show returns to McCormick Place on Saturday through Feb. 20. Courtesy of Chicago Auto Show

Chicago Auto Show

The Chicago Auto Show opens Saturday and runs through Feb. 20.

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 19; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 20

Where: McCormick Place, South Building, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Cost: Free for children through age 3; $10 for kids through age 12 and seniors 62 and older; $15 for adults. Tickets may be purchased online or at the door.

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