It’s go time. The 2017 Chicago Auto Show revs up at Chicago’s McCormick Place February 11 – 20, with more than one million square feet of exhibit space featuring prototypes, hot sellers and interactive displays from today’s leading automakers.

It’s the largest version of the show since it debuted in 1901 — and the most progressive. Of the more than 1,000 vehicles on display, attendees can expect to see some prominent trends in the marketplace, says David Sloan, president of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which produces the show.

CHICAGO AUTO SHOW
When: Feb 11-20
Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive
Tickets: $7-$13
Info: chicagoautoshow.com

The biggest thought on everyone’s mind currently is “the move towards autonomy and how far off that may or may not be,” he says.

According to Business Insider, the U.S. Department of Transportation is set to open 10 self-driving testing tracks across the country for auto developers to improve the driving technology and test safety controls before launching to the public en masse. The same report forecasts that to happen by 2019 (with 2,500 vehicles estimated in the consumer market) and the first mass driverless taxi fleet to come soon after in 2020.

Autonomous or self-driving vehicles, of course, would essentially allow the drivers to buckle in and let the vehicle get him or her to the final destination through a series of intelligent systems of navigation, controlled speed and automatic braking. Given the massive attention behind this growing trend, Sloan furthers that automakers are trying like mad to make sure they will be top of mind when autonomous cars start becoming mainstream.

The dashboard console of the 2017 Volvo XC90 | COURTESY OF CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

The dashboard console of the 2017 Volvo XC90 | COURTESY OF CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

Some of the Chicago Auto Show models where attendees can start to see this technology take shape are in Volvo’s XC90 SUV and S90 sedans, which already have a good number of autonomous features (later this year, the XC90 will also be further developed as a fully driverless car for Volvo’s Drive Me pilot program).

Sloan says Volvo’s models are part of a class of cars that are gearing up for the future.

“The technology that will help cars become driverless is already on the road today in different kinds of safety technology, including lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control and various alerts, for example, if car in front of you is stopping too fast,” says Sloan who advises to look out for many of these features on display in various interactive exhibits. “Part of the Auto Show mission is to try to educate consumers about all this new technology.”

The other major shift in the marketplace is toward all-electric vehicles. While these eco-friendly and gas-friendly cars have been available for some time, 2017 marks the year they will start to become much more accessible, says Sloan. While the Nissan LEAF, Kia Niro and the Hyundai Ioniq have been gaining traction, “one of the most interesting on the showroom floor is GM’s Chevrolet Bolt, which just won North American Car of the Year,” says Sloan.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

The Bolt offers an estimated 238-mile range on a single charge, and after tax incentives, the price tag comes in at around $30,000. “It’s the first affordable electric car with a long-range mileage, so that’s really exciting,” says Sloan. “It will be interesting to see how it sells.” The Bolt was also designed with ride sharing in mind, he says. According to USA Today, Lyft drivers have been among the first to access the new vehicle after Chevy parent company General Motors made an investment of $500 million in the transportation network in early 2016. Look for more of the “old-line auto industry investing in the new auto industry,” says Sloan.

Another trend somewhat complicating the demand for electric cars (or even hybrids for that matter) is the current downgrade in gas prices. “With gas at a national average of about $2.50 a gallon right now, fully electric vehicles aren’t as attractive as they might otherwise be,” says Sloan.

For people who like traditional models, the crossover market (i.e., small SUVs) has been a hot segment, says Sloan, “because people like the utility aspect and the compact size, and they let you sit a bit higher on the road.” Crossovers are especially popular in urban areas, like Chicago, since they work well in traffic and are easier to park, not to mention the better all-weather control.

The 2017 Lexus NX | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

The 2017 Lexus NX | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

At the Chicago Auto Show, look for models like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HRV, Ford EcoSport and the Lexus NX, which will be raffled off as part of the Auto Show’s annual “First Look for Charity” gala on February 10.

Constructed from more than 350,000 Lego bricks, this 17-foot long, lifesize Lego® Batmobile is inspired by the Speedwagon that will be featured in the upcoming Warner Bros. “The LEGO® Batman Movie." The car will be on display at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

Constructed from more than 350,000 Lego bricks, this 17-foot long, lifesize Lego Batmobile is inspired by the Speedwagon that will be featured in the upcoming Warner Bros. “The LEGO Batman Movie.” The car will be on display at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show. | COURTESY CHICAGO AUTO SHOW

When the main show opens to the public on February 11, attendees will have plenty of new features and attractions to look forward to, including life-size Lego Batmobile promoting the new animated movie as well as Nissan’s partnership with the “Star Wars” franchise for its Rogue crossover model.

One of the most convenient options though will be the new “e-pass,” a QR code embedded into tickets as well as the official Chicago Auto Show mobile app that allows visitors to quickly scan their information in at each booth to receive more product details about the autos they’re interested in and register for contests.

“So, instead of a product specialist having to take five minutes to put information in their system, they can use that time to have a conversation about the car,” says Sloan. “It will make the experience of the attendee so much better.”

Selena Fragassi is a freelance writer.