By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
The Chicago Auto Show is unveiling one of the biggest new models this year — itself. Totally redesigned for 2016 in what show organizers have deemed a “show floor shakeup,” the new layout at McCormick Place aims to make the experience easier for attendees traversing the vast one million square feet of show space February 13-21. In particular it will be useful for those that want a chance to better compare similar car/truck models.
CHICAGO AUTO SHOW
When: February 13 through February 21
Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive
Tickets: $7-$12 (children under 6 are free)
“For years our show floor was pretty predictable, but it’s all changed this year. Only three manufacturers are in the same place,” says Chicago Auto Show general manager David Sloan, speaking of Ford, Toyota and FCA. Otherwise, premium brands have now been grouped together in the west end of the South Hall with volume brands at home in the North Hall.
Organizers also unveiled a new website and mobile app for 2016 that gives more dimension and tools for navigating the nation’s largest auto show. While ChicagoAutoShow.com focuses on previewing historical videos and enhanced photo galleries as well as social media feeds, the app is a necessary guide once on-site with its interactive map, notifications for updates to the daily schedule and integration with drivechicago.com where users can get more information on cars they are interested in and real-time inventory from dealers and private sellers across Chicago.
Free Wi-Fi will be accessible in all areas of McCormick Place and there are additional promotions for using the app, including the opportunity to win a Buick Encore just for downloading. “There’s also beacons throughout the show floor so you can get messages from exhibitors about activities and more chances to win prizes,” says Sloan.
With an average visit time of four hours, exhibitors at the Chicago Auto Show have also amped up experiential opportunities with all new (and highly interactive) displays. The most popular continues to be the indoor test tracks, which this year will be highlighted by Toyota’s new Rav 4 “Blizzard to Beach” course showcasing the vehicle’s off-road capabilities. Also this year is the addition of four outdoor test tracks that let you try models from Ford, Kia, Subaru and Mazda.
Further entertainment options at the Chicago Auto Show come courtesy of Lexus Listening Lounge where live music performances are scheduled for each weekend. This year’s “Verses and Flow” theme features a roster of R&B artists including Angie Fisher and Julia Huff and the Company Band. On February 13, Toyota will also present hip-hop and beatbox star Doug E. Fresh on its stage.
Most would agree that the biggest draw of the Auto Show is in fact the cars, and this year presents some impressive debuts. “We have about 50 cars that weren’t here last year,” says Sloan. Some of the most anticipated are the premium rear-wheel-drive Lexus LC 500, a refreshed Chevrolet Trax and the rebirth of the Lincoln Continental and Hyundai’s new luxury Genesis line. Though, the show stealer will be the debut of the much buzzed about Kia Niro, a hybrid utility vehicle, or “HUV.”
Some of the anticipated concept cars, particularly the Acura Precision, will also hint at where car design is headed in the coming years, which Sloan sees as heading away from electric cars (particularly with gas prices plummeting) and more towards driverless vehicles.
“People might be surprised to know that most of the technology that will be used to make car autonomous in the future is already in cars today on our show floor. All the safety technology that allows cars to automatically brake or park, even adaptive cruise control, is there. Vehicles are now safer, cleaner and more efficient than they have ever been and automakers are still able to make them perform really well. The technology is rapidly advancing, and we’re ready for it.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.