Chicago Auto Show returns to pre-COVID size, offering EVs, hybrids — and puppies

Twenty-seven manufacturers are showing off their latest vehicles through next Monday. There’s also a record-setting seven test tracks, and lots of entertainment for non-car enthusiasts.

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Consumers browse different vehicles on display at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.

Consumers browse different vehicles on display at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Chicago Auto Show is shifting into high gear this week.

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Returning to its former, pre-pandemic size — taking over two full halls at McCormick Place for the first time since the lockdown — the auto show this year won’t require masks or proof of vaccination.

“It’s like a regular auto show,” said Mark Bilek, spokesman for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which puts on the show.

In all, 27 manufacturers are showing off their latest vehicles through next Monday in the country’s first major auto show of the year. There’s also a record-setting seven test tracks, and lots of entertainment for non-car enthusiasts.

Chicago Auto Show 2023

Chicago Auto Show


Hours

10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20

Where

McCormick Place, 2301 S. King Drive

Admission

$15 adults
$10 seniors 62+
$10 children 4 to 12

Tickets: tickets.drivechicago.com


In 2021, the auto show was downsized, moved to July and held partially outdoors. And last year, the auto show was held in only one hall of McCormick Place, with COVID restrictions.

With electric vehicles gaining popularity, EVs are front and center.

For the first time, the auto show has an entire section for consumers considering going electric. The “Chicago Drives Electric” booth is designed to answer questions people might have about EVs. At 100,000 square feet, the booth takes up an eighth of the entire show, Bilek said.

“The biggest thing going on right now is the push toward electrification,” Bilek said. Every major manufacturer at the show has an EV on display, and at least three brands — Ford, Hyundai and Chrysler — have EV-only test tracks.

“But we also know people love their normal cars too,” said Bilek, noting the 800-horsepower V8 Dodge Challenger and the Mustang Dark Horse.

Attendees go on Jeep Wrangler Rubicon test drive at the Chicago Auto Show on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.

Visitors can test-drive a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

At Jeep’s test track, Lori Terrell and her 8-year-old son, Cam, stepped out of a Wrangler Rubicon that had just climbed a hill that seemed to reach McCormick Place’s ceiling.

“I couldn’t believe the incline down and the handling as you go,” said Terrell, of Naperville. “It’s a 45-degree angle. It’s incredible.”

It was the pair’s first time at the auto show. Cam is in third grade and has a collection of Hot Wheels, but he is just now becoming interested in real cars.

But Terrell’s not looking to buy.

“We just want to have fun,” she said.

Visitors at this year’s auto show may notice many non-automotive entertainment and interactive displays available for non-gear heads.

Laura McGowan came to Subaru’s nature-themed stall, but not for the cars — she was lured by a dog-petting space she had heard about at the automaker’s test drive outside.

“They told us, ‘When we’re not hugging trees, we’re hugging puppies; so go hug our puppies,” said McGowan, from Aurora.

Attendees at Subaru’s dog pen at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.

Visitors at Subaru’s dog pen at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Although the men in her family had come seeking cars, she’s glad other entertainment was available.

“I don’t like cars, so for me, this was way more fun,” she said.

Daughter Katie agreed.

“I got to see the puppies, so I’m good,” she said.

At Volkswagen’s stall, Donna Tauc contemplated the available EVs and hybrids. She’s been holding off on purchasing a car — waiting out the microchip shortage that hampered auto production — until now.

“Now I’m more ready to buy, so I’m excited,” said Tauc, who lives near Midway Airport.

Tauc’s sister, Deta Mertsoc, came along too — not for the cars — but as she put it: “To support her. And the free stuff.”

As the auto show returns to its post-pandemic normal, organizers hope attendance bounces back too.

In 2021, the pared down, five-day summer show attracted 100,000 people, Bilek said. Last year’s 10-day show brought in 200,000, Bilek said. Ticket sales this year are up 40% over last year, Bilek said.

“It’s looking really good,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Attendees check out Toyota’s Sienna at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. I Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Visitors check out Toyota’s Sienna minivan at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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