Chicago Auto Show: The Highlights

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro

With the Chicago Auto Show behind us, automakers readying new trim levels and minor engine revisions will have to wait until next year’s Chicago Auto Show, which – aside from wordy Internet press releases – has become the official place for such unveilings.

Pitched as a mini Detroit Auto Show but really more like a major Des Moines Auto Show, Chicago gives journalists yet another venue to mooch free alcohol off mid-level automotive PR grunts who aren’t yet senior enough to skip it. Fortunately for you senior PR folks – and anyone else who didn’t get the pleasure of Chicago in February – I’ve covered everything you need to know.

The only big news in Chicago was the debut of a redesigned 2014 Toyota Tundra. This is Toyota’s fourth-generation full-size pickup, expected to record around a tenth of domestic rivals’ sales no matter how many ads Toyota runs explaining that it’s built in San Antonio.

Volkswagen upheld the Chicago show’s reputation by releasing both new trim levels and engine revisions, keeping actual new products tightly wrapped until New York. Some highlights of the VW display:

  • A Wiz Khalifa-inspired Beetle, called the GSR because it stands for “Yellow Black Racer” in German. Truly. Assuming the Pittsburgh Pirates buy one to drive around the warning track during the seventh inning stretch with a t-shirt cannon sticking out the sunroof, VW still has to find a home for 3,499 of these, since production is “limited” to 3,500.
  • Speaking of premature runout models, the Beetle Convertible is adding an R-Line model for 2013. With little else to cover, journalists oohed and aahed over its aluminum shift knob while mooching free alcohol off mid-level automotive PR grunts.
  • Best of all, the Jetta GLI and Beetle Turbo received an entire press kit worth of engine upgrades. Net gain: 10 horsepower and 0 pound-feet. I sure hope they upgraded the brakes. But I’d have to read the press kit to find out.

Nissan’s big play this year was releasing NISMO versions of models that either already offer NISMO versions, or have no business offering NISMO versions. Witness the NISMO Juke, which could only have resulted from a competition between design and engineering on what could grow more: the horsepower or the fenders. Exact power isn’t known, but it’s safe to say the designers won.

But to Nissan, Chicago wasn’t all about performance and big fenders. They also released a cargo version of New York City’s next taxi, disappointing anyone who thought they’d be spared the sight of the ghastly van by living outside the Tri-State area.

Vans were also a hot topic over at Ram, where Fiat showed off a rebadged Ducato cargo van to be sold here as the Ram Promaster. This benefitted Ford most, as white-haired journalists typically found pestering Ford PR about the Panther’s return for the eleventh auto show in a row were instead seen at the Chrysler display waxing nostalgic about the Ram Van.

Chevrolet released its Cruze Diesel, which – after years of planning and development – matches the Jetta Diesel in every way, yet costs $3,000 more. Reached for comment, Chevrolet probably would’ve said: “Give it six months. You’ll find the three grand in the trunk.”

Interestingly, Kia brought a concept car to Chicago, apparently disregarding the strongly-worded memo reminding automakers to stick to trim levels and engine revisions. Called the Cross GT, it would fill the hole created when Kia cancelled the Borrego, which was purchased by at least 40 people, of which only 27 were Kia employees. Peter Schreyer couldn’t be reached for comment, as he was too busy fulfilling the duties of his latest promotion to President of South Korea.

And that was the Chicago Auto Show. If you live in Chicagoland and want to attend, I strongly encourage it. How else will you find out about the latest trim levels?

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

Doug DeMuro
Doug DeMuro

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  • Mpresley Mpresley on Feb 09, 2013

    "...matches the Jetta Diesel in every way, yet costs $3,000 more." 3K more than the Jetta diesel, or 3K more than the standard Cruze?

  • Chicagoland Chicagoland on Feb 09, 2013

    "...more like a major Des Moines Auto Show" Some Coastal Elites forget how big Chicago really is. City is near 3 million, and Metro is now 9, pushing 10 million. No, we are not 'Des Moines', or a hick town as NYC and LA show biz types assume. In exhibit space, our show is near double DET and LA. And NYC should really host a 'Taxi and Subway Show', he-he.

  • Wjtinfwb I'd like to see a Ford/Mazda relationship restarted. Both companies have some car guys keeping the flame alive and could develop a sports car slightly bigger than a Miata and pick and choose from each other's parts bin to put together some attractive powertrain combo's. Even a Mazda 3 AWD with the 300HP EcoBoost 2.3L, manual and AWD from the Focus RS would be welcome. Even better, a factory Miata V8 with the 480 HP Coyote (i know it wont fit...) and a manual gearbox. And how about a CX-5 with a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with AWD and an chassis tuned for sport. Lots of possibilities.
  • Blueice Patient 28, sorry, but it is Oktoberfest. Bring a kegof Kraut beer and we will 50% you.
  • Bd2 Probably Toyota, Hyundai is killing them these days.
  • Bd2 Japan is evil, stop buying their vehicles. I hope TTAC has a holiday for PEARL HARBOR.
  • Wolfwagen If Isuzu could update this truck and keep the cost between $25K - $30K they would sell like ice pops on dollar day in a heat wave.
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