By on May 4, 2021

Chicago Auto Show

The 2020 Chicago Auto Show was, as far this author knows, the last major auto show to take place before COVID shut the world down.

Now, it might be the first auto show to return.

Don’t just take it from us. Take it from Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot (D).

The show will be modified, of course. Not only is it taking place over a shorter schedule of five days, but it will only use McCormick Place’s West Hall and much of it will be moved outside. Nearby Indiana Avenue will be used for consumer test drives.

(Full disclosure: I did some work for the organization that runs the show prior to my time at TTAC, and have guested on their radio program to talk cars during my time here.)

Ford will have an outdoor display for the Mustang Mach-E EV crossover, Bronco Sport crossover, and the full-size Bronco SUV.

Not only that, but Indiana Ave. might also be used to host food stands and entertainment.

Attendees will be able to pre-register for test drives and other outdoor events, in a bid to minimize crowding and time spent in line.

“We’ve been working with McCormick Place officials for months on an opening plan, and very early on they saw that our show may provide a pathway to re-opening the facility,” Chicago Auto Show General Manager Dave Sloan said in a statement. “We stand committed to providing a safe environment for all involved and will carefully adhere to the health and safety protocols and guidelines set forth by city and state officials. McCormick Place is an important economic engine for our city and state, and we take very seriously the responsibility that comes with helping to get it running again.”

Attendance will be limited to 10,000 people at any one time. Attendees will have to buy tickets online, arrive at a set time, and leave after a maximum of four hours at the show.

Right now, Chicago’s COVID restrictions limit conventions and conferences taking place in large indoor venues — like McCormick Place — to either 25 percent capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer. However, Chicago is expected to join the rest of Illinois in the so-called “bridge” phase of reopening soon. Capacity would then be raised to 60 percent or 1,000 people, whichever is fewer.

Obviously, 1,000 is fewer than 10,000, but we confirmed with the auto-show folks that the limit is 10,000 on the floor “at any one time”. And that at that number, the show is under 30 percent capacity. It’s worth noting that 10K people is a maximum, and there could be a lot fewer people on the show floor at any given time.

The show’s move to July may or may not be for this year only, but it could be an interesting experiment.

“While we believe February is the right time for the Chicago Auto Show to have its biggest impact on the industry and the area economy, we’re thrilled to be able to experiment with the July dates,” Sloan said. “The timing has allowed us to get creative and try new things and the automakers have really embraced it.”

There was no mention of media days in the press release, but should the show host media days, expect them to be a day or two before the show opens to the public.

With the 2021 New York International Auto Show set for August, this makes Chicago the first of the big four American auto shows — Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles — to return, at least as far as we can tell.

There’s something poetic about the last show being the first as we (very slowly) move past the pandemic, I suppose.

[Image: Chicago Auto Show]

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7 Comments on “Chicago Auto Show Set to Return in July...”

  • avatar

    As a kid I went every year to the Chicago Auto Show and would live off the brochures for the next year. I’m glad it’s back, but not sure I’ll attend, getting in and out of McCormick Place is a pain in the butt

    • 0 avatar

      Getting in and out of CHICAGO is a nightmare.

      If you go I d stay at the Palmer House. The Drake is overrated.

    • 0 avatar

      I really enjoyed reading your post. all thru my childhood, i did just the same with the show and the brochures. never missed it. additionally in my late teens/early 20s, for 5 consecutive years, via a big South suburban Dealer (and BTW, the coolest designed Dealership building/showroom EVER)… I worked @ the CAS wearing an Olds Brass required black tuxedo, working the floor in old McCormick Place representing Oldsmobile Division during their early ’80s heyday. Hard to believe now, but late 70s, early 80s Oldsmobile was moving 800,000-1.2M vehicles annual holding the #3 spot behind Chevy & Ford. Thanks for stirring up the good memories this morning.

  • avatar

    Manufacturers have been scaling back attendance at auto shows, to the point that many smaller ones may not return.

    Considering that most auto shows were originally conducted by local dealers as a way to punch up sales, we may see a return to those smaller gatherings, and just a few mega-auto-shows in the biggest venues.

    After all, the reveals now take place around the calender, and there’s no need for more than a couple shows for concepts. The US auto industry might do well to reveal their newest production models at smaller shows nearest the assembly points.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    How about starting with the Hyundai Santa Cruz and the new Ford Maverick.

  • avatar

    First picture: If they have Jeeps there, I probably can’t afford to go.

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