By on July 15, 2021

VW Golf R. Tim Healey/TTAC

The 2020 Chicago Auto Show was the last one before the world shut down due to COVID-19. The 2021 Chicago Auto Show was the first one to be held as the world reopens.

And boy, was it surreal. Not that I’m complaining — in-person auto shows beat the hell out of Zoom.

The show’s media day was surreal not so much because we’re all coming out of our homes after sheltering in place — I’ve been re-acclimating myself with the larger world since full vaccination took hold in early May, and I’m now mostly comfortable with eschewing masks and social distancing (except at the grocery store. I can’t seem to shake the habit of masking up while shopping as of yet). No, it was because the show, which normally requires a year of planning, came together in a month and a half.

And it moved partially outdoors.

Ford Maverick. Tim Healey/TTAC

Full disclosure: I’ve done paid and unpaid work, pre-TTAC, for the group that puts on the show. I’ve also guested on their radio show to talk cars during my time at TTAC.

With public days starting today and running only through the weekend, as opposed to the usual run which stretches over about nine days, there was a sense of urgency as construction crews hurried to erect the show stands.

In fact, media weren’t supposed to wander the show floor unescorted, in order to avoid any safety issues, though most of us managed to walk around unencumbered.

To be clear, even in a normal year there’s always some last-minute assembly going on during media days. Not to mention tear-downs of the stands used during press conferences as the show transitions from media days to public days. Simply put, if you attend an auto show on press days and then come again on the first public day, you’ll see that the floor looks different when the consumers arrive.

2022 Jeep Compass. Tim Healey/TTAC

So, the show was still under construction, and we media types had to work in a small little corner between the lobby and show floor instead of in the usual media room. Outside of the air conditioning seeming not to work, big whoop. What about the cars?

Well, there wasn’t much in the way of new-car launches. This has been a bit of an issue for Chicago in all the years I’ve been doing this job — while the show is oft-said to draw the most consumers, it has been eclipsed in terms of press-day unveilings by the shows in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles. Which short notice this year and a pandemic that is receding but very much not over, I didn’t expect much OEM participation in terms of new-car launches.

I was right. Only Jeep, with the 2022 Compass, and Volkswagen, with the Golf R and GTI, made anything close to “news.” Jeep also talked up an off-road package for Wranglers and a new feature for hard-top Wranglers.

Ford Lightning. Tim Healey/TTAC

The rest of the day was given to walkarounds, mostly of vehicles we’ve seen presented by Zoom but not up close. The show marked the first time I saw the Ford Maverick (which really isn’t all that compact), Ford Lightning, Kia EV6, Nissan Proto Z, and others with my own eyes. I suspect it was the same for most journalists, save a few Detroiters perhaps.

I skipped some of these things to do TTAC work and attended others to produce content for our corporate masters. It all felt very laid back compared to the usual madness that accompanies media days.

For those who don’t know, a typical media day jams a lot of press conferences onto the schedule, usually with only a few minutes of transit time in between. Because sound carries, they often alternate sides of the exhibition hall, so OEMs don’t have one presser bleeding into another. Meaning it can be a mad dash from one to the next — or up to the out-of-the-way media center to process pics or type up a blog post.

Nissan Proto Z. Tim Healey/TTAC

Chicago wasn’t like that. It felt like an easing into the return of normalcy. One journo I know called it “baby steps.”

That seems apt, both from a media perspective and a consumer perspective. The world is reopening, but we’re not yet at full go. COVID persists. Some people aren’t vaccinated, whether it’s because they don’t want to or they want to but haven’t had access to vaccines. We still have to wear masks when we fly, and on public transit in this city. The Olympics just nixed spectators. The pandemic isn’t over, but we’re trying to regain much of the social and economic life we lost over the past year.

I don’t know how “normal” the New York Auto Show, set for next month, will be. But I do know that Chicago’s “baby steps” towards normalcy are likely setting the stage.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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32 Comments on “2021 Chicago Auto Show Recap: Surreal Times On the Near South Side...”

  • avatar

    “haven’t had access to vaccines”

    Is this really an excuse anymore in this country? I don’t know about anyone else, but around where I live you can literally walk into just about any pharmacy at any time of day, say pretty please, and walk out with a vaccine coursing through your veins.
    No, I think if you haven’t got your vax by now, you’ve either decided not to get one for whatever reason, or you’re just supremely lazy.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I assume some folks can’t get off work.

      • 0 avatar

        24 hour pharmacies are a thing? As are weekends?

        Right? It occurred to me the other day that I’m required to show proof of my dog’s vaccinations for her to attend training class. To protect the other dogs. Hint, hint.

        • 0 avatar
          Tim Healey

          Fair point. Yet I continually read in the papers that some folks want the vaxx and have no access, and that time off work (in part to deal with possible side effects), is one reason.

          • 0 avatar

            A couple of months ago, it was legitimately hard to get a vaccine appointment. I was actually ready to drive my youngest kid up to Greeley to get a shot. Not so anymore. They are literally running these clinics seven days a week. Some are pop-up operations in school parking lots, etc. I don’t think anyone can reasonably make the “I can’t find a shot that fits my schedule” argument anymore.

            Having said that, I wish more providers would set up “we’ll come to you” clinics at major workplaces (Amazon warehouses, etc.). Apparently it’s a money issue, according to my girlfriend.

          • 0 avatar

            In April, I drove an hour and a half to a redder county to get my first shot.

            In May, I was easily able to get appointments at our county’s main vaccination site for my second shot.

            Now, there are shots easily available at a drugstore that I can walk to from my house, including weekends and nights.

        • 0 avatar

          @FerrariLaFerrariFace She’s a dog, not a human being with the free will and the ability to decide what is best for herself. Hint hint

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @Tim Healey: COTD

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      ^^ +1.

      And we’re seeing how that is turning out. The same people get shots for their pets, but this one might turn them into zombies. Far better that 2% die than accept the ID chip in the vaccine. /s

    • 0 avatar

      My girlfriend runs a vaccine clinic for a large hospital here in Denver, and they are literally bending over freakin’ backwards to get people vaccinated. The clinics are open seven days a week. They’re parking RVs at schools to do walk-ins. They’re doing clinics at their urgent care locations. Same for all the other hospitals.

      Back in April, when they opened up vaccinations to the general public, it was hard to find an appointment. Not anymore.

      There are some people who can’t get vaccinated due to health concerns, and there’s also a large contingent of folks who haven’t done it because they already got COVID. Otherwise, Agreed 1,000% with LaFerrari – unless you can’t take the shot, or already had COVID, if you don’t want todo this, we’re dealing with stupidity – usually of the political variety – or laziness.

      I’ll quote the (REPUBLICAN) governor of West Virginia: if you’re not getting vaccinated, you’re part of the problem.

      I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

      (Cue the wingnuts with their “here, watch this Youtube video about how taking the vaccine turns you into a magnetized, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers pod clone that can be tracked by Bill Gates” nonsense. And have at it. You’re just making yourself look like an idiot.)

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Meh, get it or don’t get it at this point. If you don’t though, to quote Ivan Drago “If he dies, he dies.”

        • 0 avatar

          People are still using the stupid made up term “meh”?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I know…people not writing their internet posts to APA or MLA standards. What is the world coming to.

            As you have chosen not to get it, then remove the meh if you wish and hopefully that second bit doesn’t become applicable.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        How could you not get it? I’ll explain it as best I can:

        1. A lot of people live lives in distress. Their immediate needs are more pressing than getting a vaccine.

        2. Many people are concerned about the immediate and long-term safety of the vaccines. It hasn’t been studied long-term, and currently is not approved for anything but ’emergency use’. This can scare people, especially when it comes to injecting their children. Some are afraid of all vaccines, for various reasons.

        3. One political party, including their mouthpiece ‘news’ networks are crusading against vaccinations. Their party leader -and his entire family- got the vaccine early on, but initially kept it a secret. He didn’t promote it, and now is now following his base’s reluctance to vaccinate, all for political gain. He claimed all credit for the vaccines, and then refused to promote their use.

        • 0 avatar

          @Ol Shel

          4. Let’s not forget that the other political party was saying that they would not get the shot because it was developed under the former president (like he was making it himself in the basement of the WH). Suddenly they are the ruling party and they want everyone to get it, and are even resorting to bribes for people to get it. And they are surprised when certain areas (mostly Urban full of their supporters) haven’t gotten the shot. People who flip flop without a good detailed explanation and an “I am sorry I was wrong” are rarely trusted.

        • 0 avatar

          thats what dementia will do to a person. also make them ragetweet from the crapper at 4am. 4 years of the sundowner in chief are over.

      • 0 avatar

        @ FreedMike Or could it be that some people simply choose not to get it because they just don’t want it? Has nothing to do with politics or stupidity but rather simply the freedom to choose. I have not gotten the COVID vaccine and I choose not to. Done, over. I am not part of any problem. I am free American. I dont care if. You. Don’t. Get. It.

        • 0 avatar

          What you’re saying, in essence, is “I don’t give a fat f**k if I get this virus and give it to someone else – I’m an American, deal with it.”

          People in my family have died of this disease. You think the bill of rights enables you to go spread it? You think that’s being American? Wrong. It’s just being a sociopath. Makes sense why you don’t get it…sociopaths don’t care. They think the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. Know who else Know who else took that tack? AIDS Patient Zero, who knew he had it, and then told people he infected that they had it too. Know who else took that tack? The idiots who were burning down businesses over George Floyd. Presumably you weren’t too thrilled with that one. But I digress.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I misread, the media was needing escorts to avoid getting mugged?

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Hey Nissan, the Z32 is old enough to be considered “retro” now. Furthermore the generation that would consider it retro has disposable income and is still able to get in and out of such a car. How about something like that? You gave it a twin turbo 3.0 V6 after all so you are halfway there.

  • avatar

    Will the 2022 Chicago show revert back to February?

  • avatar

    Reality check (from Chicago):

  • avatar

    How about we talk about the real travesty at the Chicago Autoshow. It is the very first picture in this post and one of the cars I was looking forward to seeing. Guess what it wasn’t there! VW had the GTI and the Golf R for journalists but they were gone when the public show started. The folks at the booth said they were the only two available and left for a roadshow? WFT? What kind of marketing morons work at VW? I am sure it had to be the same folks that came up with Voltswagan. ‍♂️

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