By on February 11, 2022

As you might be aware, Thursday was the first day of media previews for the 2022 Chicago Auto Show. Both editor Tim and yours truly are in attendance – Tim’s a local, and I really needed a few days away from the day job. I can’t, however, shake the feeling that the entire show is on something resembling life support. Beyond that, I wonder if my impressions of the show are a metaphor for the auto industry in total.

Exhibit one: Dead Cars Walking

I totally understand that we’re dealing with unprecedented supply problems throughout the auto industry. As such, dealers are desperate for inventory and will try and sell everything that rolls off the truck. Further, the Chicago Auto Show is somewhat unique among the four major U.S. shows as it’s more consumer-focused than the rest.

But to have three vehicles (from two brands) on the show floor that have been discontinued is a bit unusual. We’ve reported the impending death of the Chevrolet Spark and Ford EcoSport, and others are reporting that the order books have been closed on the Chevrolet Malibu. And yet, they’re here.

The Chevy pair seen atop the page was literally tucked away, in the overheard words of another wag, behind a wall. This section of display was along an aisle facing the sundry Stellantis brands, not quite hidden but easily overlooked. The EcoSport was lined up similarly, along the back of the vast Ford acreage with a few Edges and Explorers.

Exhibit two: Few exhibits

“Honey, I Shrunk The Auto Show” might not be the ideal vehicle to kickstart Rick Moranis’ career. However, the show is significantly smaller than in the past. Not counting last summer’s pandemic-tweaked Chicago event, the Chicago Auto Show I recall typically took the bulk of the floor space in both the North and South buildings in the floor plan above.

This year, just the South building was in use.

Automakers didn’t swarm the event, either. While European luxury marques often hadn’t displayed much in Chicago, this year the attendance decline was stark. The brands I spotted:

  • Toyota
  • Ford
  • Chevrolet
  • Dodge
  • Ram
  • Alfa Romeo
  • Fiat
  • Jeep
  • Chrysler
  • Hyundai
  • Subaru
  • Kia
  • Nissan
  • Lexus
  • Lincoln
  • BMW
  • Buick
  • GMC/Hummer
  • Volkswagen

Notably missing? Cadillac, Honda, Acura, and Volvo, among others. Ed. note — Volkswagen was here but so hidden that Chris thought they were not here. I didn’t, either, until I walked through the booth, stumbling across while en route to somewhere else.

Much of the space within the South building was dedicated to “drive experiences,” where journalists (and, once the show opens to the public on Saturday, real people with real jobs) can drive or ride along in a few cars. Ford and Jeep have offroad-inspired obstacle courses, while Toyota had a boat hitched to their Tundra to show off the new reverse-towing system. These sorts of experiences have been in Chicago for years, but it feels like much more space has been dedicated this year.

Not at all complaining about the drive experiences – after all, getting consumers behind the wheel is a great way to get them to sign a loan. I’m merely illustrating how the floor space is used, leaving less for car displays.

Exhibit three: No excitement

In the before times, less and less news was generated at the big four car shows, as automakers found themselves shouting for attention in these huge halls where harried journalists needed to rush from station to station to cover everything. Off-site events had become everything, where a manufacturer would rent a hall or a half-abandoned warehouse the day or two before the actual show to put on a show of their own.

Here in Chicago, the biggest news was likely the Ram 1500 EV that will get an optional range extender – a story broken by friend of TTAC and fellow Ohioan Chad Kirchner. Otherwise, the stories that came out of Chicago this week:

..and that’s it. Ed. note number two: The Frontiers were revealed at an off-site event the night before, and we had embargoed information on two of the three vehicles, thus negating the excitement of surprise.

Maybe I shouldn’t be picking on the Chicago Auto Show so harshly. It’s been, historically, the least newsy of the four American auto shows anyhow. But I can’t help but think that this show might ultimately be the harbinger of doom for all traditional shows. Ed. note three: As I’ve written before, auto-show media days may be doomed. But I think the public days will remain popular with consumers.

Whether that’s a good thing or not is to be debated.

[Images: © 2022 Chris Tonn, map courtesy]

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42 Comments on “2022 Chicago Auto Show: Still Relevant?...”

  • avatar

    I live in Chicago and I just can’t be bothered to go.

    Even if there weren’t global pandemic, it’s just not interesting anymore. Maybe if I were planning a car purchase in the near future, I might go just to narrow down the list prior to test drives.

  • avatar

    I would think in this time where dealers have few vehicles and you can order from most manufacturers the auto show might see a resurgence.

    Where else but the auto show can I be assured that I can climb into a Maverick, a Santa Cruz, a Mach-E and an ID.4? My local dealers have at most one of these available.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Now that I’ve read your story, the show is no longer relevant. The internet destroyed auto shows.

    The only value left in an auto show is to sit in a variety of cars without a salesman hounding you. At the moment, the only car I really want to sit in is a Rivian R1S, and maybe an Ioniq 5, EV6, or Santa Cruz.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I think Chris is right about the Chicago show being a metaphor for the industry. I remember attending the 2000 Detroit show as a journalist and stopping to note how glorious it was. I even got to sit in a Ferrari F1 car. It’s been slowly downhill ever since – with a big drop in 2008-09. Sure, the supply chain isn’t helping. But the industry isn’t even going to resemble itself in a few years. We are dealing with more than fallout from the pandemic. We are also in the middle of a dramatic sea change involving more than just the vehicles themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      Seems you could at least ogle the really high end stuff (Ferraris, Astons, Bentleys, etc) until four or five years ago. You could also check out Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, etc.

      These days, the nicest thing you’ll find, aside from a smattering of Corvettes, Mustangs, and the like, is a Lexus. If I want to check one of those out, I’ll go hit the Lexus dealer.

  • avatar

    Curious if Chicago will require visitors to wear mask or produce proof of vaccination? We had planned to go to the Buffalo show last week but Erie county is requiring proof of vaccination. So my healthy adult children cannot attend despite both having had Covid with no serious symptoms. Probably no big loss since they usually don’t have anything new on site. I am looking forward to checking out the Maverick EV6 in person someday.

    • 0 avatar

      I was curious about this too as someone who lives close by. Here’s the relevant section on their website:

      Based on guidance from the City of Chicago, the current health and safety protocols are in effect for the PUBLIC DAYS (Feb. 12-21) of the 2022 Chicago Auto Show.

      Masks are REQUIRED for all attendees age 2 and over, except when eating and drinking. Masks must cover the nose and mouth.

      Proof of COVID-19 vaccine WILL NOT be required for admission. However, designated areas will be set up for the consumption of food and beverage and proof of COVID-19 vaccine WILL BE required for entry into those areas. As a result of this requirement, outside food and beverage are not permitted into the 2022 Chicago Auto Show.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for that feedback jack4x. This is am improvement over NY but still seems they are ignoring the recent studies from Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic proving the uselessness of typical mask mandates. Good to know that covid still respects pizza and chili dogs and doesn’t spread while people are eating:)

        Hopefully the Freedom Convoys will push more polls to loosen fear based restrictions in coming weeks. Hat tip to Canadian patriots.

        • 0 avatar

          Without trying to get too deep into the political side of it, it is unfortunate because my kids (age 4 and 2) would really like to go and sit in some “fancy cars” and “big trucks” but there is absolutely zero chance either one would tolerate a mask for more than 5-10 minutes.

          • 0 avatar

            I feel bad for parents of young kids. Forcing them to mask is just cruel.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            “I feel bad for parents of young kids. Forcing them to mask is just cruel.”

            I have 3 of my own, If that is the worst thing they ever have to deal with I would consider them pretty lucky. First world problems, right???……LOL

      • 0 avatar

        outside food and drink has NEVER been allowed inside. and now no drinking fountains, so youre expensing those $6 bottles of arrowhead

        • 0 avatar

          That is 100% false. Outside food and drink have ALWAYS been allowed into the Chicago Auto Show. It is just this year, because of the City of Chicago’s food & beverage vaccine requirement, that outside food and beverage are not allowed.

  • avatar

    Not a single concept car mentioned. Remember when (with the old, “normal” auto show schedule, how a slew of exciting stuff (that would never be produced) was shown off in Detroit in January, then hauled over to Chicago in February? Now, there’s nothing.

    The internet has definitely “broken” the auto show thing. I also live in the Chicago area. Not only went to the Chicago Auto Show annually, but also would regularly do a marathon session to do the Detroit Show too. The last couple times I went (over 5 years ago), they just seemed anticlimactic after seeing everyone plastered all over the internet sites.

    And the appeal of standing in line to sit in a car? Not in my world, even pre-pandemic. Especially in Detroit, anything in the interior that could be stolen/broken off/missing definitely was gone. It was just insane.

  • avatar

    Some of you guys must have much fancier internet than I do if it can completely replace tactile experiences.

    • 0 avatar

      ajla – a lot of the Concept cars and higher-end stuff that was worth going to see was roped off anyway. No lookee, no touchee……

      • 0 avatar

        YMMV but I’ve never been a major concept car fan. However auto shows are generally a good way to get a feeling of what I’m interested in buying.

        I went to the auto show in Orlando a few months ago and the G70, M340i, and IS350 were all parked within a few feet of each. It’s hard to get that immediate comparison elsewhere and I definitely can’t get it on the internet.

  • avatar

    Hide those keys and disconnect the batteries… the “enterprising youth” of Chi-town will jack them right off the exhibit hall floor.

  • avatar

    As the internet continues to suck the life out of everything we used to have, people are going out less and less and not attending these types of things they way we used to. Thus things like car shows, malls, bowling alleys/billiard halls, department stores, Libraries, movie rentals/theaters and music stores are all evaporating.

    Years back we used to love going to most of the above things for entertainment and to look at something besides the 4 walls of our house or the walls of school etc or cabin fever relief. Now the main focus is the smart phone and video games and not much else. Truly sad times we live in!

  • avatar

    I go to a car show about every 5 years and then it’s mostly just a dealer show. It takes that long before I’m thinking of buying a new car and I can convince someone to come with me. For the big shows like Chicago, it’s just something I casually read about here and elsewhere.

  • avatar

    So…no luxury brands aside from Lexus and Lincoln, no performance brands, and no concept cars. That leaves a bunch of trucks I’m not interested in, a bunch of crossovers I’m not interested in, a bunch of SUVs I’m not interested in, and (maybe) a Corvette, a Mustang, and a Challenger, all of which have a line 20 people deep to check out.

    Meanwhile, if I want to check out a Corvette, Mustang or Challenger, I can go to a dealership and actually drive one – a benefit of being a middle-aged guy who could theoretically buy one, and these days, the dealer will actually let you take one out alone (well, maybe not the ‘Vette, but you get the idea).

    Back when you had a real selection of cars to look at, car shows were a fun way to spend a Saturday evening – you went downtown, had a nice dinner, and hit the show. These days, it’s not worth my time.

  • avatar

    According to Instagram, the only thing that matters is which spec of Porsche GT3 you get and modifying late model trucks.

  • avatar

    Seems the Chicago show has been relegated to a typical major city show. They’ll save the big stuff for CES.

  • avatar

    I went to the Chicago Auto Show, every single year, from 1989 to 2020. It was a must go to event that was calendered and the family looked forward to.

    However, starting around 2017 it started to fade. The exciting brands were pulling out, fewer concepts or new releases and by 2020 I resolved not to go again.

    With the all the changes in automotive technology: electric, digital displays, insane power, luxury innovations; you would have thought it was the perfect opportunity to raise the prominence of the show. Instead, as the author has pointed out, a literal display of last years models.

  • avatar

    The Indianapolis show at the end of Dec has always been lame, but reading this story caused me to look and see that apparently didn’t even happen this year?

  • avatar

    I went to every Detroit Auto Show (North American International Auto Show) from 1972 to 2020 (the event in 2021 was cancelled). The last year was difficult to enjoy. Maybe if the auto show had some, you know…cars, cars that weren’t trucks. Once exposed to three-pedal shifting, it’s tough to get excited about three-row seating.

  • avatar

    Amazing how much buzz Nissan gets when they put 35 year old wheels and some tape stripes on a Frontier.

  • avatar

    In the amount of time it takes to crawl downtown, park, crusade to the show, stand in lines, wait, maneuver through herds, get lucky enough to actually sit in one of the few cars no one is interested in, I could visit a dozen dealerships. Buy a car. Go to dinner. See a movie. And have time left over.

  • avatar

    Go to the car show. Get carjacked. It’s too dangerous. They’re shooting on the tollways too.

  • avatar

    I’m in pretty much the same place as Alterboy. I faithfully attended this show for many years until the pandemic.

    I still find value in being able to sit in and inspect all the cars for myself without a harassing salesman, and I’d still go without a pandemic. But that looks to be years away right now, and I suspect the shows will slowly bleed to death before that lovely day happens.

  • avatar

    I just put in more Malibu orders today and we have a bunch of incoming sold orders. Spark will be gone sooner than later but the Malibu has seen a resurgence after almost a year without production and there is no indication of either an early buildout or the model’s demise.

  • avatar

    Missing from this article are the sheer number of vehicles that most journalists have only seen virtually. Here at the Chicago Auto Show are the new BMW iX M60, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 and Silverado EV, Hummer EV, Toyota Sequoia and bZ4X, Ford Bronco Raptor, Kia Sportage PHEV, Lexus LX, Nissan Z, and Subaru Solterra. That is a very impressive list of auto show debut vehicles. In addition, journalists and the public are able to ride in a Ford F-150 Lighting, Kia EV6 and BMW iX and i4.

    Of course, the supply-chain disruptions are greatly affecting every aspect of automotive marketing (including auto shows). In addition, virtual reveals are much less expensive that in-person, auto show reveals. Chicago has seen the future for more than a decade and been striving to re-invent the traditional auto show, making it more interactive and entertaining while still providing an excellent research opportunity for those in the market.

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