2022 Chicago Auto Show: Still Relevant?

2022 chicago auto show still relevant

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 McCormickPlace.com]

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2 of 42 comments
  • Skipp1974 Skipp1974 on Feb 12, 2022

    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.

  • Markbilek Markbilek on Feb 13, 2022

    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.

  • Luke42 I like the Metris quite a bit, but I never bought one.Two problems kept me from pulling the trigger:[list=1][*]It was expensive for what it was.[/*][*]For the price they were asking, it needed to have a plug for me to buy it.[/*][/list=1]I wanted a minivan that could tow, and I test drove one and liked it. The Mercedes dealer stocked both cargo versions and conversion vans. It was a nice vehicle, and I really wanted one for a while.This is the inevitable fate of cars that I like, but don't actually buy.
  • Garrett I would have gone for one of these if it had AWD. If they had offered it, it could have done far better.
  • Michael500 Sorry, EV's are no good. How am I supposed to rev the motor to impress girls? (the sophisticated ones I like).
  • Michael500 Oh my dog- this is one of my favorite cars in human history! A neighbor had a '71 when I was a child and I stopped and gazed at that car every time it was parked outside its garage. Turquoise with a black vinyl. That high beltline looks awesome today!
  • ScarecrowRepair I'd love an electric car -- quiet, torque, drive train simplicity -- but only if the cost was less, if recharging was as fast as gas (5 minutes) and as ubiquitous. I can take a road trip and know that with a few posted exceptions (US 50 from Reno to Utah), I don't have to wonder where the next fuel station is, and if I do run out, I can lug a gallon of gas back.Sure I'd miss the engine sounds and the joys of shifting. But life is all about tradeoffs.