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2013 Chicago Auto Show

SEE ALSO: Complete Press Pass Coverage 2013 Chicago Auto Show

By Steve Purdy, Thom Cannell and Larry Nutson
The Auto Channel's intrepid Chicago Auto Show coverage team

The Chicago Auto Show claims the distinction of being the oldest new car show (this is the 105th), and the largest in square footage and numbers of attendees. We certainly can’t dispute either. We enjoy covering the show because it is so laid back and unhurried compared to the intense Detroit show of a few weeks earlier.

Here are a few a few highlights:

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The Midwest Automotive Media Association traditionally begins press day with a breakfast featuring a guest speaker and presentation of MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year Award. Andy Goss, president of Jaguar/Land Rover of North America, gave us a glowing update of their performance since India’s industrial magnate; Ratan Tata purchased both brands in early 2008, just before the bottom fell out of the U.S. car market. The F-Type Jaguar they are showing here in Chicago is the spiritual successor to the fabled E-Type of the 1960s. And, he said, look for Jaguar to have 4-cylinder engines added to the already-introduced all-wheel drive as they challenge the traditional luxury brands on this side of the pond.

Not surprisingly, MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year is the universally acclaimed 2013 Ford Fusion, a car that has gathered accolades like Green Car of the Year, IIHS Top Safety Pick, Most Connected Car and a few more since its introduction.

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Toyota used their bully pulpit at the Chicago show to present an updated, Texas-built Tundra pickup to the world. A mild redesign and some performance upgrades bring it up to date with the competition, according to Toyta.
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What they do not have is a heavy-duty model and that limits the brand in the work truck field. What they do have, according to Toyota truck boss Bill Faye, is the highest level of North American content of any pickup. The styling is considerably freshened with a higher hood and different grill for each of the five trim levels.

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A difference comparing the Chicago Auto Show to the others is its emphasis on commercial vehicles. Ram, having completely renewed and redesigned their pickup trucks last year to nearly universal applause, showed a new line of heavy-duty trucks and chassis cabs boasting substantially improved fuel
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economy and towing capacities. They also offer a factory-equipped CNG-fueled option. Their most awaited announcement in Chicago was their entry into the hotly contested and expanding large van space occupied by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Nissan NV 300, and January-announced Ford Transit.
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Their new large van is based on the third generation Fiat Ducato. Bucking the trend, this cargo van is front-wheel drive and can be had with gasoline or diesel power. It’s available in 13 configurations with three wheelbases and four body styles. They offer a standard sliding door on the passenger side and an optional slider for the driver’s side - both said to be loadable with standard pallets and a fork lift. Ram also bragged that the ProMaster will have the lowest total cost of ownership in the segment, enormously important to fleet owners.

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Speaking of diesel power, we were pleased to see three new diesel announcements in Chicago.
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Arguably the most significant is the offering of a diesel engine in Chevy’s compact, bread-and-butter Cruze. Pre-rated at 42 mpg, Chevrolet says Cruze diesel will surpass the already popular Volkswagen engine, also a 2.0 liter mill. Perhaps efficient diesel power will begin to get some traction here as U.S. Mazda announced diesel options for their new Mazda6 sedan and the popular small crossover CX-5 this fall. Jeep will soon, or again be offering V-6 diesel power in the Grand Cherokee.

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A bit of excitement greeted us at the Nissan stand where two NISMO (Nissan Motor Sports) models, a Juke and a 370Z, both coming this summer, punctuated the otherwise staid string of press conferences touting practical cars and trucks.

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Volkswagen gave us something to hoot about announcing the resurrection, or perhaps we should say the recreation, of a special Beetle of the past, the rare, extra-sporty “Yellow and Black Racer” also known as GSR (in German, Gelb-Schwartz-Renner). Powering the new GSR is a 210-hp, 2-liter turbo that will power the updated Jetta GLI later this year.

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Traditionally integrated into the press conference schedule is the Economic Club of Chicago’s luncheon. This year it featured Heinrich Fisker as guest speaker, a remarkably talented designer and creator of one of a handful of car companies started entirely from scratch in the past half century. To call that a challenge is a vast understatement, as Fisker says it required an investment of well over $1billion. Everyone knows the company is struggling financially but the product has great potential. While presenting a positive and confident front it is clear he would love to hear from some deep-pocketed backers.

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Displaying a unique sense of youthful cool Kia offered the most entertaining and artful presentation featuring a colorful comic book theme – Superman and his compatriots.
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Flowing from the creative sounds Sing Off stars The Pentatonix, Kia’s marketing and communications VP Michael Sprague introduced a deeply sculpted three-box-no-corners concept CUV called Cross GT Concept, plus a practical 5-door variant of the small Forte guaranteed to be a hit in the highly popular hatchback segment. Why? The TGDI badge on the back (turbocharged direct injected gasoline engine) should deliver economy with plenty of snap.

Another element of the Chicago Auto Show, not part of the other major shows, is the plethora of non-OEM displays – wheel sellers, military recruiters, aftermarket car stuff, car museums, car club displays, etc. Because the venue is so large there is room for everyone.

At the other end of press day at the Chicago Auto Show we always get to hang out with John Davis, creator and host of the longest running automotive TV show in history – MotorWeek – with that show’s Drivers’ Choice Awards. They spend considerable effort trying to assess and identify the best products in a variety of categories. Here in Chicago Davis presents the award for the best of the best – in this case the new Cadillac ATS, winner of many other Car of the Year Awards. Davis called it surprisingly nimble, quick and fun.

We mentioned that the Chicago Auto Show is the largest and attracts the most attendance. Noteworthy is that Chicago attracts more Gen-Y visitors than any other show, as a percentage of total population. Auto manufacturers are trying their darndest to sell cars to the young future of the industry who today seem in no hurry to get a drivers license and content to communicate with electronic devices.

The 2013 Chicago Auto Show runs from February 9th to the 18th 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the 18th only) at McCormick Place hosted by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

Don’t miss it.

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