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2014 Chicago Auto Show - The Auto Channel's Purdy And Cannell Wrap-up

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SEE ALSO: Every 2014 Chicago Auto Show Manufacturer Press Conference +VIDEO
SEE ALSO: 2014 Chicago Auto Show News Archive

By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
Michigan Bureau

Chicago February 9, 2014; Your TACh team was all over the Chicago Auto Show this week as a variety of manufacturers made news. Characteristically, here in the Windy City (and it was exceptionally windy and cold this year) the show was a low-key, relaxed affair compared to New York, LA and particularly Detroit. That gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves a bit more deeply in the products and a better opportunity to engage with the critical people than we could do in chaotic Detroit last month.

Steve: The traditional opening of press days at the Chicago show is the Midwest Auto Media Association breakfast with a keynote talk from an industry leader and presentation of MAMA’s Family Vehicle of the Year award.


The keynote featured Bob Carter, Toyota senior VP of automotive operations who provided an optimistic view of 2014 predicting a slower, but still solid, increase in sales to something over 16 million units. He believes the pent-up demand in the auto market is just about sated but continued low interest rates and strong product momentum will continue to result in the auto industry leading the U.S. recovery.
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Carter also talked about the fuel cell vehicle they will be selling in the LA market next year. The small crossover will have a range of about 300 miles and infrastructure is being developed. We’ll be following that story closely here at TAC.

Thom: To his credit, Carter also mentioned Hyundai and Honda as contributors to the hydrogen car story. Both Hyundai, who has been running a fleet in Europe, and Toyota have theirs in the US and globally. However, we can’t see how just 100 hydrogen filling stations can cover the greater LA/SoCal market in a way that will satisfy the early adopters. Unless they have people...

Steve: Another huge win for GM - after winning both Car and Truck of the year honors in Detroit with Corvette and Silverado – the MAMA Family Vehicle of the Year award goes to Chevy’s Impala by a large margin in votes.

Out on the expansive floor of the Chicago Auto Show filling both the North and South Halls of McCormick Place we drifted through a progression of press conferences beginning with Kia.

Steve: We’ve come to expect the best press conference entertainment from Kia and we were not disappointed. A young musical group entertained throughout the conference with energetic young voices and soul guitar while we got a first look at the 2015 Soul EV, a freshened Optima Hybrid and a wild hybrid concept called Niro.

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Kia just completed a redesign of the already class leading (in my humble view) compact boxy car and now they’ve added this full-electric version distinguished by an enclosed front fascia and some other unique trim. It is touted to have an 80- to 100-mile range and will initially be available on both coasts where market and infrastructure are best developed. We Midwesterners will have to wait for this one.

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The Niro Concept with “butterfly” doors (sort of like scissor doors) was first shown in Frankfurt last September but this is its U.S. debut. With deep, dark paint (couldn’t tell if it was actually black) with stainless steel roof and accents, huge wheels splayed out beyond the corners of the car and unusual body cladding it is meant to look like a Dakar Rally contender of the future. It does.

Thom: That group was Honey and the 45s, a local cover band. Last year Kia brought Pentatonix, renowned a cappella singers. Oh, and one of the Kia Hamsters in full tux appeared alongside the all-electric Soul. Niro surely presages a B-segment CUV from Kia designed to compete with Fiat 500 and MiniCoopers. But Dakar worthy? Not possible, but a good idea for the brand, particularly in the flat charcoal of the concept.

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Steve: Big news at VW was a new partnership with Andretti Sports Marketing to enter a pair of race prepared Beetles in the U. S. rallycross series. The GRC Beetle racecar will have 560 horsepower. (How do they do that? Stay tuned.) VW expects this fast-growing motorsport to appeal to a variety of fans as it is run on a series of closed courses over pavement and dirt with massive jumps and other challenges included.

Thom; they do that the old fashioned way, a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that should last a race or two, not 150,000 miles. They’re basing the cars off the winning FIA World Rally Championship Polo subcompact. Oh, four wheel drive will surely help.

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Steve: Because of the nearly unlimited space in McCormick Center Chrysler, Toyota and Jeep all set up driving courses to demonstrate their respective vehicles. The later two include lots of dirt with hills, swales, moguls and teeter-totter tilting platforms. Toyota demonstrated an off-road option package to be available on this year’s Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner that includes lots of aggressive trim along with skid plates, Bilstein shocks, more ground clearance and special suspension tuning. Those who want to do some serious off-roading can now show off a bit while plowing through mud and desert dirt.

Thom: So-called Pre-Runners have proven a very popular option in the truck segment, this widens the options for serious off road driving, a burgeoning sport.

Nissan revealed plans for their upcoming Frontier small pickup to get diesel power. Thom is our diesel expert so we’ll let him talk about this one.

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Thom: Chatting to both Nissan and Cummins we learned the Frontier is indeed a concept as there are only two of the engines in existence. The 2.8-liter diesel motor is similar in size and power to GM’s recently announced diesel, though GM’s diesels don’t have the sheer aura of desirability and endurance that the Cummins engines have built. We have to wonder where long time customer Ram figures into this equation. They continue to use Cummins engines in their heavy duty trucks but selected VM Motori for the 3.0-liter diesel in the Ram 1500 and others.

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Steve: Subaru unveiled the fresh 2015 Legacy sedan, their entry into the bread-and-butter mid-size sedan market. We think of Legacy, and all the Subaru products, except the BR-Z sports car, as more interesting than competing white bread sedans since they all come with symmetrical all-wheel drive and boxer engines. Legacy will come with either 4- or 6-cylinder power mated to CVTs. Most observers will notice much in the way of styling updates with bolder front fascia and more distinctive, swoopy body creases. The car’s profile and stance get more modern. The new Legacy gets substantial interior, dash and instrument panel upgrades and a smidgen bigger in interior dimensions.

Thom: absolutely true, however the result is an all-cream from free range cattle, no filers, enhanced with organic vanilla beans vanilla. Which in a way explains their success — a great product with word-of-mouth success that justifies and explains every product they make except WRX.

Steve: Seeming like a “strange bedfellows” story Chevy used their press conference to show the new small cargo van sourced from Nissan. Based on the Mexican-built NV200 that was added to Nissan’s U.S. portfolio little more than a year ago, the Chevy “City Express” will not be mistaken for anything but a Chevy as it exhibits distinctive exterior styling. Before the NV200 and now the City Express, Ford had the small cargo van segment nearly to itself.

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Thom: Ford is not standing by, their 2015 Transit Connect is a complete makeover that slathers style atop the utility thicker than Geno’s Pizza sauce. The redesign and expansion of offerings may see more of the multi-window vans replacing minivans.

Chevy also brought their CNG game to enhance their green reputation, powering a Heavy Duty Silverado on the US-produced fuel. For fleets the fuel is a blessing, providing similar power with lower maintenance costs from the clean burning fuel.

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Steve: BMW’s big news was the U.S. introduction of a 7-Series diesel. Again . . .Thom’s area of expertise.

Thom: The engines BMW is sliding under hood are well known 3.0 and 2.0-liter diesels, though the nameplates aren’t 30 or 20. The 3.0-liter V-6 engines have been in the market for several years, the 2.0-liter debut last year in New York. Naturally we long for a long, long drive to see if they live up to the slogan, Ultimate Driving Machine. Our expectations are high as the 3.0-liter once was the fastest 5 Series available, and capable of towing a boat.

Not getting as much coverage, there’s a new X5 with carbon fiber adornment and an upgraded engine featuring another 20 horsepower. If you’ve never driven an X5 you’ll find it a treat in power, acceleration, handling, rock solid, and as luxurious as the 6 Series.

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Thom: We've neglected Volvo, who arrived with sky blue Polestar S60 Sedan and V60 wagon.
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The wagon would look right at home on nearby Grattan Raceway, or my garage. Both promise performance and handling to challenge BMW.

Hyundai brought the new Genesis, a Lincoln fighter if ever we saw one, and limited edition Veloster RE-FLEX with leather and bling to satisfy the non-turbo crowd. Meanwhile, Toyota also announced it was first in line to assist Daytona in a planned renaissance for NASCAR’s home.

Steve: As a truck fan I found the late-in-the-day reveal from Lingenfelter Performance Engineering most intriguing. Not wanting Ford to have the high-performance pickup market all to itself with its Raptor they’ve partnered with Southern Comfort Automotive to make a Chevy truck to run Raptors off the road or off the desert two-track. They call it REAPER. With the option of Lingenfelter’s mechanical enhancements (including the option of over 600 horsepower), Fox racing suspension, Corsa exhaust, 33-inch off-road tires, more ground clearance and cosmetic enhancements that scream “look at me, I’m baaaad!” You can get these hot trucks at select Chevy dealers, through Lingenfelter or though Southern comfort.

The Chicago Auto Show is the nation’s largest in square footage of displays and in public attendance. It runs through February 17th at McCormick Place. Details at:

2014 Shunpiker Productions and Cannell & Associates, All Rights Reserved