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2018 Chicago Auto Show Highlights From Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell


Highlights by Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
Photos by Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

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Ah, Chicago, the “windy city,” where winter presides with authority this time of year and early February can be her wildest time. We arrived at the Chicago Auto Show, the largest consumer auto show in the country, to reports of a major snow event closing in from the west. Flights were already being canceled and travel advisories issued. We’d have at least a short distraction from the snow, cold and dismal skies as a couple thousand media folks got immersed in all this automotive hoop-la as automakers tried to make some news.
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Midwest Auto Media Association

The Midwest Auto Media Association traditionally begins the show with the presentation of the Family Vehicle of the Year Award at a keynote breakfast in the Grand Ballroom of the massive McCormick Place. MAMA’s nearly 300 journalists and PR professionals voted decisively for the new Honda Odyssey, beating out the VW Atlas and other strong contenders.

Subaru's Tom Doll (select to view enlarged photo)
Subaru's Tom Doll

Subaru’s U.S. boss, Tom Doll, gave the keynote speech extolling his company’s charitable projects and offering the opinion that the time when we’ll all be riding in autonomous vehicles and/or eschewing car ownership in favor of ride sharing and other schemes, is a long way off, in spite of predictions from many that we’ll be seeing them sooner. He also expanded on a theme we’re hearing more often regarding young car buyers no longer accepting traditional car dealer relationships, as they do their shopping on line, and make purchase through third parties.

GAC (select to view enlarged photo)

Another tidbit of news overheard at breakfast was that GAC, the Chinese automaker that plans to begin selling vehicles in the U.S. by the fourth quarter of 2019, would be attending the upcoming National Auto Dealers Association convention, presumably to begin establishing a dealer network. Judging by the products they showed in Detroit last month, GAC is ready for prime time.

2019 Volkswagen Arteon (select to view enlarged photo)
2019 Volkswagen Arteon

Over at Volkswagen we got our first look at the Arteon, a sleek and stylish replacement for the CC sedan that went away not long ago. The old one was a sexy version of Passat, but this new one, with longer wheel-base and shorter overhangs on VW’s flexible MQB modular platform, has that same coupe-like styling, upscale interior, and generous content that distinguished the CC. Arteon will be powered by an updated 268-hp turbo 4-cylinder.

Jim Belushi (select to view enlarged photo)
Jim Belushi

Ford Transit Connect (select to view enlarged photo)
Ford Transit Connect

Ford provided the best entertainment of the show during their allotted 20 minutes, as Chicago native celeb, Jim Belushi, came out from behind the screen playing harmonica and singing the “Sweet Home Chicago” theme. Belushi adlibbed on product values, participating with Mark LeNeave, Fords VP of marketing. They touted the freshened Transit Connect small utility van using testimony from real-world owners—a farm-to-table vegetable grower and a bagel maker. Big surprises: the newest Transit Connect gets a 1.5-liter EcoBlue diesel for more towing capacity and better efficiency, and the marketing plan focuses on boomers. We can’t recall any other manufacturer going after any group other than Millennials, which LeNeave mentioned.

Lexus RC-F (select to view enlarged photo)
Lexus RC-F

Lexus gave us a preview of the 10th anniversary editions of the RC-F sports car and the GS-F sport sedans. The lusty RC-F will only see 500 copies produced, with almost half coming to the U.S. All get a grey mat finish paint scheme that’s clear-coated to go through a car wash, a specially tuned 5-liter V8, six-piston Brembo brakes, and lots of special trim. Lexus also announced a new iteration of the three-row RX crossover, this time a hybrid costing only $1,550 over the non-hybrid version. We also got to see, and fondle, the Lexus RC-based supercar featured in Marvel’s new Black Panther movie, due out this month.

Sonata Plug-in Hybrid (select to view enlarged photo)
Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

Hyundai I-30 NTCR (select to view enlarged photo)
Hyundai I-30 NTCR

News from Hyundai - they’re adding a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid to the Sonata lineup, plus they are going road racing in order to promote their new “N” performance models. The I-30 NTCR race cars (Veloster is known as I-30 in Europe) will contest the Pirelli World Challenge series.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The theme of Toyota’s press conference was “Get Dirty” as they presented the newest TRD (Toyota Racing Development) off-road versions of the Tundra pickup, 4Runner SUV and Tacoma mid-size pickup. All get more capability from race-proven Fox remote reservoir dampers, and more cool trim, including the TRD logo on the front skid plates.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Try to imagine a Nissan Z-car with skis instead of front tires and three-cornered tracks replacing the rears, looking every bit ready to climb the ski slopes racing the snow cats, and a specially-trimmed, flashy Titan XD pickup serving as tow vehicle. Great fun for sure, but the only news presented at Nissan was that you’ll now be able to get a bolt-on, no-cutting, 3-inch lift kit for Titan installed at your dealer. Another special vehicle, the Nissan Armada Snow Patrol was outfitted with extra lighting, winch, and heavy-duty roof rack.

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Subaru Lineup 2018 Chicago Auto Show

Our keynote speaker, Subaru’s Tom Doll, greeted us once more as he pulled the covers off 9 - count ‘em 9 - cars lined up on their stand. He speculated that it must be the largest number of cars ever introduced together at any auto show. He then told the story of the iconic auto entrepreneur, Malcom Bricklin, and a colleague forming a partnership exactly 50 years ago to begin importing the little Subaru 360 with two-cycle, two-cylinder, boxer engine (the 360 also on display) into the U.S. The cars on the stand were the 50th anniversary, limited edition versions of each car Subaru makes. They all get high-end content and a distinctive silver-blue paint.

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One great advantage the Chicago Auto Show has over others is the seemingly unlimited space in McCormick Place making room for the unexpected. We’ve seen product reveals for everything from the big Lone Star semi-tractor from International to the three-wheeled Slingshot introduced this year. The Slingshot is sort of a mix of motorcycle and open sports car with two wheels up front and one in the rear. Here in Chicago they introduced their newest version called Grand Touring with a half-baked top, larger windshield and more garish design details. It does not have HVAC. This one will cost just about 30-grand.

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John Davis and his MotorWeek team wrap up the big media day with the presentation of their “Best of the Year” award. While they present many categories of honors (see the best-of-the-best gets big play here. And, the winner is the Kia Stinger, a performance-oriented sport hatchback from the mainstream Korean company shown here in bright yellow. The Stinger started out as pure concept at the Frankfurt show in 2011 and made its production debut some months ago to mostly rave reviews from the press.

Lest you worry unnecessarily, your TAC team escaped the city just before the storm hit, as did most of our brethren.

© 2018 Shunpiker Productions and Cannell & Associates