Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Chicago Auto Show Preview

This year's Chicago Auto Show doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but I attended a free preview this afternoon. From 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., the organizers of the show allowed "online influencers" early entry. This was the first time that bloggers and other social media folk had this kind of access. According to the Auto Show Web site, "no other auto show has ever done [this] before!" For a car guy (and blogger) like me, it was a real treat.

It's hard to resist a shiny red Mustang.
If you've attended auto shows in the last three years, you've probably noticed that there is considerably less razzle-dazzle, as far as the exhibit booths are concerned. But it's the cars that really supply the razzle and the dazzle. And there are plenty of amazing autos at McCormick Place to dazzle this car guy. Muscle cars (yeah, they still make them), luxury cars, sport-utility vehicles, sporty economy cars...they're all here. But it's not just cars that are on display, anything, and I do mean anything having to do with cars is at this show. Looking for a trailer to hitch to the back of that new truck? Check out the Airstream booth. Need a new set of wheel rims? They're here too. Maybe a cool leather jacket and gloves to go with that convertible? No problem.

The buzz from the major automotive press has focused a lot on the new electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt. I took a spin (a very slow spin, anyway) in the new Volt. It's as quiet as a mouse and it has a cool animated status screen mounted on the dashboard. The status screen monitors the car's battery usage; it also lets you know when you need to recharge. Most of the major car makers, including Ford and Toyota, have electric vehicles, but only the Chevy Volt was available for a test ride.

The voltage monitor inside the Chevy Volt.
For several years, the Jeep exhibit has included a simulated off-road course. It is always so crowded during regular show hours that I never even thought about hitching a ride. But this afternoon was a completely different story. With only media folk in attendance, there were no lines for the Jeep ride. The course included rocks and uneven road grades. The coolest part was the hill climb and descent. The new Jeeps are programed to descend a hill without the driver having to break! It automatically slows itself to navigate the trip down. For someone who still remembers the days when you had to manually lock and unlock the hubs for the four-wheel drive, this might take some getting used to.

At the Ford booth, besides all the cool Mustangs on display, there were some pretty awesome police cars at the entrance to the exhibit. I wonder if we'll see any of these vehicles on Chicago Code this season?  Check out the video below for a look at the new cop cars and the other offerings from Ford Motor Company.

The 2011 Chicago Auto Show opens to the general public Friday and runs through February 20. Check the Auto Show Web site for additional information.

Someone turned this 1964 Ford Mustang into a pool table!

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