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Chicago (February 2008)

Name: 100th Chicago Auto Show
Organizer: Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA)
Show dates: Press Days: Wednesday, February 6, 2008 and Thursday, February 7, 2008 2 days
General Public Days: Friday, February 8, 2008 to Sunday, February 17, 2008 10 days
Admission: Adults: 10 dollars; over 62: 5 dollars
7-12 years:5 dollars; under 6: Free (when accompanied by an adult)
Venue: McCormick Place South Hall/North Hall

Show Outline and Impressions:

The Chicago Auto Show was first held in 1901 and, due to a blank period during the second world war, celebrated its 100th edition this year.

When one thinks of US auto shows, the Detroit Show immediately springs to mind. It is, after all, one of the “big” five shows in the world officially sanctioned by the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles (OICA). Since 2006, however, the OICA's sanction has been extended to Detroit + 1 in the US (Los Angeles in 2006, Chicago in 2007 and New York in 2008), and the Chicago Show is now "official" once every 3 years. While the 2008 edition was not an sanctioned OICA show, Chicago follows on the heels of the January Detroit Show and is considered the largest show in the North America, so we went to check it out.

The venue was "McCormick Place," about 10 minutes by taxi from downtown. It is the biggest exhibition center in the United States, with four halls offering a total of 250,000 sqm of exhibition space, along with 173 conference rooms, three theaters and an adjacent hotel. The Chicago Auto Show used just the North Hall and South Hall, giving it 120,000 sqm in total exhibition space.

Its atmosphere was something akin to a giant dealership, and indeed the organizer, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA), bills it as "a huge consumer show." There was a total of 89 exhibitors with more than 1,000 vehicles on display, including nine world premieres. The overwhelming majority of the vehicles shown were already on the market. That may be why most of the booths focused on filling their floors with new models; there were virtually none that had two stories, stages or other large construction or production gimmicks.

Among the most impressive work: 1) the large size of the GM Group exhibit, and 2) the 4x4 test ride courses inside the Chrysler Group's Jeep and Dodge booths.

1) The GM Group added about 2,000 sqm to its exhibition space this time to cover a total of more than 17,000 sqm, roughly 2/3 of the entire North Hall. The organizer's releases even went so far as to call it "their biggest display at any show in the world." (Meanwhile, in the South Hall, the Ford and Chrysler groups occupied about 40%.).

2) The Chrysler Group's Jeep and Dodge brands set up 4x4 test ride courses in their booths. We took a spin on a Jeep; Dodge's course was unfortunately not running on the Press Days. To create its "off-road course," Jeep covered the road in wood chips and allowed participants to experience the vehicle's performance in five sections (ground clearance, articulation, maneuverability, traction and water fording). There are few examples in Japan or anywhere else of a test ride course being set up indoors in the company's booth. The course may have been compact, but in the main feature, the short hill climb, Jeep managed to show off its traction, negotiating a sharp slope of 40% going up and 45% coming down. The rapid shift in views between "sky" and "earth" was extremely entertaining for the passengers. It should also be noted that Chicago was experiencing below-zero temperatures at this time and snow was on the ground, making it difficult to hold outdoor events.

In addition to the show proper, we were able to attend "First Look for Charity" the evening of the 2nd Press Day. Admission to this charity event came with a large 225 dollars (23,625 yen) price tag, but the proceeds were donated to charitable organizations in Chicago (18 organizations received funding this time). Each year, it manages to raise in excess of 200 million yen. It was an extremely energetic and enjoyable event. Exhibitors provided catering space inside their booths and visitors were able to look around the show as they enjoyed their food and drinks. The black-tie dress code helped create a very elegant atmosphere.

The organizer highlighted the differences with the Detroit Show: "Detroit is a show for suppliers and the media; Chicago is a [huge] consumer show."

With its clear emphasis on promoting sales, Chicago provides a different perspective from Detroit on what auto shows can be.
Welcome sign
100th show commemorative exhibit
South hall
Press briefing (Chrysler)
Ford booth
GM booth
Test ride course (Jeep)
Test ride course (Dodge)
Snow was on the ground
Charity event
US army booth (sponsor)