The auto industry has had a great year, continuing to rebound from the financial crisis.
The reason is that instead of waiting it out during the lean times, the automakers invested heavily in new products and technologies, the results of which we are seeing now. There is no better place to have a look at the latest advancements than the Chicago Auto Show.
Opening Saturday for the 106th time, the nation's largest auto show continues to be recognized as the leading show geared toward consumers. Last month in Detroit at what is considered the major industry auto show, there was a lot excitement around a number of world debuts, but the automakers still have more surprises.
"We'll have 13 or 14 press conferences with that many world introductions, if not more," said Mark Bilek, director of communications and technology for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which has produced the show since 1935. "Almost all the cars from Detroit will be here, the Corvette Z06, the F-150, the Mustang. There will be some NASCAR news, too."
Nearly 1,000 vehicles will be on display during the show, but Bilek points out that's only part of the appeal.
"It's not just cars on carpet, it's so much more," he said. "It's a full day of entertainment that's extremely affordable. There's something for everyone whether you are shopping for a car, interested in the latest technology, or just want to kick the winter blues."
The spectacle that is the Chicago Auto Show takes up over 1 million square feet inside McCormick Place.
"There are three indoor test tracks" said Bilek. "Camp Jeep is back for the 10th year, plus the Chrysler multi-brand test track. Toyota will have their truck proving ground. There will also be six outdoor ride-and-drive opportunities. Chevy will have an outdoor construction site set up for the Silverado."
Bilek noted the automakers aren't spending millions of dollars on displays just to make headlines on media days.
"They want to continue the buzz from the media preview through the entire show," he said. "We've always been the leader in social media outreach among auto shows. We were the first to add a social media day to our regular media schedule."
To that end, the show offers a number of ways to interact, starting with using the official hashtag #FuelCAS. The mobile app is available on the iTunes Store or Google Play for the second year as well.
"We also have a texting program like no other auto show," Bilek explained. "When you get here text to 37483 for text updates on what's going on, like celebrity appearances, prize giveaways and even specials at the food court."
There are discounts to be had and Bilek encouraged attendees to take advantage of them.
"You can get weekday discount coupons at Shell stations and Fifth Third Bank locations. Then it's half off of parking after 6 p.m. So that's $6 per person admission, then you can eat at the food court for about that much. You can take a family of four out for less than $75. It's an affordable night out and there's so much going on."
Bilek extended an invitation to region residents
"We're proud to have a number of Northwest Indiana dealerships represented," he said. "We reach out to them to help promote the show. We're surprised by how many people come in from Northwest Indiana, but it's easy for them. We work with the South Shore Line ... You can park free and the train comes right into McCormick Place."