You can drive a Jeep over boulders and up a hill, gawk at sleek, glistening supercars that cost more than a house, race at breakneck speeds on virtual reality courses or transform yourself into a Stormtrooper from "Star Wars" at the Chicago Auto Show.

You can hear a Dynojet-enhanced engine roar or wonder how much easier your winter commute would be with a GMC all-terrain truck with tank treads instead of tires.

North America's largest auto show has rolled back into the McCormick Place Convention Center, where more than 1,000 of the newest cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles gleam under the bright lights. Car enthusiasts, people looking for new wheels or those who just appreciate pomp and spectacle can stroll around the Chicago Auto Show's 1 million square feet of exhibit space from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 18, or from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the last day, Feb. 19.

Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, MOPAR, Nissan, Slingshot, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen are all introducing new vehicles at the auto show this year.

Visitors can kick the tires of automakers' latest models, scope out concept cars that may never go to mass production and gape at exotic vehicles like the Lamborghini Urus, the Lamborghini Aventador S LP740-4 S, the Aston Martin DB11 and the Bentley Continental Supersports. It's the first year the Chicago Auto Show will host eclectic rare vintage cars from the Klairmont Kollections museum, including an Adam West-era 1960s Batmobile and a 1955 Ford Beatnik Bubble Top with concealed wheels so it looks like a retro-futuristic hovercar.

Attendees also snap selfies at a number of interactive exhibits, including Nissan's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" display, and can climb behind the wheel at three indoor test tracks, including Toyota's Camry Thrill Ride.

The environmentally conscious can test-drive new electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles at the show, such as the 2018 Nissan LEAF, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Anyone interested can register at the Chicago Area Clean Cities tent at Gate 2 of McCormick Place's South Building.

“If you've wondered what it's like to drive an electric car, this is your chance to get behind the wheel,” Chicago Area Clean Cities coordinator Samantha Bingham said. “We're offering free test drives of some of the newest, best-performing electric and hybrid vehicles. For many, this will be the first time they've had the chance to check out the great performance and environmental benefits of electric vehicles. We will have information about charging stations as well.”

This year's auto show takes place during a boom time for automakers, as U.S. auto sales have exceeded 17 million for three straight years, according to Statista. It's also a heady time of rapid technological change on a number of fronts, Volkswagen North America Region CEO Hinrich Woebcken said during his keynote address to the Economic Club of Chicago Thursday.

“The next five to eight years in the automotive industry will be more exciting than the last 80 years, I believe,” he said.

Automakers are racing to develop self-driving vehicles that are expected to cut down on accidents and human error.

“As cars get more autonomous, the car will mean quiet time,” Woebcken said. “A traffic jam will become quality time you can spend shopping online, reading the newspaper or relaxing.”

Carmakers across the globe also are rushing to mass-produce electric vehicles for the common consumer.

“You may have read in the newspaper that Tesla is starting to get successful, and they are, but electric mobility for millions has not really arrived yet,” Woebcken said. “The electric charging infrastructure has been developed, charging takes too long, and electric cars are too expensive. Not many can afford a Model S from Tesla. But we believe we have the scale and economics to drive down the cost.”

Volkswagen is investing $2 billion to install high-voltage charging stations throughout the United States and is working on electric cars with a range of 200 miles per charge.

Automakers and tech companies are working to make cars more connected to the internet, given how much time people spend in their vehicles and a future that likely will be driverless, Woebcken said.

“They want it to be a smartphone or iPad on wheels,” he said. “Amazon, YouTube and Google want to get into the car because they see it as a business opportunity. We also see it as a business opportunity, so the race is on and I cannot tell you who will win. They have talents and know-how we don't have especially on software, but we have talents and know-how they don't have. We will have to learn from each other and see who is faster.”


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.