2022 Chicago Auto Show: Still Relevant?


As you might be aware, Thursday was the first day of media previews for the 2022 Chicago Auto Show. Both editor Tim and yours truly are in attendance – Tim’s a local, and I really needed a few days away from the day job. I can’t, however, shake the feeling that the entire show is on something resembling life support. Beyond that, I wonder if my impressions of the show are a metaphor for the auto industry in total.

Exhibit one: Dead Cars Walking

I totally understand that we’re dealing with unprecedented supply problems throughout the auto industry. As such, dealers are desperate for inventory and will try and sell everything that rolls off the truck. Further, the Chicago Auto Show is somewhat unique among the four major U.S. shows as it’s more consumer-focused than the rest.

But to have three vehicles (from two brands) on the show floor that have been discontinued is a bit unusual. We’ve reported the impending death of the Chevrolet Spark and Ford EcoSport, and others are reporting that the order books have been closed on the Chevrolet Malibu. And yet, they’re here.

The Chevy pair seen atop the page was literally tucked away, in the overheard words of another wag, behind a wall. This section of display was along an aisle facing the sundry Stellantis brands, not quite hidden but easily overlooked. The EcoSport was lined up similarly, along the back of the vast Ford acreage with a few Edges and Explorers.

Exhibit two: Few exhibits

“Honey, I Shrunk The Auto Show” might not be the ideal vehicle to kickstart Rick Moranis’ career. However, the show is significantly smaller than in the past. Not counting last summer’s pandemic-tweaked Chicago event, the Chicago Auto Show I recall typically took the bulk of the floor space in both the North and South buildings in the floor plan above.

This year, just the South building was in use.

Automakers didn’t swarm the event, either. While European luxury marques often hadn’t displayed much in Chicago, this year the attendance decline was stark. The brands I spotted:

  • Toyota
  • Ford
  • Chevrolet
  • Dodge
  • Ram
  • Alfa Romeo
  • Fiat
  • Jeep
  • Chrysler
  • Hyundai
  • Subaru
  • Kia
  • Nissan
  • Lexus
  • Lincoln
  • BMW
  • Buick
  • GMC/Hummer
  • Volkswagen

Notably missing? Cadillac, Honda, Acura, and Volvo, among others. Ed. note — Volkswagen was here but so hidden that Chris thought they were. I didn’t, either, until I walked through the booth.

Much of the space within the South building was dedicated to “drive experiences,” where journalists (and, once the show opens to the public on Saturday, real people with real jobs) can drive or ride along in a few cars. Ford and Jeep have offroad-inspired obstacle courses, while Toyota had a boat hitched to their Tundra to show off the new reverse-towing system. These sorts of experiences have been in Chicago for years, but it feels like much more space has been dedicated this year.

Not at all complaining about the drive experiences – after all, getting consumers behind the wheel is a great way to get them to sign a loan. I’m merely illustrating how the floor space is used, leaving less for car displays.

Exhibit three: No excitement

In the before times, less and less news was generated at the big four car shows, as automakers found themselves shouting for attention in these huge halls where harried journalists needed to rush from station to station to cover everything. Off-site events had become everything, where a manufacturer would rent a hall or a half-abandoned warehouse the day or two before the actual show to put on a show of their own.

Here in Chicago, the biggest news was likely the Ram 1500 EV that will get an optional range extender – a story broken by friend of TTAC and fellow Ohioan Chad Kirchner. Otherwise, the stories that came out of Chicago this week:

..and that’s it. Ed. note number two: The Frontiers were revealed at an off-site event the night before, and we had embargoed information on two of the three vehicles, thus negating the excitement of surprise.

Maybe I shouldn’t be picking on the Chicago Auto Show so harshly. It’s been, historically, the least newsy of the four American auto shows anyhow. But I can’t help but think that this show might ultimately be the harbinger of doom for all traditional shows. Ed. note three: As I’ve written before, auto-show media days may be doomed. But I think the public days will remain popular with consumers.

Whether that’s a good thing or not is to be debated.

[Images: © 2022 Chris Tonn, map courtesy McCormickPlace.com]

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