Since 1901, Chicago has hosted one of the largest auto shows in North America – if not, the world.
The over one million square feet of space inside two halls of McCormick Place houses almost every automotive brand in the country for a span of almost two weeks. The highlights point to a charity preview night that raises over $2.5 million for local causes and organizations yearly, before welcoming hundreds of thousands of people inside to look at 1,000 vehicles on display, while enjoying interactive exhibits showcasing the capabilities of these vehicles.
Before all of this, the 110th rendition of the Chicago Auto Show welcomes the media. Hundreds of us make our way through the one million square feet of space over the two halls to see exactly what everyone else will see in a matter of mere hours after we leave.
For me, this is my tenth time attending the show as a credentialed member of the automotive media. In fact, this the eighth time in-a-row since 2011 working the media preview inside McCormick Place, south of The Loop.
The one thing I keep telling myself before arriving into Chicago – this routine doesn't get old.
Nor, should it be routine. You do not simply do the same thing over and over every year You have to mix it up. Otherwise, you become an entrenched, bitter piece of media fodder that is bored with the world, along with their readers, viewers, and social media followers.
To avoid professional stagnation, I have to mix it up. I have to take another angle to working this show.
How? Through collaboration and opportunity.
It began with some discussions with Kevin Tran and Josh Dvorak, two friends I met through the car community. Tran is a photographer and enthusiast with a road rally runner – a last-gen Mazda3 with the first Skjyactiv engine. It has clocked over 200,000 miles. It is Tran's pride and joy. I met Dvorak through the old Sonic meets in Bloomington with his first-gen Scion xB, lowered in white with multi-colored wheels. His competency is in video work, which he has done under the MN Streets label
Tran and Dvorak joined forces other other creative enthusiasts Rezal Scharfe and Sam Lieberthal to form a new media company, slashMedia. Their aim is to multiplex their visual arts work with the global car scene and provide other photo and video services for related situations.
After a few discussions and meetings, Tran, Dvorak, Scharfe, and I agreed to collaborate to cover this year's Chicago Auto Show. Along with our friend Veronica, we planned on doing a team approach with an individual approach through still images and video. The yield would be a hybrid of Victory & Reseda content and key additions to the slashMedia portfolio to gain new clients on their own.
Normally, I would work alone. This year's plan was to fly in the morning of the first media day, cover key subjects, have a few discussions, and fly out that evening back home. With slashMedia on board, that plan was expanded to incorporate their competencies into that hybrid of V&R and slashMedia content assets. This would be their first auto show they would be on site covering during the media preview period – they were there for the two days, including Social Media Day.
Our collective plan was in effect. I flew the morning of the first media preview, while the slashMedia team drove through the night into Chicago.
Before we get into what we yielded from our time at McCormick Place, I have to admit there was some interesting feedback on our collaborative efforts. One colleague wondered if V&R has expanded In what sense? The site is still here. No one has merged or acquired any entity. It is a pure collaboration designed to create an opportunity for all parties concerned.
Then, I got the comments about us being my "entourage" or "army." At that point, you just have to laugh.
But, we arrived. Kevin, Josh, Rezal, and Veronica by car overnight…I arrived by plane in the morning. All facing a predicted storm that was to dump a lot of snow upon Chicago later on Thursday. Several complications later, we eventually assembled. However, not without some glitches in the program.
In my case, I had the airline cancel my flight for Thursday night as soon as I arrived into Midway Airport. The slashMedia team arrived exhausted from the drive. Tactical errors on my part took hold, eventually putting a strain on budgets, bodies, and emotional health. It also did not help that I had to see other people in this business I would rather have even a "hello" to give.
Media Day was not a win for all of us. It was not a good day. Hell, I had a bad week. I will not get into details, but I write this article with the constraint from giving that piece of my mind to individuals and entities that contributed to our collective experience.
Aside from the negative, there were some positives. Volkswagen rolled out the American version of the Arteon. This is a huge win for our market since the reviews of this new upmarket four-door hatchback have been extremely favorable elsewhere around the world. The Arteon will sit where the CC used to be – above the Passat. The new Volkswagen will also be positioned against a crop of new similar vehicles – namely the Buick Regal Sportback and the Audi A5 Sportback, to name a few.
Toyota countered with the return of a second generation TRD Pro lineup with new suspension setups for better off-road management and additional comfort over more terrain. The TRD Pro 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra are 2019 model year products that will appear late in this summer – just in time for major adventures. Being someone who likes the TRD Pro lineup, I welcome the adjustments made in the FOX shocks and other key components to provide miles of smiles across deserts and off-road vehicle trails.
As with every Chicago Auto Show in the past, it was my time to catch up on some debuts that occurred months prior. The one vehicle I was most curious about was the upcoming Volvo XC40. The smaller SUV/Crossover is a completely new vehicle not just for the USA market, as it is aimed at urban upmarket customers who need the raised drive height, space, and versatility of such as this vehicle. I came away impressed with its design execution, interior functionality, and overall personality based on the promise of the XC40. It will be a fun, friendly machine made for the urban – and suburban – grind.
The 2019 Ram 1500 was the star of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month. Its star billing was confirmed by its small fleet of models on display in Chicago. I was extremely impressed that they fine-tuned their class-leading interior to match their sleeker and more aggressive cab and box design. The Ram will remain the only pickup to have rear independent suspension with the availability of an adjustable air-fed system, along with a frame that integrates protection from frontal offset impact. I noticed the eTorque mild hybrid system mounted on top of the HEMI 5.7-liter V8 on the frame display. The most impressive piece was seeing the new long screen for the fourth-generation UConnect system and other center stack functions that will be seen on higher trim levels of the 2019 Ram 1500. Things are definitely looking great for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' big half-ton pickup.
As for interactive displays, Kia got into the act with an "SUV Gym," showcasing the agility and ability of the Sportage and Sorento. The indoor course showed that Kia can play the same game as a lot of its rivals – and, well. FCA used to have a high-speed course inside, as well. However, Toyota decided to do their own version of the same thing using the 2018 Camry XSE. I already knew that this V6-powered mid-sized sedan is a kick-ass machine. Toyota will be demonstrating this in Chicago this year. I did see a couple of Camrys do powerslides – yes, a Camry doing a powerslide.
FCA still has Camp Jeep. The one reason to do Camp Jeep is to check out how they retained a lot of the great attributes of the Wrangler onto their newest version – the JL generation. Rest assured, you will find that it is still the Wrangler you love to go anywhere with – even with simpler, more robust controls for off-road use. I was more impressed that they worked on the dampening of the suspension for a more comfortable ride than before.
Mazda activated their Ride-and-Drive on Social Media Day, even with the snow still falling outside. I took out a CX-9 Grand Touring, which was more confirmation on how well Mazda's mid-sized, three-row SUV does the job. Then, I took out an MX-5 Miata RF – the retractable roof version. For starters, compared the NC version of the hardtop roadster, I have more room and can straighten my neck underneath it. Secondly, the ND is a fun Miata to drive, even in the RF form. It did just fine on plowed surfaces outside McCormick Place, by the way.
Lastly, I was able to properly award the #VOTY to its worthy recipient. That was my first task on Thursday to present Volvo Car USA their second #VOTY in a row. This time, I was welcomed warmly with photo ops with the V90 wagon – an R Design version. My thanks to Russell Datz of Volvo Car USA for receiving their #VOTY17 award.
By the time you're reading this, the doors have opened to the public at McCormick Place. The Chicago Auto Show remains the largest consumer-based auto show in North America. If you go, enjoy everything you can do inside of the two halls and outside on the ride-and-drives.
By no means, this is the end of Victory & Reseda's coverage of the 2018 Chicago Auto Show. We have a few more dispatches to publish. Stay tuned for new and different perspectives from McCormick Place!
Cover photo by Randy Stern