Stockard Channing had this monologue in the movie "Six Degrees of Separation" where she proclaims that her encounter with the young man who turns out not to be Sidney Portier's son was "an experience" and it perceived to be "an anecdote" to her life. Now, I don't know about all that, but I must say that my first foray into "serious journalism" back in 2002 was an experience nonetheless.
As I mentioned before, I love cars. Through the experience of reading the automotive enthusiast magazines, I entertained the idea of a possible career as a road test reviewer. To be able to drive some of the hottest cars on the market for 1,000 miles at a time and criticize its characteristics seemed like to be one of the coolest jobs on the planet.
Before I was asked to write for Midwest Ursine, I already dreamed of being an equal to the likes of L.J.K. Setright, Georg Kacher, Csaba Csere, David E. Davis and P.J. O'Rourke. Unfortunately, Mr. O'Rourke graduated to be being a right-wing, whining Baby Boomer pinhead with a successful portfolio of books. Yet, unlike the late Mr. Setright, I cannot ride the two-wheeled variety of vehicles he fancies alongside the Rolls-Royces, the Bristols and the Ferraris.
So, I wanted an opportunity to expand my journalistic world away from commenting on the bear community. I love my bear/leather/chub brethren, but there's more to life than bar nights, bear runs, sleep disorders and sex.
For this leap into "serious journalism," I picked the 101st Chicago Auto Show, which was held at the massive McCormick Place convention center south of The Loop. To make this work, I had an accomplice, Tom Wray, Midwest Ursine's (now Great Lakes Den) publisher. We ran around in our badges, took shots of concept cars, the latest productions vehicles and having Tom witness squeezing my large body into everything from the Chrysler Prowler to the rear seat of the Lincoln Town Car Cartier L. All of this with the intent on creating a main story piece relating the auto show experience for its intended readership.
In case you're wondering, yes, I do have some favorites amongst what I have experienced at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.
I am certain that this would turn into another Five Favorites article where I bold the names of five specific automobiles; go into a brief explanation why they're significant and so forth. No. There were many vehicles I spend time checking out inside and out that only four stood out amongst the multitude in the North and South Halls of McCormick Place.
Consider how large the Chicago Auto Show's exhibition space is. That is 1.2 million square feet of space that has everything and anything you will need to navigate through the automotive world. Couple that with in-show experiences – ride-alongs, an area celebrating the United States Army, fun areas for the kids, vendors, and so forth – then you understand why one would come to McCormick Place in mid-February.
Between the two auto shows I attend annually, Chicago offers more bang for the buck. The First Look for Charity is considered one of the top events to do for the socially mobile in the Chicagoland Area. The show attracts an entire region to McCormick Place with new vehicles that are currently on sale or coming soon to a dealer near you.
As a member of the working automotive media corps, if I was unable not attend the shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Houston, Washington, or anyplace we are welcome, Chicago is a great place to catch up on what I missed throughout the calendar.
Let's do some catching up, shall we?
Chicago Auto Show is still considered one of the major exhibitions of the automobile in the USA. Being one of the "majors" on the USA auto show circuit, manufacturers are given the opportunity to debut brand new or revised models to their lineups. Chicago continues to provide this opportunity for the automotive world to see what's new and different for the upcoming model year.
In recent times, manufacturers are no longer tied to the auto shows to create debut events. Also, the number of opportunities for these debuts are being consolidated or reduced for various different reasons. At one time, the Chicago Auto Show organizers were planning to consolidate their press conference schedule into one day. Luckily, they did not do so this year. Who is to say whether they will do this in the future?
Still, there are some debuts to be discussed. Here's the best ones that showed up at McCormick Place…
Sure, getting there was half the fun. Going home is a different story.
This last road trip was, at best, interesting. I saw a friend in Madison and went around the place I once called home. Then, took in Chicago a day early to add a new experience on my way to close the baseball blog, The Heirloom.
The GMC Terrain paved the way for this trip to happen. However, I did not drive home. The vehicle was based in Chicago, so I dropped it off there. I ended up coming home a completely different way.
Normally, I would fly out of O'Hare. On a short notice, airfares were not in the offing for my budget…even out Midway. Amtrak was an alternative, but I had to be back on a contract site early the next morning. The late arrival of Amtrak into St. Paul would not work there, either.
The question is no longer "what is a crossover." It is "what size do you need?"
Since petrol prices scaled up to $4.00 a gallon nationwide earlier this year, the North American automotive market saw a general shift towards smaller, more efficient vehicles. Benefitting from this downsizing shift is the small crossover segment. If you scour over the sales charts, you will notice the astounding growth in sales of these smaller utility machines.
It is also a field that is getting a bit crowded. On the top of the segment's charts are the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. These three vehicles practically boosted this segment's profile from the onset. However, it appears that almost every manufacturer that sells vehicles in North America has at least one to offer.
As a byproduct of the growth in small crossover sales, there are now niches within this segment. While Toyota, Honda and Ford rule the more mainstream sections of this class; there are now luxury models available for the more discriminating consumer. Even the luxury models are experiencing boosts in their sales figures – evidenced by staggering month-to-month increases by the greatly improved BMW X3.
When you have two distinct sub-segments within a market class, no one seems to be concerned about "the middle." After all, the North American market had been divesting away from the middle of the market by eliminating entire brands – Mercury, for example.
The arguments are plenty as to the reasons behind diverging away from the so-called "middle." Still, consumers want something that is not too pretentious…and not too plain, either. The BMW X3 is a wonderful machine, but it can be priced too dear for most families. The Toyota RAV4 may offer three rows of seats, but some consumers complained it's too cheap and plastic for their tastes.
There is good news, however: The "middle" still exists and it lives right in the heart of the small crossover marketplace.