We’re recently coming off the Chicago Auto Show (CAS), one of the largest of its kind in the nation. It’s more than press conferences and meetings — after seeing the latest version of the TRD-Pro Tacoma getting unwrapped, there was networking and, more importantly, looking for unique vehicles.
This isn’t the mad-cap dash that is the Detroit event a month prior or the tech-focused nuttiness that is the International Consumer Electronics Show, but instead is a more relaxed look at automotive excellence in the modern age. Along the way I came across some pretty wild rides, attended a few of press conferences anyways, drank too many cappuccinos, and bumped into some very interesting individuals from the manufacturing side.
Back at my desk, I rifled through my photos in the hopes of finding some snaps before realizing that there were quite a few key takeaways from CAS this year that warrant mentioning. There was a hell of a lot to soak in, but ultimately I came up with 10 major takeaways from this year’s event that really stood out. I’m already looking forward to attending next year’s event.
1. Ford’s betting heavy on SUVs, and you can’t have a GT350
While at a press conference, Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Company vice president of marketing, sales, and service, emphasized that the Blue Oval will be releasing four new SUV options in the next four years, which some feel might be overdoing it considering the current lineup. While details on these new nameplates and their release remain obfuscated, one thing remains certain: Ford cannot keep up with the public’s demand for the Shelby GT350.
Equipped with a 5.2-liter Flat Plane Crank V8, the beast you see here puts down a shuttering 526 horsepower and 429 pound feet of torque, and all without the assistance of turbos or a supercharger. Personally, I think they can’t keep them in stock because Ford’s only asking $47,795 a pop for these things, thus making them one of the best values in muscle car history.
2. High performance cars are here to stay
Ford isn’t the only one banking on commanding America’s attention with high performance vehicles. Virtually everyone at CAS had a road-ripper at their booth, and regardless of whether they were merely concepts, race cars, or something production ready, the sheer amount of performance on display was staggering. Perhaps the coolest part is that while performance gains are insane nowadays, practicality and efficiency are up as well, so enthusiasts are really beginning to get the best of both worlds.
3. Hybrids are powering up for another surge
As expected, there was a strong emphasis on hybrid technology at CAS this year, as more vehicles than ever before are offered with better battery packs. But something that was discussed in detail was the fact that most hybrids are no longer just a boring serving of sedan; many of them rocking power numbers that best their non-hybrid counterparts. Remember, electricity gives instant torque, and as charging, batteries, and drive systems evolve, so does the amount of fun one can have while behind the wheel of these machines.
4. Auto shows really are designed for car buyers
During a press conference, members of the media were given a useful tidbit directly from the higher-ups at Ford: Research has proven that out of all auto show attendees, 68% of them are actively in the market for a new vehicle. This means auto shows have become a one-stop shopping mall for potential car buyers, and even though you can’t drive the majority of the vehicles on display, there were some interesting interactive areas Jeep, Dodge, and Toyota had put in play that really went above and beyond.
5. Kia is readying for an offensive attack
It seems like every time we turn around, Kia has done something that takes everyone by surprise, like coming second last year behind Porsche for initial quality according to J.D. Power. Now the Korean automaker has its sights set on restructuring itself, and has an aggressive program in place for the immediate future. With over 20 new vehicles and redesigns slated for the next five years, Kia says we should expect a 25% bump in fuel economy across the board by 2021, and promises to replace/update 70% of its engines in that timeframe as well. It all starts with the redesigned Sportage, the clever Niro hybrid, and the introduction of the plug-in Optima sedan you see here.
6. Volvo vows to one day be truly accident-free
Volvo USA CEO Lex Kerssemakers spoke at lunch one afternoon about his brand’s industry revered long-lasting safety record, and how the company’s latest goal is to make sure “no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.”
That’s sounds like a pretty tall order, but with autonomous driving and pre-collision avoidance systems at the forefront, the Swedish figurehead says that the goal is achievable. Volvo wants to make the world’s first widely available automobile accelerate, stop, and steer on its own without the need to follow another vehicle. The trio of issues that the brand plans to overcome with this move are emissions, road congestion, and accidents, all of which present their own unique set of problems.
7. Toyota may not have a supercar, but they can still do trucks
By now you probably know that a new TRD-Pro version of the Tacoma was unveiled at CAS the other week, and with the majority of all TRD-Pro trucks being bought before arriving at dealers, it looks like Toyota may have another winner on its hands. Featuring custom re-tuned Fox dampers, ¼-inch thick TRD skid plates, a raised ride height, and a set of 16-inch performance wheels that are wrapped in Kevlar-equipped Goodyear All-Terrain rubber, this truck was a huge hit for Toyota.
One of our favorite things is that although automatic six-speed models will come standard with crawl control, even the top shelf TRD-Pro version of the Tacoma can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.
8. Chevy has big plans for both the Camaro and the Trax
Just 13 months after its initial launch, Chevy has restyled the Trax subcompact crossover in a big way, making it more angular and tech-filled. The restyled little bugger looks pretty sharp too, and while we could go into great detail about what buyers can expect to find on it, let’s switch gears and talk a bit about this bad boy pictured here.
Chevy sales were already up 25% in January alone, and by bringing the track-prepped Camaro 1LE performance package back, Detroit’s bowtie brand is readying to throw down in a big way when this vehicle returns to the fold later this year. Interestingly enough, GM has opted to offer both a V6 and a V8 version, with both models coming equipped with things like tricked-out suspension, unique aero, and some sharp-looking forged wheels.
9. Off-road prowess still sells
One thing’s for damn sure: America’s love affair with off-road adventure vehicles is stronger than ever. Pickup truck sales are at an all-time high, but the demand for rugged special vehicles really is drawing interest at a breakneck pace. From the Nissan PRO-4X Titan XD seen here and the Ram Powerwagon debut to the GMC Sierra All Terrain X and the anxiously awaited Ford Raptor, automakers are pumping money into extreme 4×4 vehicles like never before.
10. Jeep stole the show with one hell of an interactive display
Out of all the setups I saw at CAS this year, Jeep easily had the biggest winner of the bunch with its off-road interactive display. 4×4 enthusiasts had the ability to ride along as instructors took various “Trail Rated” models over varied terrain, which all culminated with an ascension to the ceiling and then back down again. Outfitted with pools of water, all sorts of shrubbery, and payloads of dirt, Jeep truly went above and beyond in every way imaginable this year when designing and building this “playground for drivers.”