The 2021 Chicago Auto Show Has an All-New Format

Car shows were just one among many things impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the Tokyo Motor Show recently demonstrated, the virus is still causing cancelations and postponements. However, car shows are slowly returning, especially in the US. Some of the major ones, though, are doing things slightly differently before. And that includes the upcoming 2021 Chicago Auto Show.

UPDATE 7/14/2021: We’ll be updating this space periodically with links to our show coverage.

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The Chicago Auto Show returns for 2021 and kicks off the US auto show season

The main entrance hall of the 2020 Chicago Auto Show with banners
2020 Chicago Auto Show main entrance hall | CAS

According to its organizers, the Chicago Auto Show is “the largest auto show in North America.” And it was the last major show held in the US in 2020 before the pandemic hit. Now, things have come full-circle in a way, because for 2021, it’s kicking off the US auto show season.

Originally, the 2021 show was supposed to return during its ‘traditional’ slot in February. But while it wasn’t canceled outright like the Geneva Motor Show, the CAS organizers delayed the show’s return. So, instead, it’s going down in the Windy City in July, rather than February.

And instead of Chicago following Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, Chi-town is now the 2021 North American starting point, The Drive explains. Next on the list is the New York Auto Show in August. After that, instead of NAIAS, Detroit will host the Motor Bella show in September. And the Los Angeles Auto Show follows in November 2021.

What’s new for the 2021 Chicago Auto Show?

A turquoise-blue Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the 2020 Chicago Auto Show's off-road test course
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the 2020 CAS’s off-road test course | CAS

Besides its new summertime slot, the 2021 Chicago Auto Show will also be experimenting with a modified format.

Some things are staying the same. For example, the auto show is still taking place at the McCormick Place complex, aka the McCormick Center. And a fan favorite, the Jeep off-road course, is making a return. However, because this is all taking place in the summer, the 2021 CAS will incorporate several outdoor activities.

So, rather than driving cars indoors, show-goers will be able to experience test vehicles on actual city streets. Ford has also promised “outdoor experiences” with the new Bronco, Bronco Sport, and Mustang Mach-E, Autoweek notes. Plus, 2021 marks the first time the Chicago Auto Show is hosting a ‘Street Fest,’ which features food, drinks, live music, and, of course, cars. Think of it as an expanded take on the Cars & Coffee idea.

As for what new cars will be on display, automakers are slowly rolling that information out. As of this writing, Jeep has confirmed that it’s bringing along the Wrangler Xtreme Recon Package and a refreshed Compass, Automotive News notes. Any additional vehicle debuts will go up on the CAS website.

When does it start?

Before it opens to the public, the 2021 CAS will host a Media Day on July 14th. The next day, July 15th is when the public is allowed in. And while the Street Fest only runs until July 18th, the show itself runs until July 19th.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the only auto show going outside this year. Motor Bella, the NAIAS replacement, is taking place at the M1 Concourse racetrack, not downtown Detroit. As for whether this new format sticks around, that all depends on the weather and the public’s reaction. But considering what February’s like in Chicago, it’s likely more than a few people will prefer the summer schedule.

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