The Chicago Auto Show opened to the public this past weekend. This is the first time in two years that the largest consumer-focused auto show is open for business. There was a “Summer Show” this past July in Chicago, but that event was smaller and largely outdoors. The show opening now is more familiar, more traditional: an auto show from the before times.
In a normal year, well more than a million consumers would roll through the 10-day show at McCormick Place, near downtown Chicago. And there would be cars and displays and people for as far as you could see.
It’s different this year. I attended the media preview days last week — my first show in 2 years — and can report the 2022 Chicago Auto Show is only about half the footprint it was in the past, and there’s only about a dozen automakers with any sizable space on the floor.
But let’s be clear: I was delighted to be there. And all of us in the auto business should be delighted it’s even happening. The 2022 Chicago Show, smaller than before, is still an indication of warmer days ahead, a sign the cold months of this pandemic will eventually pass.
It’s mainly the big players this year: Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, Subaru, and Jeep. Hyundai and Kia have sizable displays, and VW and Nissan have vehicles as well. Honda and Acura didn’t even bother to show up. Cadillac and Audi are absent. Lexus has a “normal” stand; the BMW display looks small and was likely organized by the local dealers. There are others, but most with small displays and few vehicles. The industry’s new-vehicle shortage is impacting auto shows as well.
The show is not without familiar sights. There are puppies on the Subaru stand; a relaxation garden with large black massage chairs; a few supercars, new and old; and Jeep has their demonstration rides up-and-over a huge metal mountain. But in all, the 2022 Chicago Auto Show is far from its pre-pandemic self.
Attendees are in masks and vaccine cards are being checked, but the 2022 Chicago Auto Show is a hopeful event. There are cars and people and business. There is energy there and, yes indeed, a bit of energy feels good.
NADA, an important industry show is on schedule for March and there will be a New York Auto Show in April, just like old times, and that’s another signal the show circuit may well be returning to life. And we think that’s important for the industry and for consumers.
Our Cox Automotive research consistently demonstrates that consumers are visiting fewer dealerships in the car-buying process, choosing instead to do more shopping activity online. Being able to transact online is important and has helped drive higher satisfaction in the car buying process. But seeing is believing, and we believe the vehicle-buying process should include kicking tires, feeling the leather, adjusting seats, and slamming doors. For many, auto shows offer that important step.
It’s hard to say for sure what the auto show scene will look like in the years ahead, post COVID. If the 2022 Chicago Auto Show is an indication, shows will involve more demonstration drives — opportunities to ride in the vehicle — and a lot of electric-vehicle displays. That’s clearly where the industry’s marketing buzz is right now and a sign of where the major automakers are steering this business. There aren’t any particular headlines being made at the Chicago Show this week, but the very fact it’s happening and car-shoppers will be there enjoying the process is important enough. All of us who love the auto business should take note. Better days are ahead; the 2022 Chicago Auto Show makes that very clear.
Mark Schirmer is the director of public relations for Cox Automotive.